When I first booked an Airbnb, I was baffled by the choices. I needed to learn how to focus my search and bring a skeptical eye to listings. Here are some tips to help first-timers and old hands alike.

Quality control: Worried about sharing the rental with cockroaches? Wondering if a host has oversold the amenities — or will cancel a day before the trip? Reviews are your best insurance policy. Take a deep dive, and consider that some people might complain lightly knowing that the host also gets to write a review of them. Prepare to read between the lines. A tepid review in many cases is the same as a bad review.

Cancellation policy: You may need to cancel. Some hosts are more flexible than others. Understand what you're signing up for before you hit "book."

Vetted hosts: Knowing that Air­bnb's range of standards makes potential customers skittish, the company created Superhosts, a designation for those with an untarnished record, warm reviews and no late cancellations. Last year, it introduced Airbnb Plus for high-end, inspected accommodations, akin to HomeAway's Premier Partners.

Search tools: I limit searches to properties run by Superhosts. You can also filter searches by neighborhood, number of beds and other criteria that you deem important. To avoid shared spaces, click "entire place" in the "home type" category.

Safety: Airbnb lists smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the amenities section of a home's description. If I don't see them on the list, I move on.

Just in case: Document the property when you arrive via video or photos and repeat that process when you leave. This can help your case if the host lodges complaints and tries to claim your security deposit.

New sharing sites: With the success of the home-rental market, new companies are finding niches geared to certain kinds of consumers. Essentially, they've narrowed the search for you. PlansMatter, begun by Minnesota architects, focuses on architect-designed homes (including a glass-walled beauty on the North Shore). Kid & Coe rents properties for families. Misterb&b lists gay-friendly rentals, from private rooms to entire villas. GlampingHub.com sets up overnight stays in tepees, tents, treehouses and other outdoorsy spaces.

Kerri Westenberg