The Real Deal / Summertime, and vacation rentals not all easy
Renting for the summer in Westport is usually a positive experience, but occasionally it may be fraught with drama. That's a shame because -- at least theoretically -- it should benefit all concerned.
Think about it. Landlords fund their own summer vacations by renting out their houses while they're away. Tenants get away from the city less expensively than going to the Hamptons, with an easy commute to Grand Central. Landlords' agents generate cash for the homeowners, who someday will reward them with the listing of their house for sale. And tenants' agents know that a summer spent in Westport may turn seasonal renters into future buyers.
Renting for the summer in Westport is an expensive proposition. Garden variety suburban homes rent for about $8,000 per month. Funky houses near the beach bring around $12,000. Newer homes with pools go between $15,000 and $20,000, and luxury properties near the water may rent for $25,000 per month or more.
Summering in Westport may be every bit as costly as staying at a luxury hotel at an in-demand destination. So expectations are high. But the difference is that it's nothing like a hotel if there's a problem.
I rented a lovely house with a pool one July to tenants from New York City. Three days after moving in, the tenants called me in despair. The propane tank that powers the stove and barbecue and heats the pool was somehow empty, and refilling could not be arranged over July 4 weekend. That meant no cooking and no heat in the pool. And the washing machine had a broken control switch, rendering laundry impossible until a part could be overnighted and a service call arranged.
Nothing could be done. The owner was out of the country, and her assistant was constrained by service providers' holiday schedules. I spent hours on the phone trying to solve the tenants' issues, but in the end the only thing I could do was plead my clients' case for a partial refund.
As you can imagine, these folks had an unsatisfying summer stay in Westport. Although the owner left the house in working order as far as she knew, and everyone tried to resolve the problems, the tenants were inconvenienced by eating take-out instead of grilling on the patio, swimming in cold water or not at all, and losing a beach day to stay at the house waiting for the the washing-machine-repair man.
Problems are also common on the other end. I represented landlords who rented their house one August and came home to find a pile of dirty linens in their laundry room, cookware with burnt-on grease that took hours of scrubbing to remove and an overall feeling that their home had been inhabited by college students on a month-long party binge.
So landlords and tenants, take note. Landlords, please understand that your tenants consider themselves "on vacation," and their most pressing concern may not be keeping your pots clean. They may not want to water your plants every day as you have requested. Or they may not be so careful about their party guests abstaining from smoking in your house.
Tenants, please realize that you are not staying in a hotel. You can't call the front desk if a problem arises. Also, when unforeseen problems occur, it's usually not the landlord's fault. It's just part of living in the average house -- or even a luxury house -- in Westport. This is not Cape Cod or the Jersey Shore where a superintendent-type person can be sent to unclog the sink in one of hundreds of weekly rental properties managed by a leasing company.
Lastly, both sides must understand that the Realtors who put together your rental deal are not responsible when problems occur. Most will try to help you, and the best of us will bend over backwards to make things right. But sometimes it's not in our power. Bottom line is that leases are between tenant and landlord. If the landlord can't be reached, a tenant may have to deal with an air conditioning outage, a swarm of wasps on the patio, or something else equally bothersome.
But also know this. With proper expectations, a philosophical attitude, and sometimes a sense of humor, being a summer landlord or tenant in Westport can be a positive enough experience that you may even want to try it again next year.
Evi Coghlan's "The Real Deal" appears every other Friday. She is a licensed real estate agent with the Riverside Avenue office of Coldwell Banker and a former marketing consultant to Fortune 100 companies. She may be reached at 203-247-6691, by emailing her at email@example.com or visiting www.evicoghlan.com.