By Emily J. Weitz
It’s hard to believe, what with the regular doses of snowfall we’ve been receiving, but the summer rental season is around the corner. In fact, most people in the industry say that homeowners looking to rent their Hamptons properties should be prepared for the onslaught just after the winter holidays. That means that if you’re considering renting your home for any or all of the summer, the time to start showing your house is now.
“We like to have our summer rentals in by Presidents’ Weekend,” says Simon Harrison, whose brokerage on the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor has served the East End for 25 years. “A lot of renewals are done in January.”
And renewals, he says, are a great way to predict the coming season.
“We’re certainly seeing more renewals come through than we did last year,” says Harrison. “A lot of rentals are rebooking in the same place faster than they were last year, so that’s probably indicative of a little looser cash.”
Harrison is heartened by this news for a couple of reasons.
“If the economy is a little stronger,” he says, “then some people will elect not to rent and to use their house. That restricts the number of houses available.”
So, for people looking to rent their home, there will be less competition.
“Also,” says Harrison, “we sold triple the number of houses this year than in 2012. So the market is looking up overall. It’s not screaming up, but it’s looking up in a conservative way.”
More good news for Sag Harbor-area residents, too, is that this area has become more desirable in recent years.
“North Haven and Noyac seem to be more in demand,” says Harrison, “probably because of traffic reasons. People can avoid 27 East [Montauk Highway] completely.”
Plus, what renters can expect to pay for a house south of the highway is in a whole different league.
“The prices south of the highway are surreal,” says Harrison. “You can get a four bedroom with an amazing pool for under $50,000 in Sag Harbor, and you couldn’t touch that for under $80,000 south of the highway. And we have the docks and the sunsets here, with ocean beaches just a few minutes away.”
If you decide to take advantage of this uptick and rent your house for the season, there is certainly work to be done. The first thing, says Melissa Lynch of IMAGEination, a firm that offers photography, video and digital media services for real estate, is preparing your web presence. The reality is that many prospective renters don’t have time to come out to the East End on a weekend in February and go from house to house. They are looking online, and if they like something there, then perhaps they’ll come to see it in person.
That’s why Lynch and her husband started their business.
“We offer everything for the real estate agent to properly present their property online,” she says.
They have a fleet of photographers, videographers, and floor planners who make the online rental process accessible.
“Something that’s becoming increasingly popular,” says Lynch, “is the floor plan. Not an architectural floor plan, but a marketing floor plan that shows the layout of the house online. With simple lines and simple dimensions with labels, it’s an easy way for people to see what they’re getting.”
Of course, photos are essential. As a photographer herself, Lynch thinks of preparing a house for rental in two ways: for the walk-through client and for the online browser.
“A photographer can make sure a room looks great for a photo,” she says. “You might move furniture so the photos represent the house in the best possible way. And you’ll definitely want to de-clutter.”
De-clutter is the keyword for anyone in the industry looking to make a house more attractive. Betsy Barry, who started her business Hamptons Get It Done five years ago, helps people prepare their homes for rent.
“When the [prospective] renter comes in, you want them to see themselves in the environment, and not feel like they’re staying in your house. People want to live a fantasy, the Hamptons experience.”
That means take away all photos of your kids, no matter how cute they are. It means pack up all personal items and either get a storage space or lock them in a closet. Also, everything needs to be clean and fresh.
“Invest in new towels and bed linens,” says Barry. Even if you get them at K-Mart, she says, if they are crisp and clean and bright, they’ll look great.
De-cluttering is no small feat, and Barry suggests leaving no stone unturned. Closets should be spacious and orderly. Drawers should be empty and clean.
“People come out with their own vision,” she says, “and what they visualize for the summer. It could be about entertaining or it could be about solitude. A home can lend itself to the atmosphere of whoever is taking it over.”
As long as it’s de-cluttered and depersonalized, of course.
In terms of color schemes, the general consensus is white on white on white.
“Paint the interior any color you want,” says Harrison, “as long as it’s white. I’ve seen people commit to color schemes that are limiting. The most interest in a house to rent is that it’s bright and clean. Nothing does it better than a fresh coat of white paint.”
In terms of furniture, he says that if it isn’t serving a purpose, get rid of it.
“When it comes to furniture,” he says, “less is more. If there’s a lot of furniture, there’s less space to use.”
And finally, he says, make yourself available so people can actually see the place.
“Most of the time,” he says, “we don’t have the luxury of wrapping our day around showing one house when we have three or four customers and several houses per person. If it’s difficult to show, it often gets skipped.”
Once you’ve gotten your house ready, your online presence ready, and yourself ready, then it’s time to let go and see what happens.
“We’re in customer service,” says Harrison. “And houses either speak to people or they don’t… It’s looking good for this season, and we’ll see how it all plays out.”