- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2020

People are staying twice as long in vacation rentals this year as COVID-19 makes working remotely the new norm and allows them to clock in from the beach or poolside.

Average rentals have gone from about four days to an average of nine and at one point peaked at 11 days, according to a survey of short-term rental companies around the world.

Omer Rabin, managing director for Americas at Guesty, a short-term property rental platform, said a recent international survey quizzed nearly 400 property management companies and found nearly a quarter of the respondents have found flexible cancellations are the most helpful business strategy during the pandemic.

“Guests traveling this summer are making sure that hosts won’t penalize them for canceling last minute due to circumstances outside of their control — whether it be related to COVID-19 restrictions or widespread demonstrations that impact their travel plans,” Mr. Rabin said.

Travelers also are opting to stay in short-term rentals instead of hotels, trying to avoid shared areas and abide by social distancing.

There’s also a sign of recovery, Mr. Rabin suggested, noting that there’s been an 83% increase in new reservations in the United States when comparing May numbers to April of this year. But he said bookings for July Fourth weekend are still down compared to the prior year.

“Today we see less reservations and a lower cost per night for the Fourth of July holiday than last year, in the U.S.,” he said. “This is likely because individuals are wary to travel, restrictions are not yet lifted in many cities.”

Nancy McAteer, owner of the booking platform Florida Rentals By Owner, also has found people opting to rent private homes instead of condos — looking for more space, a work area and high-speed internet.

Wi-Fi is key, she said, as families are working remotely, but also doing online-schooling for children.

“People needed a change of scenery. They were in their houses with their families. They needed to get their kids with energy out, so a place with a pool was a No. 1 request,” Ms. McAteer told The Washington Times.

Guests also were asking about pet policies since families didn’t want to leave their four-legged family members behind during long stays.

Ms. McAteer said property owners used to book on a week-to-week basis before COVID-19 hit, but now longer rentals are becoming the norm. In Florida, people were allowed to rent a vacation property for 30 days during the shutdown.

That long-term requirement has since been lifted, but Ms. McAteer said people inquiring about longer stays is up 30% compared to last June, causing some owners to change their business plans.

“It has just been a landslide of inquiries to where we are up like 135% in inquiries over the previous year,” she said.

The type of travelers also has changed, she said. Visitors from the Northeast, Chicago and Canada used to journey to Florida for vacation rentals, but now the travelers who are booking stays in the Sunshine State tend to be from Florida or live nearby.

People from Georgia and Texas have been driving to Florida to get away, feeling it is a safer option to vacation than flying somewhere like Mexico.

“A lot of [rental] is coming from our in-state residents that are looking to escape from home for a change of scenery,” Ms. McAteer said.

Audrey Ross, a real estate agent in South Florida, said she’s had a lot of requests for homes by the water, with rental inquiries looking for availability of one to three months.

“I don’t have enough to fill all the requests I am getting,” she said of rental inventory.

In one instance, Ms. Ross had a home for sale, but an inquiry came in for a three-month rental of the premises instead of a purchase. The owners decided to agree to that, so long as the home could still be shown to prospective buyers while the guests occupied it.

“They really had nothing to lose and quite a lot to gain,” Ms. Ross said of the sellers. “We are all having to become a bit more accustomed to doing business in a different way than we did before.”

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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