Summer rentals are going fast. Here’s the best way to book a beach house this year | Lifestyles
While many hotel rooms in the United States stayed vacant last year, stir-crazy travelers headed to houses on private beaches and mountains, where they could enjoy nature but keep their distance from others.
“Vacation rentals recovered pretty quickly as soon as destinations opened up last spring,” says Melanie Brown, director of data and analytics for Key Data, a company that provides market data for the short-term-rental industry. “And in a lot of cases — especially in these beach destinations — (business) just did not slow down.”
It’s not slowing down this summer. Shaun Greer, vice president of sales and marketing at Vacasa, a management platform for vacation rentals, said the company hit record reservation levels in January, surpassing 2019 demand during the same periods. He expects interest in rental properties to stay high through this year, even as hotel occupancy increases, too.
So, with all the competition, how do you find the best beach house for you? Industry insiders and vacation-rental regulars gave The Washington Post their advice.
Now that more Americans are traveling again, they’re planning their trips further in advance than they did last year. That means those who do not plan ahead may face limited availability over the next few months.
Over spring break, occupancy at Vacasa properties in popular beach destinations such as Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, S.C., was at about 95%, Greer said, and current booking data suggests that summer will be just as busy.
In Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, vacation rental companies are also reporting strong booking traffic for the summer, said Kay Maghan, spokesperson for the region’s tourism board.
“The floodgates have opened, and people are tired of staying at home, apparently,” Maghan said. “My encouragement to anybody who’s looking to go to a beach this summer is book early, because everybody seems to be looking toward the summer.”
Maghan has noticed that travelers are coming from outside the usual markets: After becoming one of the first beach destinations to reopen last year, Alabama’s Gulf Coast is attracting visitors who may have normally gone to Florida or Mexico. With more Americans booking domestic travel this year, there probably will be more competition for vacation rentals all over.
If remote work is still an option and you do not have children back in school, consider rethinking your standard vacation time to get better deals on beach rentals.
Sheila Davolos, a rental manager with Jack Lingo Realtor in Rehoboth Beach, Del., said business picks up about the second week of June, and peak prices last from the week before the Fourth of July through the third week of August.
“You can get definitely cheaper rates if you’re coming in May, early June, and September and October,” she said.
Chelsea Brennan, who lives in the District of Columbia, leads the charge in booking her friend group’s annual beach trip. This year, she is booking a place in North Carolina’s Outer Banks in early fall – for a third of the cost it would be in the summer.
“The price drop-off from August or September is insane,” Brennan said. “The beach will also be less crowded. And the weather was really nice.”
Another way to save money is to be flexible with location, said Molly Fergus, general manager of TripSavvy. Looking for rentals a few hundred yards off the water or a beach town’s main strip can yield cheaper rental results.
Falls Church, Va., resident JoAnn Allen started going to Davolos’s agency, Jack Lingo, nearly 30 years ago for her family’s beach rentals in Delaware and North Carolina. The company had a larger selection of properties than she found on her own, and it knew her taste after decades of bookings together.
Allen also said it is comforting to know that rental agents are available to help with urgent — and not-so-urgent — requests.
“If you get there and there’s not a pot that you need or a utensil or whatever, they’re very good about accommodating,” she said.
Brennan stumbled on the technique cherished by seasoned beachgoers such as Allen. She originally used Airbnb and VRBO to find vacation rentals, until one day she noticed a listing that had been posted by a local beach-rental company instead of an individual owner. When Brennan looked up the agency’s website, she found the same listing available at a lower price.
“It’s always like a couple hundred dollars cheaper or more because you cut out the fee from the platform,” said Brennan, who has been using local rental agencies ever since. Another perk she likes: lease agreements for the bookings that come with clear cancellation policies.
Brian Hoffman, a Chicago resident, discovered local rental agencies when hunting for a beach rental in Cape Cod last summer. Options on his go-to travel booking sites were limited or too expensive, and in the midst of an uncertain year, they felt unreliable, too.
“Working with Airbnb, there’s always so much in the air with whether or not somebody is going to accept your rental,” Hoffman said. “It’s not like everything solidified, and there’s always so many services that are tacked on at the end of it.”
After some Googling, Hoffman found WeNeedaVacation.com, a vacation-home rental agency that specializes in Massachusetts properties in Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod. Talking to local real estate professionals, Hoffman learned that most properties in the area had minimum booking requirements of one week, which was why he was struggling to find ideal options for Friday-to-Tuesday rentals.
By adjusting his dates, Hoffman opened up better choices from the site’s 4,000 listings, and he said he ended up with a better rental at a lower price than his original searches had yielded. The local pros were to thank.
Kay Maghan, of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, said that many travelers do not purchase trip insurance when staying at beach rentals and that they regret that decision if they have to cancel.
“A lot of people don’t realize that vacation rentals are not like hotels. You can’t cancel three days out and get your money back,” she explained.
But do not choose just any travel insurance: Maghan said that even some vacationers who did pay for the service faced a rude awakening last year when they discovered pandemics were not covered under their policies. Be sure to read the fine print and choose a plan (or upgrade) that fits your risk tolerance.