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Demand is high for summer vacation rentals in coastal Connecticut

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While Old Lyme-based Shore & Country Real Estate is seeing a lower inventory of summer vacation rentals, due to the waning of the pandemic, Realtor Aulay Carlson is also seeing local homeowners rent out their houses for the first time.

He said one property he has listed belongs to someone going on a two-month sailing adventure this summer, and another to someone going on an two-month cross-country trip with their kids.

"These people are feeling more confident about traveling; they haven't traveled in two years," Carlson said. These are the people renting out their primary residence.

But overall inventory is down due to the opposite issue: People with second homes along the Connecticut shoreline are choosing to use them at times they previously had rented him.

"They've been stuck at home, just like all of us have been, and instead of renting their properties, they're choosing to use them this year," he said.

He said the demand for vacation rentals is up — with renters who skipped last year due to fear of traveling now coming again — but inventory is down. So, if Shore & Country lists a new property online, it's completely or mostly booked within days.

Carlson said last week that Shore & Country typically listed about 65 to 70 properties in pre-pandemic summers, and had around 60 last summer, but has only 41 or 42 now. And he said they're about 95% fully booked from the last week of June through the last week of August.

Last year, he saw activity in September and October pick up, because kids and teachers weren't returning to school in-person, whereas those months are dropping off this year.

Prices for most rentals "have stayed fairly steady," and increases are due to home upgrades or rising taxes rather than people trying to take advantage of the situation, Carlson said. Rental properties range from $950 to $6,000 a week, with the largest share between $1,800 and $2,500.

"Last year was actually very busy as well, and this year is even busier than last year, because people can't fly, or don't want to fly, so they're trying to drive for their vacations," said Mystic-based Realtor Greg Broadbent. "We increased all of our prices this year, and have already booked more times than previous years."

Broadbent has three properties listed for vacation rentals, and he said last week there's a couple of weeks available but not much. His advice for those still looking to rent: "Hurry up. There's not much available out there."

Dianne Bourgoin, spokesperson for AAA Travel in Connecticut, said in an email that air travel will rebound this summer compared to last but not to pre-pandemic levels, and AAA expects this "to be the summer of the Great American Road Trip."

Bourgoin also said AAA is seeing a trend toward "revenge travel," where people who couldn't get away last year due to the pandemic are booking more extravagant or longer trips this year.

She added, "Because more people have the option to work from home, they are doing so from 'homes' in vacation destinations, which may mean more people booking rentals along the shoreline, and also staying longer."

Off the beaten path

Ashley Taylor of vacation rental management company Evolve said in an email that Evolve is seeing a surge in demand in southeastern Connecticut, with the number of nights occupied already surpassing last year's final occupancy numbers through early August.

She said average summer rates in southeastern Connecticut — which Evolve defines as the Niantic, Norwich and Mystic-Noank areas — are 66% higher than in 2020 and 35% higher than in 2019.

Pulling data for the New Haven market, Beyond — a revenue management platform for short-term rental operators — found that average demand for vacation rental properties has exceeded 2019 levels, and properties with more than two or three bedrooms are in higher demand.

Revenue manager Ryan Saylor said demand in the New Haven market started to skyrocket in April, and he forecasts the market in May will be 10% to 15% above 2019 levels.

"What we're seeing in general across the U.S., and in this market, is a lot of people have been booking for the short-term," Saylor said, "so a lot of people have been making their bookings closer to when they're actually going to check in."

While coastal markets are doing well, he is seeing a slowdown in urban and dense areas.

Similarly, Airbnb noted in a post last month that guests "are seeking emerging off-the-beaten-path destinations." Spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco said that searches for rural destinations — which the company defines as non-urban — increased by more than 40% this March, compared to 2019.

Paul McGuirk and his wife, Angela, have been renting out their Noank home on Airbnb since late summer of 2019. Paul said the summer outlook is on par with what they saw last year, with each weekend basically filled up, though it's filled up faster this year.

Angela said guests generally come to visit the Mystic area, while some are interested in the casinos and others are visiting family in Noank or Groton Long Point.

"After the pandemic, they want to get back out," she said. "They want to travel again, and we have a great place to visit."

e.moser@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the description of Beyond.

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