Summer rental market gets mixed reviews
Vineyard summer rentals are "a little slow, steady, in fits and starts, about the same as last year," or "definitely up this year," depending on which real estate agent you ask.
Stephanie Burke, office manager at Linda Bassett Realty in Edgartown, may have summed it up best, saying, "It's not a slamming season. It's steady." She added that she saw a "big flurry of activity" last week, just before the summer season moved into full swing.
Ms. Burke believes the real estate rental cycle on the Vineyard is in transition because of several factors, including a bigger inventory of homes and more renters using the Internet for bookings.
"It's still a very popular place, but it's gotten quite expensive," Ms. Burke added. She described herself as an optimist, saying it is encouraging that people keep calling, even this late. "People are more spontaneous," she said.
Most of the Realtors agreed that the Internet has become a big factor in the rental market as more people are using it to begin their vacation searches.
"There is no way of gauging what's done on the Internet," said Natalie Conroy of Conroy Real Estate in Chilmark. A lot more homeowners are now listing their houses for rent on their own rather than with a broker, she said.
Although her company is having a good summer for rentals, Ms. Conroy said July is slower than it used to be. "It takes a little time for people to think beach," she said. "I think people are waiting."
She said she senses a lot of uncertainty in the present economy, even though her company has a lot more high-end homes available than other towns, and more repeat customers and families who come for the whole month of August or longer.
Joan Dunayer, owner of Martha's Vineyard Real Estate and Home Rentals in Edgartown, agreed that August is still a strong month for Island rentals, but she said July has not been as strong for a long time. "There are bigger clumps (of rentals) in July."
That fact may work to the benefit of the late callers, who may have a bargaining tool to get a lower rent. Some owners will reduce the rates, Ms. Dunayer said, but one recently refused a request to drop the weekly rent from $4,000 to $2,800. "I think there is some across-the-board reduction," she said because the Vineyard rental market has been slow for the last three to four years.
Deb Hancock, owner of Hancock Real Estate in Chilmark, said rentals have been "pretty steady," with not as many last-minute calls. She believes the rental rates have leveled off from more reductions in the past two years. "We're back to where they are realistic prices," she said.
Summer rentals listed on the HomeAway.com web site show prices ranging from $800 a week for a 700-square-foot Chilmark studio to $7,700 for a newer five-bedroom house in Edgartown to $9,000 a week for a five-bedroom waterfront home in Vineyard Haven. A new house overlooking Vineyard Sound in Aquinnah goes for $4,000 to $4,500 weekly in July and August while a Chappaquiddick cottage goes for $2,200 a week in the high season. A one-bedroom condominium in the Norton mansion on Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs is booked through August at $1,600 to $1,950 a week.
The HomeAway.com web site also reveals that some homeowners are willing to drop their prices to get a rental. One listing that highlighted a "last-minute cancellation" for a five-bedroom house in Oak Bluffs for the first two weeks in July dropped the price from $2,000 a week to $1,500. The listing also dropped the weekly rates by $300 in mid-July and for all of September and October.
Another listing on HomeAway, for a three-bedroom house in Vineyard Haven, offered a 20-percent reduction off its regular $2,450 weekly rental from July 14 to August 4 even though it was booked for early July and all of August.
Most of the listing on the web site showed mostly solid bookings in July and August, but a significant lack of reservations in September and October.
Realtor Rhea Cobban of Harborside Realty in Edgartown agreed that the excess inventory of homes created by more second-home building in the last 10 years is affecting the shoulder seasons. Because of that, she doesn't think a lot of the September rentals will be booked.
But Ms. Cobban had a much more positive take on the summer rentals. "We're definitely up this year," she said, noting the company's rental listings have increased every year in the last five years since it began doing rentals. July and August are nearly booked up, she said, with the exception of the last week in August, which she cautions homeowners won't fill because school starts then.
However, Ms. Cobban said she was still getting calls for rents on Monday, but she tells people they have to be more flexible with dates. The majority of people book early, especially for the more expensive rentals.
All the Realtors interviewed agreed that most people now start their search for rentals on the Internet, either going to a site such as HomeAway, which lists for individuals, or to their company web sites. Several cautioned, however, about some bad experiences by those who booked directly with a homeowner.
Ms. Cobban said she heard a horror story from this past weekend of a family who rented a house in Tisbury through a homeowner. When they got to the house, they thought it had been burglarized, but learned a raccoon family had taken over and ransacked it. "You should make sure things are in place," she advises renters. "Speak to somebody who knows what they're doing."
Ms. Burke said, "There is definitely a difference between renting from an owner and from a broker." She said she has found that people want to have a connection with someone once they are on the Island, "someone to be an advocate for them." Some of the Realtors said that people who try renting from an individual one year will often switch back to an agency the next.
Another new trend the Realtors mentioned is three-day or mid-week rentals. Those rentals help fill the vacant weeks and allow renters to come who can't afford a whole week.
The difficulty getting to the Island and the pre-booked ferries may be another factor in a slow-down of renters, some agents said. The repeat Island renters know that they have to plan ahead and book both their homes and their ferry reservations early, they said.