Summer Rental Market Bounces Back; Realtors Expect Strong Season Ahead

By JAMES KINSELLA

After a long, cold winter, Vineyard property owners are getting some welcome news: people are still willing to pay thousands of dollars a week to rent homes on the Island in summer.

"I'd say it's just as strong as last year," said David Cron, a partner at Island Real Estate in Vineyard Haven.

At Tea Lane Associates in West Tisbury, broker Mary Jo Goodrich also reports a strong market, with rents staying about the same.

"We are about on par with where we were last time," said Judy Federowicz of Coldwell Banker Landmarks in Vineyard Haven.

"The places that have kept their rents in a good place, who have repeat tenants, they are pretty much fully booked," said Ann Floyd of Sandcastle Realty in Edgartown. "The houses that are renting the best are the ones that have stuck with the same rents for a year or two."

Vineyard rental agents report that property owners have been able to ask for and get the same rents that they were charging last summer. Those rents usually range from about $1,200 a week for a small house with no special amenities to $25,000 a week for a large house with ocean frontage.

At Kendall & Kendall, the rental universe ranges from a one-bedroom cottage owned by the Kendall in Chilmark for $1,500 a week, on through houses with pools in Chilmark for $10,000 a week, to waterfront houses in Edgartown for $15,000 to $20,000 a week, to a Vineyard estate with sauna and pool for $25,000 a week.

The Tea Lane Associates rental world ranges from a three-bedroom house in West Tisbury for $3,000 a week, to $25,000 for waterfront locations on the water with pools.

Sandcastle Realty's pool of more than 300 properties ranges from $1,200 a week for a small, two-bedroom house in Katama to $18,000 a week for a large house in downtown Edgartown.

Agents say the pool of available summertime rentals also has been growing on the Vineyard, possibly in reflection of the higher purchase prices and larger mortgage payments that the properties are now carrying. "Everyone's getting into the rental market now," Ms. Goodrich said.

Consequently, many homeowners are making greater efforts to rent their houses. Those who used to rent houses themselves are now turning to rental agents to fill up still-open weeks. Those who worked exclusively with one agent now are giving several agencies the opportunity to find tenants for them. Many are turning to the Internet as a way to tell the world about their properties 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As Mr. Cron sees it, "Just as many people are going to be here this summer."

Jeff Talmadge, the owner of Weneedavacation.com, a web site that owners can use to market their properties on the Cape and Islands and in Florida, said overall listings for the Cape and Islands as of the end of April are up 21 percent, while the Vineyard component also is up 21 percent, to 394.

The site keeps track of every search that's conducted, and compiles and analyzes the searches. In recent years, Mr. Talmadge said, "I think we have seen a softening of demand on the Islands and a strengthening on the Cape."

In particular, he said, Nantucket continues to draw from a vacationer market that is less concerned about price. But he suspects that the Cape, with its less expensive rentals, has been siphoning off some of the Vineyard's less affluent renters. On the other hand, Mr. Talmadge said he's seen demand increasing for more expensive rentals on the Vineyard.

Vineyard rental agents say that families are the dominant demographic when it comes to renters, whether it's a nuclear family, an extended family, or two families staying together at the same house. Ms. Goodrich said she's been seeing a lot of young families where the parents work in the financial world.

From a time in the not too recent past when renters would take a place for the entire summer, or for at least a month, the one-week stay has become the time period of choice, said Rhea Cobban, a broker at Harborside Realty in Edgartown.

Another change: brokers say the division of the Vineyard between the suburban-based renters of July and the urban-based renters of August has faded away. "It's kind of a mix throughout the season," Ms. Cobban said.

At the same time, the Island is drawing its renters from more far-flung locales than its traditional base of the northeastern United States. Patty Kendall, a co-owner of Kendall & Kendall, said she has arranged for rentals by people from London and Paris, as well as California and Florida. Ms. Cobban arranged a rental for a family from Ohio.

Also, while property owners generally prefer to rent from Saturday to Saturday or Sunday to Sunday, Ms. Floyd said that some have been willing to shift to a Monday-to-Monday schedule, which allows their renters to avoid the headache, and sometimes the impossibility, of getting their vehicle to and from the Vineyard on a summer weekend.

As of Friday, nearly all of the available weekend vehicle reservations were taken, according to Gina Barboza, director of marketing and reservations for the Steamship Authority. Some of those spaces will open up after Sunday, when the Head Start program, designed to give Vineyard residents at least five round-trip vehicle reservations for the season, concludes for the year.

At that point, Ms. Barboza said, a number of the reservations will be turned back in, freeing up space on the vessels for people who have been on the wait list.

August remains the hot month, figuratively as well as literally, for Vineyard rentals. Agents say July weeks still are available, with more weeks open in the shoulder season months of June and September.

As the season draws closer, however, anxiety can grow among owners about unrented weeks on the calendar. An empty week, like an unsold seat on an airliner, represents lost income that can't be recaptured.

In those circumstances, Ms. Kendall sometimes advises her clients to drop their asking prices somewhat, though not so far as to hurt their rental price structure for coming seasons. "It's better to get something than nothing," she said.