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Vacation renters strive to be repeaters in the competitive Maine coastal market, but should they?


The vacation rental market continues to grow with the popularity of Online Travel Agent sites and the diminished resistance to letting strangers sleep in one's bed. Behaviors of both vacation home owners and renters are changing accordingly. In hot markets like the ones we serve in Kennebunkport, Biddeford Pool, and the surrounding areas, we see increasing desperation from vacationers to establish their foothold on their home of choice. Renters don't just want a week in July. They want their week in July this summer, and next summer, and the summer after that. But can they afford the luxury of the nostalgic return to the same house, the same week again and again? And is the same... better?

Traditionally, vacation home owners saw value and simplicity in their repeat renters, and so they happily re-upped with these same families year after year. But, AirBnB and VRBO really changed that. Explosive demand has driven up prices for those coveted positions along the coast. So, home owners have a tough time justifying only tiny increases in their rents. They are instead following the market, and in doing so, they find it it less awkward to raise rates to a prospective rental market than pose rate increases to those families who have come to know these houses as their week-long summer homes. It's also becoming clear to owners that much like airline pricing, they have full ability to watch inventory dwindle as they fill the bulk of their weeks early, and raise prices when late planners have fewer options.

So, what are renters doing? Most are not giving up on their preferred summer cottage, but they are more open to exploring alternatives. They are watching their favorite spot's prices climb year over year, and with easy access to the entire inventory of their favorite communities, are reluctantly, but actively, shopping for back up options. And they should.

This trend may be changing the feeling of familiarity between renters and home owners, but it's really helping to create better value for both parties. Frankly, home owners with repeat renters have a greater tendency to get behind on the care of their homes. The steady rentals year after year make it difficult to motivate to keep the home tip top. And, that is not the experience that renters should spend their hard earned money on. Renters who get set on the same places year after year are also missing opportunities. They are missing a lot of newer inventory on the market. They are missing the opportunity to discover even more unique experiences, and meet a broader set of potential week-long friends, if they were to explore new houses and communities.

In our market, it is very common for renters to tell me, "we only do Goose Rocks Beach," or, "we only do the Pool." And I ask them, "have you ever stayed at Hoyt Neck or near Mother's Beach?" Most have never attempted to rent outside one community. They don't always realize that what they wanted when their children were really young may be changing as they become teenagers. They may now want the surf of Fortune's Rocks over Goose Rock's tranquility granted by the protection of Timber Island. They may want to even consider a stay in the Port, where it's about the restaurant scene. So, I encourage our home owner clients to keep their pricing consistent with the market, even if that means losing some regulars, while reinvesting a portion of those increases in the upkeep and improvement of their rental home experiences. Meanwhile, I recommend renters explore new houses and even communities, and learn if their kids are ready for different activities than when they were toddlers.

When I was a child, my parents rented different houses at Goose Rocks almost every summer. Some were a lot better than others, but they never assumed we had found the best place yet. They kept roaming, risking a lesser experience with the prospect of a better experience. I think that philosophy makes more sense now that ever. Mix it up.


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