Business

Visions of Cape escapes melting away in hot market

Linda Auerbach, co-owner of a two-unit duplex in Centerville, has already rented one of her units for this entire summer — and the second unit will be completely booked soon.
Julia Cumes for the Boston Globe
Linda Auerbach, co-owner of a two-unit duplex in Centerville, has already rented one of her units for this entire summer — and the second unit will be completely booked soon.

Sometime during February’s barrage of snowstorms, Christine Powers of Needham just couldn’t take it anymore. As she dreamed of the hot sun, warm sand, and sultry nights of Cape Cod in summer, she turned to her husband and said, “We need to get out of here and start planning now.”

Soon, Powers and her family were surfing vacation rental websites, beginning their search months ahead of their normal schedule. But to their surprise, many of the homes were already booked. “I thought it would have been easier by starting so early,” Powers said.

A lot of other would-be vacationers, it appears, were also dreaming of a Cape Cod summer during the depths of winter, finding some small measure of relief by booking those July and August weeks early, real estate agents said. Those who waited until spring may find very slim pickings — if any at all.

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“The summer rental market for this summer is on fire,” said Joan Witter, a real estate agent at Sotheby’s International Realty in Osterville. “We are almost completely out of homes available for rent.”

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Across the Cape and Islands, real estate agents say summer rentals are way up this year, propelled in part by a collective case of severe cabin fever. Jeff and Joan Talmadge, founders and co-owners of the rental website WeNeedaVacation.com, said summer bookings are running about 10 percent ahead of this time last year: rentals on the Cape are up 8 percent; on Martha’s Vineyard, 11 percent; and on Nantucket, nearly 18 percent.

Jeff Talmadge said an improving economy, lower gasoline prices, and more disposable income have contributed to the surge of bookings.

But many renters are citing this past winter’s severe weather as a major driver for their aggressiveness in securing rentals as early as possible, he said

“There seems to be a real emotional need to get plans finalized,” said Talmadge. “They’re fighting the winter doldrums.”

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And landlords are loving it. Linda Auerbach, co-owner of a duplex in Centerville, attributed the surge of early bookings mostly to the harsh winter, although she added the economy ultimately drives the summer rental market.

Auerbach has already rented one of her units for this entire summer — and the second unit will be completely booked soon. “That’s pretty cool,” she said.

Annie Blatz, manager of Kinlin Grover Real Estate in Brewster and Yarmouth, said her 75 real estate agents on the Cape tell her that demand for rentals is outstripping supply.

“People are booking earlier, so I’m telling people you better act now if you want to find something you like,” said Blatz, the president-elect of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

So far, rents are holding at or near last year’s prices, renters and real estate agents said. On the Cape, prices vary by location and the size and quality of the property. A small Dennis waterfront house can rent for $3,000 a week and up, while a large waterfront Osterville home starts at a minimum of $10,000 a week. Properties that are “inland’’ — a few blocks or more from the ocean — rent for considerably less.

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On Martha’s Vineyard, prices run from $2,500 a week for modest inland homes to $50,000 weekly for large, high-end properties along the coast, according to rental agents.

Christine Powers, who began her search in February, had to look for weeks because many properties were already rented. She only recently booked a three-bedroom, waterfront house for her family of five. The weekly price for the West Yarmouth rental: $7,500.

“Prices are very much in line with what we saw last year,” said Powers. “It just took longer to find the right place.”

Melissa Kudla, a Ludlow mother of four whose family has rented on the Cape in past years, said she usually starts searching for a summer rental in April, but this year started a month earlier, using WeNeedaVacation.com as a resource.

“We found things were booking up quite early,” she said. “After this winter, I guess everyone wanted to get out of Dodge as fast as possible.”

She and her husband, Kevin, recently found a three-bedroom rental in Eastham. Kudla, who wouldn’t disclose how much she was paying, said prices seem to be stable and homeowners aren’t gouging people.

Anne Mayhew, owner of Sandpiper Rentals in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, said island bookings normally start in late December or early January, when car-ferry tickets go on sale and vacationers try to match up available ferry times with vacation weeks.

This year, however, she found another catalyst: During the late January and February snowstorms, her office experienced a 10 to 15 percent increase in calls on days in which school classes were canceled and parents were stuck at home with the kids.

“They couldn’t get around and about, so they were calling us about rentals,” said Mayhew. “They had summer on their minds.”

Linda Auerbach prepared her Centerville beach house for the upcoming rental season.
Linda Auerbach prepared her Centerville beach house for the upcoming rental season.

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Jay Fitzgerald can be reached at jayfitzmedia@gmail.com.