By JIM PARKER
The Post and Courier
Temperatures are falling, days are growing shorter and the younger generation is back in school.
Yet local real estate companies that manage rentals of beach houses, waterside condos and island residences are staying active during the late fall and winter months as they see sizable numbers of off-season tenants.
The number of people who stay long-term — a month or more — in the October to March period seems to be on the rise. That’s even as the weather gets nippy to downright frigid at times.
Dee Bruggeman has a theory.
“It’s all relative,” says Bruggeman, director of property management with Avocet Properties on Folly Beach. “The winter here is not the same as the winter in Ohio,” she says.
Duncan Newkirk Jr. who launched Vintage Escapes of Charleston on the Isle of Palms two years ago with his father, agrees that the off-season business is largely climate-related. “Most people, from up north, want to get away from the colder weather,” he says.
Indeed, blue skies and at least moderate heat indices most of the time are notable factors for the Charleston area’s off-season popularity.
But that doesn’t explain why the Lowcountry is going strong even when other South Carolina oceanfront areas are shuttered for the off season.
“I’ll tell you one thing. I see a lot of beach towns such as Pawleys Island and Litchfield, their season is Memorial Day to Labor Day. In Charleston, it stays busy. The only slow season is January and February,” Newkirk says.
Beach rental proprietors contend that the Charleston area has an advantage: People have choices, from touring the historic district to dining at top-notch restaurants, other than just the sand and water.
“There’s enough to do in Charleston, because of the plantations and downtown. You can have a really good vacation,” Bruggeman says.
Tabi Jaglowicz, director of marketing for Island Realty on the Isle of Palms, says the off-season is seeing “an increase in last minute stays.” Island Realty handles more than 350 vacation homes and condos on the Isle of Palms (including Wild Dunes), Sullivan’s Island and private Dewees Island.
Jaglowicz credits “Mother Nature for blessing our area with spectacular fall weather plus local events and weddings. Folks are beginning to plan for the holidays as well as snowbirds preparing to fly south for the winter,”she says.
Most of Folly Beach’s visitors arrive by car, according to Bruggeman. “Folks come from the Southeast, Greenville, North Carolina, Tennessee,” she says.
Some even take the short trip to Folly Beach from elsewhere in the Charleston area. “We get a lot of people who work from home, corporate people and retirees who can spend time at the beach.” Another off-season enticement is to invite relatives down, say for a few months, so they are nearby but not bunking at the primary residence. “Everybody can visit with one another,” she says.
Avocet Properties manages leases on 180 beach properties including homes and condos. The vacation rentals are almost exclusively for the week during the peak summer months when residences can take in $600 to $2,000 or more for a seven night stay.
Rates decline after Labor Day, with weeklong and weekend visits popular. “Holidays are big with short-term (rentals),” says Newkirk, of Vintage Escapes of Charleston.
Leases of a month or more, which Bruggeman calls winter beach rentals, are growing in numbers. They now account for 10-15 percent of the company’s off-season business.
Avocet Properties has a simple pricing formula. Monthly rates are double the weekly rate, which means tenants in effect get two weeks free.
Home and condo owners typically are comfortable with the rates, since they are at least taking in some off-season income rather than have the properties stay vacant, she says. The prices aren’t giveaways, either. One four bedroom, three bath beachfront home in the program goes for $4,000 a month, she says.
Tenants, in turn, can cut their expenses if they lease for longer than 90 days. In those cases, renters aren’t charged a 12.5 percent combined sales and lodging tax, Bruggeman says. “That’s a really nice savings for people.”
Winter rental bookings at Avocet Properties are up 20 percent this year over 2011. ”I think it’s a program that’s catching on,” she says. Even the September and October weekly rentals saw 15 percent boosts from last year, Bruggeman says.
From October to March, Island Realty leases as short as two-to-three days while also getting monthly rentals. Rates drop substantially during this season, Jaglowicz says. Long-term rentals give people “the opportunity to have an island haven to escape to during the weekends, offering an escape from the cold, or a temporary furnished residence for those coming to the area for work or visiting local relatives and friends.”
Vintage Escapes handles leases on 35 beachside properties, focusing on customer care and availability rather than sheer size, Newkirk says.
The Cooper River Bridge Run, held in late March or early April, is the unofficial start of the weekly short-term stays at the ocean, Newkirk says. “Most long-term stays are 30-90 days, November and December to the end of March. We stop at the Bridge Run,” he says.
The winter rental business has been steady but is not for everyone, Newkirk acknowledges. “It depends. Some owners don’t want long term rentals, some say, ‘Let’s have at it.’”
According to Jaglowicz with Island Realty, the October to March period is important to the company’s business in several ways.
“Guests staying for their first time during the off-season discover new reasons why our area is such a wonderful place to be any time of the year. Not only do they generate rental income, but they also help boost the local economy keeping local businesses and attractions thriving,” she says.
“Many of our monthly renters, especially those who return every year, become involved in the community such as volunteering,” Jaglowicz says.
While greater Charleston benefits from its extra attractions, the ocean still remains a magnetic draw. “It really gives a person peace, to gaze about, look for shells,” Bruggeman says. “It’s a nice thing to do.”
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or email@example.com.