Tim Glynn of Maplewood, N.J., deposited $1,800 for a June rental in Vineyard Haven and has another $2,200 payment due soon. What should he do?
Lincoln Chapman of Tiverton, R.I., who is looking forward to two weeks in Oak Bluffs with his family, is in the same boat. Should he make that final payment on his August booking?
The questions come as Massachusetts remains under a state of emergency through May 4. But Gov. Charlie Baker, in announcing that schools will be closed through the end of the school year in June, said he’ll make his decision to reopen the state based on the data and in consultation with other governors in the Northeast.
“This is a little like the third or fourth quarter and we’re holding our own here,” he said. “Don’t let the virus win the game. Play it all the way to the end.”
Both Glynn and Chapman understand the situation. But neither of them wants to lose their deposit money and they’re both hesitant to write the final check only to be told they can’t come to Martha’s Vineyard for their family vacations.
Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, is getting similar questions on a daily basis. For now, the answer for short-term rentals is that there is no definitive answer. So much rides on when the state reopens, and to what extent.
“Right now our message to snowbirds and seasonal property owners is: If you really need to come, bring all of your groceries with you and self-quarantine for two weeks. That way we don’t run the risk of overburdening our limited health care,” Gardella said. “We want to be respectful of what hospitals are putting out.”
The number of cases of COVID-19 patients at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has remained low and none are hospitalized on-Island. “That could change in a heartbeat. We’re doing the right thing now,” Gardella said. “Those snowbirds and seasonal homeowners, of course, they want to be here. We want them to be here, but in the safest way possible.”
For rental properties, it’s complicated.
“Short-term rentals and seasonal workers? We can’t even begin to think about that yet,” Gardella said.
Anne Mayhew, broker/owner of Sandpiper Rentals, which lists 700 homes and is looking at about 1,200 leases this summer, told the Times that she’s hearing from renters that they want to be here this summer. She said for those who are up in the air or who want to cancel, it’s a matter of working things out between the property owner and the renter.
“For the most part, we’re in ‘waiting to see what’s going to happen’ mode,” she said. “We’re really kind of dealing with it on a case-by-case basis.”
There have been some leaseholders who have asked to move their vacations to 2021 and the property owners have agreed. Keep in mind that for some of the property owners, renting their houses for several weeks in the summer is how they afford to have property on Martha’s Vineyard, and others have already spent the deposit money. “I think that it’s just a difficult time all around,” Mayhew said. “There’s a trickle down effect that affects everyone.”
Mayhew said rentals have been slower than usual, of course, for this time of year. But if the governor finds a safe way to open the state, she expects an uptick. “I think there will be a high volume of last-minute bookings,” she said. “I’m getting a sense that people will want to have vacation but be closer to home, and there’s always interest in the Vineyard.”
Patty Leland, owner/broker of Martha’s Vineyard Vacation Rentals and Real Estate Sales, declined a request to comment. In an email to The Times, she wrote that too much is in “flux” to comment.
The Massachusetts Association of Realtors has provided an addendum to lease agreements that take into account the pandemic. In this case, the property owner would agree to hold the deposit in escrow and return the money if the rental is canceled at least 10 days in advance.
That doesn’t help Glynn and Chapman or hundreds of other renters who plan their trips well in advance, some of them booking right after they finish their Vineyard vacations, Mayhew said.
Both Glynn and Chapman complimented the people they’re working with on-Island. Though they have few concrete answers to provide, they’ve been responsive.
Glynn said the rental agency he booked his Vineyard Haven rental with sent him an email Tuesday offering to move his reservation to September. He’s hanging onto the June date for now because it works better for his college-age children.
“At this point, they’re following the renter’s agreement, if I cancel and they can’t rebook, I’m on the hook,” he said. That would be a difficult financial hit given what’s happened to his business in this economy.
Glynn said as long as some restaurants and shops are open, he’d be willing to keep his reservation. He just wants to be able to fish, kayak, and hangout with his kids. He’s booked a charter fishing trip and isn’t sure what’s going to happen with that.
“We’re simple people. Happy to grill. We rented a house that’s on an inlet. If we’re stuck at the house, we’ll deal with it,” he said.
Along with spending money on the deposit, Chapman has his ferry reservation booked for mid-August. “We’re preparing for the worst, but hoping we can get there because we really do love the Vineyard,” Chapman said. He and his wife have been coming to the Island for 11 years and spent the past nine years in the same house. They now bring their children who are 6 and 3 years old, so their decision will be based on what’s open.
As long as some of the things that are important to them are available — restaurants doing takeout, parks and beaches are open, they’ll come. “If we’re in a situation where all of that is pretty much shut down, I don’t think we would come,” he said, envisioning being inside all day in a small Island house with two small children.
“We absolutely love it there. The kids love it. The park. The bowling alley. A lot of normal things we do will be in question right now. It is understandable,” Chapman said. “There’s an economic piece of this, not just for me, but the local businesses — the restaurants and shops that rely on that income from summer visitors.”
There is no Larry Vaughn, mayor of the fictional Amity Island in “Jaws,” telling everyone it’s safe to go back in the water.
So what is the chamber telling renters who call them? Hang tight, watch what the governor does, and understand that regardless of what happens, the Vineyard experience will be different this year. “It’s not going to be the summer you may have anticipated or you had last year,” Gardella said. “There are not going to be the same experiences as you had last year. There won’t be any big parades. It’s going to be a different kind of experience.”