Airbnb poses competition, boosts business for two B&Bs up for sale in New London
New London — Two city bed and breakfasts are up for sale and the owners — for better or worse — both cite the “Airbnb” model as the reason.
Airbnb, which is an online booking service for vacation home rentals, was embraced by one owner and served as competition for the other.
The Big House B&B opened in 2014, and owner James Haynes said that in some ways he and his wife, Lourdes, are victims of their own success and plan to wind down operations at some point to take a break.
They use Airbnb at their 17 Granite St. mansion for booking and marketing, though they are also in the unique position of having obtained zoning approvals to open as a bed and breakfast. The place remains booked through mid-December and the nearly 7,000-square-foot mansion is on the market for $565,000.
In stark contrast, Coastal Cottage Inn owners Marcus Fisk and Pam Collins-Fisk, who also navigated city zoning hurdles before opening in 2014, say the stiff competition from the unregulated vacation rental business, exemplified by online booking services like Airbnb and VRBO — “vacation rental by owner” — has hurt their business.
The couple already have closed the doors of their elegant Victorian home at 302 Montauk Ave. with more than a hint of bitterness toward what they perceive to be a double standard in the city: strict regulations for registered bed and breakfasts versus the seemingly free-for-all world of Airbnb.
“From an economic standpoint, the city really doesn’t support the bed and breakfast industry right now,” Fisk said.
The reason, he said, is that he had to obtain zoning approval that limits the number of guests, dictates the number of parking spaces and requires not only an inspection prior to opening but regular health inspections by the Ledge Light Health District. The couple also are obligated to live in the B&B.
“We’re up against 100 Airbnbs, basically an unregulated subterranean industry operating in New London,” Fisk said.
Pricing also is an issue, since Coastal Cottage rooms went for about $175 a night compared to the $40 to $60 per night rooms available on Airbnb or VRBO. The Coastal Cottage was known as a boutique B&B with a personal touch and attention to details that, based on reviews, delighted visitors.
Collins-Fisk and Fisk said they don’t begrudge someone trying to make a dollar — they have advertised on Airbnb themselves — but regulations need to be cleaned to provide a standard for visitors in New London.
While the city’s zoning regulations don’t specifically regulate short-term rentals advertised by places like Airbnb, zoning officials say current regulations bar individual room rentals at single-family homes. There are also caps on the number of individuals who can stay at a home at any given time.
Both Coastal Cottage and Big House were limited to four guest rooms as part of the terms of their zoning approvals. Regulations pertaining to bed and breakfasts allow for more rooms based on a formula that considers square footage. More rooms also may trigger regulations that dictate safety features that include a sprinkler system and fire escapes.
Haynes said the interpretation of the city’s zoning regulations is the subject of research by his real estate agent, since some of the interested buyers are exploring the idea of opening up more rooms to guests. The Big House has nine bedrooms and eight-and-a-half bathrooms.
Felix Reyes, the director of the city's Office of Development and Planning, said he recognizes the lack of targeted zoning for short-term rentals, an issue he said is not limited to New London.
“Coastal communities and college towns alike are being tormented by commercial landlords who buy homes and turn them into short term rentals (party houses),” Reyes said in an email.
And while there are some that do rent their homes and are respectful of the neighborhood, Reyes said, it’s in the best interest of the city to research solutions “to help residents feel they have a sense of control of their neighborhood.”
“This is the challenge we face and must address,” he said.
Barry Levine, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said the commission has had discussions in the past related to short-term rentals in the city. He said the issue hasn’t leapt to the top of the commission’s list of priorities in part because of the complexity of the issue.
“Zoning alone is not a good way to regulate this type of activity,” Levine said. “How do you write a regulation that is enforceable? I foresee this issue will come up in the future.”
Fisk and Collins-Fisk said they are marketing their property both as a bed and breakfast and as a single-family home — a steal at the asking price of $349,000. The 3,275-square-foot, five-bedroom home was built in 1896 for Jennie and Theodore Bodenwein, a former owner and publisher of The Day newspaper.
The couple said they will be renting a place in Mystic while they contemplate their next move but had tried their best while here to contribute to the New London community. Fisk was a member of a special commission formed to explore new revenue streams for the city and served as chief operating officer of the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival.
“We really tried to make it a go. We set out to do something nice for the city,” Fisk said. “We were trying to improve the tourism in town and giving people a nice experience.”
Haynes, who is recently retired from AT&T, said his bed and breakfast will remain open while he and his wife await word on a buyer. If sold, he said he has plans to purchase a smaller home in New London.
“The people have been great but it’s getting to be a lot,” Haynes said.
The closings come even as a new bed and breakfast, approved by the city in 2016, is preparing to open at 917 Ocean Ave.
Editor's note: This version corrects Theodore Bodenwein's title.
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