By Diane Saatchi
It’s not like it used to be.
Rewind a few dozen years ago: We just half-joked about needing bakery ticket machines to control the rush of customers on Martin Luther King and President’s Day weekends. By the end of February, would-be landlords and tenants were in full on panic mode if they did not have a signed lease for the Memorial Day to Labor Day season.
It’s different now. Not better, not worse, just not the same. What is the same is no matter what happens during the rental shopping season and what is reported in the press, come July Fourth weekend, we’ll see the Channel 12 News crew interviewing folks on Main Streets who will say “It’s never been this crowded.” I wonder if it is really increasingly crowded each year ... or do we just forget from year to year?
Technology has changed…
How customers view offerings and work with agents and homeowners has changed drastically since the late 1980’s. In three decades, looking for rentals went from classified ads in the New York Times (Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays) to 3-D and virtual tours instantly available worldwide via social media.
Things began to change quickly with the advent of the internet. Real estate agency websites made it possible for shoppers to see color photos pretty quickly. (Back then — millennials, please no eye-rolling — we used film cameras, sent the film out for development and then took the prints to a shop to be scanned on to a disk.) Later, Hamptons Real Estate Online (www.hreo.com) consolidated the listings (they picked up the prints and scanned for us). Newspapers and magazines offered online advertising venues to real estate agents and agencies. Somewhere along the line, listing information reached customers via their mobile devices. A bit later, syndicates such as Zillow, Streeteasy, and Realtor.com introduced alternative consolidated searches. And more recently, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat made for even quicker and more information-rich communications about listings.
Home Away, VRBO, and Airbnb filled a gap created by the absence of short-term stay options in the Hamptons. These sites don’t take business from real estate agencies — instead, they step in where there are insufficient facilities (hotels, motels and B & B's) or services for those interested in short stays.
Separate from technology-initiated changes, the IRS ruled that vacation homeowners do not have to report income from rentals of less than 15 days. It did not take much head scratching for landlords in the highest tax brackets to realize they could charge a bit more per week for a two week rental and net the same as they would if they rented for a full month.
Then, two years ago, in response to the increase in short term stays, Suffolk County imposed a 3% sale tax on rental income. Click here for details.
Plus, ten of the fifteen municipalities on the East End have enacted some requirement and/or restriction on residential rentals. Some regulate property conditions to enforce safety and others limit both the term and number of rentals permitted per year. Click here for more information.
In a parallel universe, as real estate prices increased, available housing for season and year round workers decreased. With rising employment opportunities, two things happen: More people live in the limited available spaces, or they live further away. The former (in part) lead to stricter safety regulations and the latter to the twice daily “trade parade” on Route 27.
…And so have we.
We got used to shopping without live interaction. Even if showing up and dealing with a salesperson, advisor, or — yikes — a physician is necessary, as a culture, we now rely on the internet to research, compare, check out, narrow down, or otherwise come to some conclusion or path forward on our own (or we have a child, spouse, friend or employee who will do it for us). Our self-directed discoveries are empowering and make us better-informed customers.
Gone is the end of February panic, today’s rental customers are not locked into a full season rental or advance planning. They can select a house even days before the desired rental term because they know what is and is not available and can get a really good look at the house, amenities, and location from the available websites. Many customers are comfortable making last-minute decisions, renting homes for weekends only (why pay for nights you don't use?). They can “call” an Uber or jump in a Zip Car and venture out to spend the weekend or week in a house they have not seen.
© 2017 Diane Saatchi