HAVENS; DVD's! Wi-Fi! The RaceTo Woo Renters With Extras
By JENNIFER CONLIN
Published: August 12, 2005, Friday
LAST summer, Steve Messinger, owner of a two-bedroom summer lake house in Chautauqua, N.Y., decided to put a washer and dryer in the cottage that had once belonged to his parents so he could rent it out. "To me a washer and dryer qualified as amenities," said Mr. Messinger, who grew up spending summers in the house on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution.
Hardly. Had he talked to Joanna Dahlbeck, director of rentals at the Vacation Properties Group, which handles 155 condominiums and houses in the Chautauqua area, he would have quickly learned that a washer and dryer are now a requirement.
"Ten years ago, we had properties that had no television, no phones, no clock radios and no laundry machines," Ms. Dahlbeck said. "Basically, no creature comforts. Now, we ask all owners to have some kind of dial-up access for computers and a television, preferably one with a remote control. Since 9/11, renters want some kind of visual contact with the outside world.
"We don't insist on air-conditioning," Ms. Dahlbeck added, "but after this summer's heat wave that could also become more of a necessity."
Even Ms. Dahlbeck's list barely cuts it in today's rental-house market. "I have customers who want an espresso maker, extra cable channels, a gas -- not charcoal -- grill, nice china and a gourmet kitchen," said Joyce Nadeau, director of the Cape Cod rental division for Kinlin Grover GMAC. "The days of the old cape cottage with knotty pine are gone," she said. "And if the house has knotty pine, it has to be painted white."
Renters increasingly only want houses with the amenities of their own homes, particularly at $4,000 to $5,000 a week for a lake house, or in the case of many of Ms. Nadeau's clients, $12,000 to $15,000 a week to be on the ocean. "The high-end clients in particular want the upscale feel of staying in a hotel resort but the privacy and comforts of staying in a home," she said.
Luckily there are owners who live in the style to which many top-end tenants are accustomed. Don Wall, a retired data services salesman in Denver, rents out his 9-bedroom, 10-and-a-half-bathroom home in Beaver Creek, Colo., for about 18 weeks a year. The house, called Elk View, has a six-person Jacuzzi and a Finnish sauna, an exercise room, a heated boot room and a wine cellar and tasting room. It also has Wi-Fi; five TV's, including a 55-inch flat screen; Calphalon cookware; and a dining room that can seat 22. During Christmas week the house, which sleeps 20, costs $4,050 a night.
Mr. Wall, who bought the house in 1996 with his brother-in law, Patrick Morris, a retired executive in St. Louis, insists that their own families like the luxury touches as much as the renters do. "I like making the house grander and grander for our family," he said, adding that he would have put in a heated driveway had it not been so large. "But our renters appreciate it. I had one Big Cigar come by who wanted to rent it, and he said to me the moment he saw the master bedroom: 'I don't have to look any further. I have those same Charisma sheets on my bed at home."'
Mr. Wall and Mr. Morris, who handle the renting themselves, also offer prearrival delivery of rental skis, groceries and liquor as well as complimentary transportation in Beaver Creek.
"We know everyone in town, so it isn't difficult for us to organize," Mr. Wall said. "And again, we do it for ourselves when we are here, so why not offer it to renters?"
Indeed, services like stocking the refrigerator ahead of time are becoming standard for high-end renters. "Easily, the biggest difference I have seen in the marketplace is the demand for concierge services," said Mary Connolly, who with her brother, Michael, owns Peak Properties in Vail, Colo., which caters primarily to executives and their families. "They don't just want the nice house, they want massages, dinner reservations, a ski instructor and a chef. We provide all of that," said Ms. Connolly, who in ski season has a staff of 20.
Nancy Anderson has to work harder than do most real estate agents to keep her vacationing tenants happy. As the president of McLaughlin Anderson Luxury Villas in St. Thomas, which rents properties throughout the British and the United States Virgin Islands and in Grenada, she faces the dichotomy of trying to serve impatient clients on the islands -- where patience is a necessity.
"Whether you are renting ski houses in Steamboat Springs or beach houses in Nantucket, the clients we are now all dealing with have sky-high expectations," she said. "Just trying telling a client that they can't listen to music by the pool because there is an islandwide power outage or that the Jacuzzi isn't working because we have to order a broken part from California."
Then there are the children, who, Ms. Anderson said, have their own expectations -- including a DVD player and DVD's and access to instant messaging.
IT often falls to agents to inform owners that their houses don't make the amenities cut. "It's a delicate situation to go into someone's house and say that Brady Bunch furniture has to go or your taste stinks," said Ms. Connolly of Peak Properties. "So instead we say to make money you have to invest money. You have to put a TV in every bedroom, put in the steam shower, install the granite kitchen counters."
Heather Maitre of Ramsey, N.J., who with her husband, Frank, owns a five-bedroom log home at Okemo in Vermont, knows the value of upgrading a house. During New Year's week, their newly built cabin, which has a game room with a mahogany pool table and two outdoor Jacuzzis with waterfalls, rents for $1,200 a night. "These days you can buy a new TV for $300, find beautiful bed comforters and sheets for $50 to $60 at Kohl's and purchase someone's old video library for next to nothing on eBay," Ms. Maitre said. "And then you can, of course, charge more for your home."
Some people, of course, opt out of the amenities race. Gail Rodgers owns a three-property compound on a large pond in Chatham on Cape Cod and rents out two of the two-bedroom cottages each summer. They do not have air-conditioning, fancy kitchens or outdoor showers. But she does leave a vase of flowers and a book filled with local information for each tenant. And while similar properties rent for about $2,000 a week, Ms. Rodgers asks no more than $1,800 for each of hers. "Many people tell me I could charge much more, but I like the people who come to me now and don't want to necessarily attract a higher-paying renter," she said.
And even though Mr. Messinger in Chautauqua hasn't put in a river rock fireplace, he hasn't had any trouble renting his house this summer for $2,500 a week. "Hey, it could be a lot worse," he said. "A guy down the road from us makes the renters change their own beds at the end of their stay!"
Published: 08 - 12 - 2005 , Late Edition - Final , Section F , Column 1 , Page 8
Correction: August 26, 2005, Friday
An article on Aug. 12 about landlords who have enhanced the amenities at their vacation properties misstated the rent for one house, in the Okemo ski area of Vermont. The home, owned by Heather and Frank Maitre, rents during New Year's week for $1,500 a night, not $1,200.
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