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Vacation Home Rentals Are Hot, Physically Distant Getaways

Inventory is getting low in top spots

Woman with laptop at poolside overlooking Grande Anse Bay. Grenada W.I.

Flavio Vallenari/Getty Images

En español | Americans’ plans for international travel, cruises and group trips have been thwarted due to the coronavirus outbreak. That, combined with the fact that so many people are working from home while offices remain closed, has made renting a home in an appealing area the hottest way to vacation (and, in some cases, work) this summer. And many people are booking for weeks at a time.

"In March and April people were canceling their vacation reservations left and right,” says Annie Blatz, sales manager for three branches of the Kinlin Grover Vacation Rentals, the largest rental agency on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. “They were in a panic about whether they'd be able to come. But we have been absolutely overwhelmed with the number of calls in May and June for rentals. And not just one week — it's one week, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks — the whole season."

Pent-up demand from vacation planners has also meant a surge of interest in home rentals on North Carolina's popular Outer Banks in the past few months: Bob Kissell of Village Realty, a real estate and vacation rental agency that rents out more than 700 homes throughout the 200-mile string of barrier islands, says he's seen the company's bookings multiply nearly tenfold from mid-May to mid-June of this year compared to the same period in 2019.

(See note on safe-travel guidance below.)

Flexible working arrangements

If they're working and maintaining physical distance from others at home, and can afford the splurge, some people are thinking they may as well temporarily make their “home” somewhere wonderful, while they continue physical distancing — ideally not too far away, many say, so they can avoid air travel or a long road trip.

That's what San Francisco resident Lynda Zuber, 52, thought when she rented a three-bedroom house outside of Truckee, California, overlooking a pond and meadow, for June with her boyfriend. Zuber has been “working from home,” at her job in the wholesale gift industry, in Tahoe, while also taking a bit of time to hike and visit the lake. If it weren't for the coronavirus outbreak, she notes, she would have spent the summer traveling for work, and maybe visiting a friend for a few weeks in France. “When it became clear that none of this was going to happen this year,” Zuber says, “a long-term rental in Tahoe seemed like the perfect thing to do."

House rental agents around the country say they became inundated with reservation requests from people like Zuber beginning in early May, when some states began loosening their stay-at-home restrictions while many workplaces were telling their employees that they'd be closed for much longer.

"We are regularly getting requests for two- to six-week stays,” says Kissel on the Outer Banks, “mainly from people who can telecommute.”

And TurnKey — a vacation rental company that markets homes across 50 sites, including Airbnb and Homeaway — has noted a rise in longer stays in destinations like Phoenix and Palm Springs for summer travel and Park City, Utah, and Asheville, North Carolina, for fall bookings.

The social distancing factor

Another reason rental homes are hot: They're perceived as safer alternatives to other forms of travel.

Joe Berger, 62, who runs Hey Joe Guitar Music School in New York City, says he and his partner are renting a house on Martha's Vineyard, the Massachusetts island, from mid-July through August. He says it'll offer an escape from “our city apartment with neighbors and shared elevators and lobbies” — which exposes them to the same kind of coronavirus infection risks that they might also find vacationing at a big hotel. And “weathering the pandemic in a rural, private-home setting,” Berger adds, will make it easier to follow social distancing guidelines.

Tracy Louthian, director of marketing and communications with Newman-Dailey Resort Properties in Miramar Beach, Florida, has noted the growing interest in vacation rentals over hotels in the Walton County area this summer, and surmises that it's at least in part due to renters’ recognition that “guests [can] check in directly at the vacation rental home or condominium and avoid contact with staff."

And, maybe more important, vacation homes also allow you to cook your own meals — not always a possibility if you're staying in a hotel. Many destinations around the country are in phase one or two of reopening, meaning restaurants only offer outdoor dining and takeout, or, as on Cape Cod, they can now provide indoor dining but with tables set at least 6 feet apart.

"The grocery stores have been really busy because people have been stocking up on food supplies so they can eat in,” Blatz says.

 luxury Outer Banks beach front houses

John Greim/Getty Images

Beach houses in the Outer Banks, North Carolina

Shrinking inventory, big demand

Many travelers, still a little nervous about booking in these uncertain times, are making last-minute reservations. “We have seen the average booking window shrink from about 30 to 45 days out to about 15 to 30 days out,” says Candace Taylor, the director of marketing for Great Western Lodging, which manages vacation home rentals in Breckenridge, Colorado.

But people looking to rent in the most popular destinations now are finding a rapidly shrinking list of available homes. That includes Cape Cod. Blatz says, “We have so little available now that our rental agents can't even respond to all the inquiries, there are so many of them, by phone, by email. And of course they all want walk to beach or swimming pool."

Kissel on the Outer Banks says that because their summer rental homes are nearly all booked, “Now we're recommending fall, winter and spring 2021 [rentals] for guests to consider.”

Before you book

Be sure to check on current coronavirus-related rules in any area you're considering. Some states, including Massachusetts and Florida, are asking out-of-state visitors from areas with high rates of coronavirus infection to quarantine themselves for two weeks upon arrival.

And follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for safe travel.

When planning a trip, the CDC suggests considering:

• Whether COVID-19 is spreading in your community or the area you're visiting. If so, you may have a higher chance of becoming infected or infecting others.
• Whether you have an underlying condition that might increase the risk for complications from the disease, if you do get it.
• Whether the destination requires that visitors quarantine themselves for 14 days upon arrival.
• Whether you'll be able to maintain a 6-foot distance between yourself and others during travel and at your destination.

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