Amenities and Upkeep Vital to Keep Up With Upscale Renters’ Requests

Sep 08, 2017
Courtesy of: Sand Dollar Real Estate

A turn toward the high end in demographics of weekly summer renters on Long Beach Island is turning the tide on demands for amenities as well.

“We have seen higher guest expectations through the years as we shift more to that North Jersey/New York market,” said Pat Sepanak, broker/owner of Sand Dollar Real Estate, during an LBI Real Estate Seminar held by the agency Aug. 24. “We see requests for accommodations equal to or better than at home.”

Expectations now commonly range from king-sized beds and updated kitchens, to office equipment for working remotely from the beach house. When not fitting in some work, renters are very much on vacation: a blender for cocktails is in high demand – people have asked if the house has two blenders.

More and more renters of LBI sand castles are coming from higher income brackets. They are requesting, even demanding, higher-end amenities. That’s something for homeowners to note as they consider what upgrades and maintenance would be advantageous.

The observations are not just from Sepanak’s three-decade career view of the LBI market; advisories can be found on web resources.

“Use a tenant’s eye when decorating and equipping; would you rent your property for the amount you are asking?” Sepanak posed. “Most homes that are well equipped, well maintained, will get their weeks filled.”

Some items may be not so obvious to a rental unit owner, but their absence will be noticed.

“TVs in most rooms, flat screens in the living room and also in the master bedroom. Upgraded cable channels and high speed internet is a must. Most of the tenants will not rent if there is no high-speed internet in the home,” Sepanak advised.

And to keep higher-income professionals connected, a combination answering machine/printer/fax “could be what makes your house rent over the other one. Everybody is coming down with laptops, and they’re doing work.”

Quality sleep time is important, too. Another amenity that renters will note is a good mattress. “A king mattress if you’ve got the room for it – people are sleeping in kings at home, and they want to have a king when they’re on vacation.”

By the way, rental listings with photos should be ready to be seen online by January for the next year’s summer season, Sepanak said. Many bookings are being done online, and renters often start looking early.

“The majority of our inquiries are through the internet. We have booked many sight unseen; they do not want to come down,” she observed.

“Whether we’re on the internet or not, the house has to be picture-perfect by January. If they’re not grabbed by the first picture, they’re not going to go any further because there are 400 properties after that to filter through. So the photography of property and the presentation of the property really is important.”

The average sale price of a single-family home on Long Beach Island now exceeds $1 million, Sepanak pointed out at the seminar. Regarding rentals, oceanfront rentals from her office are averaging $8,000 to $10,000 per week, and some go at $20,000 per week. Ocean-block contemporary homes are averaging at $5,000 to $8,000 weekly price points, she said. And, of course, there are quite a few other rental houses in a more moderate reach.

That’s the overview. Now let’s settle into more details.

Update and Upkeep;

Upscale Plus Extras

“Who is our typical LBI renter? The majority are from the northern New Jersey/New York metropolitan areas and Pennsylvania ... professionals seeking upscale accommodations,” Sepanak said.

“They are seeking attractions for children, a vacation experience for all, and quality family time. We are finding over the last couple years that the kitchen is coming back to being important. They want a nice kitchen; they want a well-equipped kitchen.

“They want to know that the grill is in good shape; they intend to do a lot of grilling,” Sepanak added, reminding to leave extra propane tanks because “one tank will never last through the season.”

“Air conditioning is a must,” she continued. “An outdoor entertainment area is a good idea.”

What else is more and more required for rentability? One that she considers obvious is updated furniture.

“I call it ‘no grandma furniture,’” she advises clients. “It shouldn’t be the dumping ground for all the furniture you don’t want anymore. That doesn’t fly anymore.”

Cleanliness and maintenance matter. The two topics make up 75 to 80 percent of any “issues” that tenants will complain about. The agency keeps track of calls in a logbook to help see problems don’t become repetitive. “And they’re all fixable prior to the season,” the real estate company owner pointed out.

“At least once a year we should do a deep clean. Deep cleans usually mean you really break the house down; we’re talking mattresses and mattress covers, everything that can be washed is washed. Steam clean the carpets, the furniture, clean it up outside, make the repairs to the screening ... check the appliances and get the HVAC serviced before the season.

“What is often overlooked in the house, and this goes back to the maintenance part of it, is changing all batteries in the remotes, the smoke detector and the carbon monoxide detectors prior to the season,” Sepanak advised. “We get a lot of phone calls that the TV is not working. It turns out that the batteries on the remote are dead. We have had homes where the thermostat battery was low and the air conditioner was running and wouldn’t shut down. So you want to go through and change all those batteries before the season.”

On the “high value” list are items such as portable cribs, booster seats, bicycles with helmets and tire pumps, stereos and iPods, she said, “and the iPod now is going to be something that has Bluetooth.”

How about a ping-pong table in the garage, beach gear and maybe beach badges? In the kitchen, think wide-slot toaster for bagels, espresso machine, lobster pot. Throughout, “accessories making it light and bright” are one of many more recommendations.

Dinner eventually transfers into trash, so provide enough trash cans.

“The correct number of trash cans, that’s a big issue down here,” Sepanak said. “We have renters leaving on Saturday and people coming in when there’s an awful lot of trash on Saturday but no pickup. So you’ve got to have some extra trash cans around; we recommend one for every two bedrooms and then stash another one in the garage. And we do recycle, so we need recycle cans as well.”

One more non-glamorous but angst-saving category is instruction books for the workings of the house.

“Instructions for the trash disposal,” the real estate firm owner illustrated as one example. In the case of many people, “you really don’t know what you shouldn’t put down there, like corn cobs and crab shells, and then they get jammed. So it would be good to have a guest book or something somewhere nearby saying how to use any item in your home, particularly electronics, rather than just guessing.”

In summary, “it’s a business,” Sepanak said of offering a vacation rental. “You invest the necessary time and money to remain ahead of your competition. Your tenants are your customers, and you’d like your customers to come back. You want at least some percentage of repeat business to start the season – 25 to 30 percent is nice – because they’re known. They treat your house well, and the longer a tenant stays in your house, the more it becomes ‘their’ house and the better they’re going to take care of the house.”

— Maria Scandale

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