Early Bird Gets the Summer Rental
With best houses snapped up and prices rising, prediction is for crowds
By Aurrice Duke
After touring 10 properties, the Klarises made their choice: a real island farmhouse with yellow awnings, built by the Dickerson family, one of Shelter Island's founding clans. Perched at the entrance to Menantic Creek, it offers the Klarises and their two school-age children a lot to keep them entertained.
"There's fishing, clamming, and swimming," Mr. Klaris said.
They wasted no time signing the lease.
"We adore the house," he said.
Although the Klarises' story isn't quite typical, realtors and homeowners do report that more and more visitors to the South Fork have secured their rentals early this season.
"The early bird gets in," said Diane Saatchi, a senior vice president at Corcoran's East Hampton office. Many in real estate are fond of repeating that adage: The best houses, it seems, are the ones to go first.
"A lot of good things have gone and rented," agreed Htun Han, a principal and broker with Hamptons Realty Group in Amagansett.
"I did one rental last fall," said Martha Perlin, an agent with the Corcoran Group in Amagansett. "The tenants wanted their choice of houses, and the homeowner was thrilled to have locked in a rental so early."
"We listed in late February, early March, and the first people to see our properties signed leases," said Richard D'Attile in an e-mail. Mr. D'Attile and his partner, Vern Ruiz, own rental properties in East Hampton and Springs. The couple listed with East Hampton brokers, but claim a much greater response with Craigslist.com. "With Craigslist, we include basic photos and information about the properties and include a link directing people to our Web site for more information," Mr. D'Attile said. "We've been using Craigslist for a few years and have gotten most of our tenants through it."
"We were even contacted later in March by a former tenant wanting to rent for the summer, but by that time we had nothing available," said Mr. Ruiz.
"There was an early rush in the business," Ms. Saatchi said. "People were coming out early. If they didn't get their choice among the first batch, they didn't want leftovers."
"Early in the season renters paid asking or close to asking price," she added.
But the rental market's early fervor died down by February. Some brokers reported a few quiet weeks during the bitter late-winter weather.
"Activity has been spotty," Ms. Perlin admitted. "But the good news is that more people are renting full season or July to Labor Day than in the past."
"This year, we're getting more full-season rentals, and people seem more decisive - they come out, look, and commit right away, as opposed to last year when many tenants seemed unable to decide and came out looking on multiple visits," said Penelope Moore, a senior vice president at Corcoran's Shelter Island office, in an e-mail.
In a departure from previous seasons, weekly and two-week rentals have become less popular. "There were a lot of two-week rentals early on [last year], and a lot of owners broke up their season to accommodate them, which made it difficult to place full-season tenants who came later on," said Ms. Moore.
Brokers report that the Internet has become a valuable tool for renters. Tenants are shopping for rentals on the Web, narrowing their choices, and then venturing east to tour their short list.
"The Internet has changed how people rent now, versus five years ago," Ms. Moore said. "Many people are not aware of this, but [the Corcoran] Web site works in real time. It can be frustrating when tenants call and refer to other agency's Web listings that are still online, but not available."
While nearly all the oceanfront rentals have been snapped up, properties over $250,000 for the season and up to $1 million continue to blossom. There is still a segment of the market that is bearish and would rather rent than buy.
"More people are looking for the high-end price point," Ms. Saatchi said, referring to houses priced at $300,000 or more for a summer rental. "I can't imagine people spend so much money," she added - noting, though, that for these top-of-the-market houses renting is still "much cheaper than owning."
"What was $100,00 for August just two or three years ago has now become $200,000," said Michael Daly, the owner of RE/MAX Beach Properties in Southampton. "What was $250,00 for the season is now $500,000."
A recent flood of late property listings has beefed up inventory across all price points. There is much available in Springs and Water Mill North, some real estate professionals said.
"North-of-the-highway houses are not slouches," Mr. Han said. "The Hamptons are the Hamptons; unless you are right on the water and roll out of your bed to the beach, you still have to drive to the water."
"It's the houses that are tired inside and need updating that are having trouble getting rented," Ms. Perlin opined.
"There are still a lot of late listers, which is somewhat unusual," Mr. Han said.
This trend may be attributed to homeowners whose neighbors or friends have fetched a great price for their house and now they want to "jump on the bandwagon," Mr. Han added. "Or because something has come up in their life, and they won't be using their home - rather than keep it empty, will rent."
With activity percolating across the board, this season has the potential to exceed last year. Properties that are well presented and well priced, whether at $15,000 or $300,000, are renting.
"The streets will be crowded and the restaurants will be hard to get in," Ms. Saatchi predicted. "There doesn't seem to be any trouble in the housing market."
"Ours is such a microcosm, it's dangerous to equate the Hamptons with the rest of the country," Mr. Han said.