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Real estate pros see end of pandemic surge as seasonal rentals level out

Seasonal rentals have been slow this year, but real estate professionals have noticed a pickup in April among those seeking vacation spots on the Island.

Still, the market is different from its heyday. But there are signs of a comeback. Angelo Piccozzi of Dering Harbor Real Estate about six weeks ago said seasonal rentals are picking up again.

Melina Wein of M. Wein Realty had a good run of rentals in the fourth quarter of last year, but describes the seasonal rental market today as “spotty.” She hasn’t given up, noting Shelter Island is increasingly popular with people who want to avoid the traffic in the Hamptons and are attracted to what they’ve heard about a place accessible only by ferry.

Nonetheless, she said the seasonal rental market is not “gangbusters.”

Part of the problem, she speculated, is prices haven’t settled down to pre-pandemic levels. Many property owners are still seeking rents as high as they were during the height of the pandemic. With the curtailing of COVID-19 cases, circumstances have changed, she said. Inflation has affected the decisions of some to book seasonal rentals and Ms. Wein also wonders how much the online Airbnb market is affecting the business that agents once saw.

She’s not alone in her speculation. Independent broker Susan Cincotta describes it as “back to its normal fluctuations.” Following the pandemic-fueled surge that saw prices spike, now tenants are looking for reasonable pre-pandemic prices for well-maintained properties with popular amenities, she said. What’s more, some of those who rented during the pandemic bought houses on the Island. Some haven’t made the money they did prior to the pandemic and can’t afford vacations they booked in the past.

Another factor is those homeowners who rented their houses during the pandemic but are deciding this year to use their houses themselves, said Penelope Moore of Saunders. People looking for summer rentals want pools, waterfront views and yet are often booking for two weeks, rather than a month or the entire summer season, Ms. Moore said. She doesn’t see year-round rentals as a good alternative if property owners are looking to bring in the higher prices many can get for a seasonal rental.

Add to that a greater sense of freedom resulting from lower COVID-19 numbers enabling people to travel to Europe or around the United States instead of opting for a beach vacation on the Island, Ms. Moore said.

She also wonders about the impact of two major hotels returning to the market this summer. Both the Pridwin and Chequit have undergone significant renovations and might be popular with vacationers who prefer that option to renting a house.

Janalyn Travis-Messer of Griffing & Collins Real Estate said all prices are affected in the real estate market now that the “COVID escape is no longer happening.” That’s something reflected in Community Preservation Fund income that soared for two years, but has begun to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Marika Kaasik from Daniel Gale Sotheby’s agrees the market is not what it was at the height of the pandemic. She also sees the trend of more renters looking for two-week stays instead of booking for a month or the season.

“It’s definitely not as crazy” as it was during the previous two summers, Ms. Kaasik said. Spiking gasoline prices might also be playing a role in family decisions about vacations.

“Yes, it’s been a slower start all around,” said Compass agent Julia Weisenberg. People are taking longer to make decisions about their summer vacations. There’s a feeling of instability with families trying to decide whether or not to make plans for the summer. She’s had some repeat renters working with smaller budgets than they had in the past. But she’s optimistic that as the weather warms, people will begin realizing they want to get away.

“It’s picking up a little bit,” said Douglas Elliman sales manager Carol Szynka. There’s an abundance of rentals available, she said. Ms. Szynka also speculates that those who were renters originally but bought houses on the Island during the pandemic will bring friends to the Island who will become the next group of renters.

Art Williams, who splits his time with publishing and real estate endeavors, said he’s less active in the real estate field, but still has a finger on the pulse of the industry. He thinks there are more opportunities for rentals on the Island, but lots of alternatives for visitors to consider in their bookings. He sees the year-round rental market as a real problem with an inadequate supply to meet the demand.