Snow = Beachside rentals going, going, gone!

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The snows of winter have brought a flurry of calls to local agents specializing in renting island properties, improving the outlook for what appeared earlier to be a so-so season.

Most of these agents count the blizzards that have pounded the Midwest and northeast as a blessing for business which they say is improved over last year. “The storms are good news for us, the phones have been ringing more than usual,” said Mimi Runyon, owner of Beach and Beyond Rentals. “It is just whether they are going to actually turn into a rental. It is a matter of finding them a place at this late date.”

Part of the problem for the procrastinators is that many condominium associations require a 30-day application process.

That means those looking at escaping the snow are already looking at the middle of March at the earliest to enjoy some seasonal sun.

“The associations do put a crimp in it because of their rules, but they have to have their rules for a reason,” said Carol Eisenmann of Norris and Company. “Plus a lot of them don’t allow one month minimum; you have to have rent for two and three months.”

Back in December the outlook was bleaker for rental specialists, who had been hoping for an influx of vacation visitors.

Most still had properties available, and given the time needed to secure the keys to the condos, many thought they may be looking at another down season.

The trend was up and down the east coast.

The Palm Beach Post reported back in December that Palm Beach was suffering from a dearth in rental demand and owners were getting anxious hoping to cover some of their carrying costs.

Then the snows came.

“Since the winter storms have hit and starting with the beginning of January, we experienced a tremendous increase in calls and bookings,” said Sue Powell of David Walsh and Associates, who is expecting about a 20 percent bump in business.

Another factor that has helped is the better weather we are enjoying. Powell said the sunny weather has attracted in the last 10 days visitors from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and upstate New York.

“Most of them drove down here and they were thrilled to be in the warm weather,” she said.

Despite the late surge that is filling available inventory, rental rates are still negotiable depending on the property.

“Prices have gone down a little bit, but that is to be expected,” Runyon said. “Two years ago in areas like Grand Harbor and along the beach, they were getting a little bit more for rentals than they are now.”

But some owners have been able to buck that trend as inventories have been squeezed.

“This year some owners are actually looking at being able to do positive cash flow on the island with rentals, which was not the case before,” said Al Benkert of Vero Beachside Sales-Rentals. “The rental prices are going to go up even though the house prices are lower when there is a shortage (of rental inventory).”

Benkert said the snows have provided a short-term gain in the form of winter escapees and a longer term advantage for Realtors in their outlook once they are enjoying the beach.

“We love it when it snows up north. The worse it is up there, the better it is down here,” he said. “People who are living through this winter are going to be reconsidering where they are going to be retiring.”

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