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Summer Rentals

If you haven’t booked a summer rental yet, don’t despair: In certain areas, there’s still plenty left. What’s happening now in the 2005 market.

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For the past five years, there’s been a consistent theme to the summer-rental season: Hamptons, or anti-Hamptons? As the East End fell victim to hubris, other destinations—the Catskills, the Hudson Valley—emerged with their own boosters.

With Wall Street bonuses at last generous once again, real-estate brokers were hoping that 2005 would be the year when the Hamptons came back, after summers of dismal price-slashing. “We should be zipping by now,” muses Tina Fredericks, who owns an agency in East Hampton. Instead, “it’s been a slow season,” confirms Stuart Epstein of Devlin McNiff Real Estate. And although calls have been coming in, “I wouldn’t say it’s a huge onslaught,” says Paul Brennan, head of Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Hamptons offices. (Southampton Village appears to be the one bright spot: Elliman’s Jay Flagg says many of the choice properties there are already booked.)

In contrast to the tepid Hamptons scene, brokers report, there is a flurry of activity everywhere else, from Cape Cod to Cape May. “The season is strong,” declares Nancy Pike of Beach Real Estate on Block Island, who has customers making plans for well into the fall. “We don’t have enough inventory to meet the demand,” says Frank Lumia, owner of a Catskills firm. Ditto for Nantucket—“A lot of places are gone,” says Yvonne Breslin of Nantucket Real Estate—as well as Litchfield County, Connecticut, and almost anywhere billing itself as the anti-Hamptons.

There’s one obvious reason for the market shift. “What our customers like is the quiet and the privacy,” says Patty Cullen, who markets rentals in the Catskills, where shabby-chic towns like Andes and Margaretville are especially sought-after. It doesn’t hurt, either, that prices are more grounded than in the South Fork. Owners, though, are beginning to institute Hamptons-like requirements: In tony Litchfield County, for example, where demand is especially high and supply is low, they’re insisting on longer stays. And on exclusive Shelter Island, they want heftier security deposits—as much as 20 percent of the total cost. Even the formerly relaxed Catskills are getting selective, with landlords now asking for references.

So are the Hamptons finally over? Of course not. One explanation for the ennui may be that many would-be tenants have already bought their summer homes on the island. Last year, $2 billion worth of houses changed hands in Southampton, $1 billion in East Hampton. “If you’re going to spend $200,000 on a rental, you might as well use that as a down payment on a $2 million home, rent it out in August for $100,000, and have that cover your carrying costs for a year,” explains Elliman’s Lori Barbaria. “If you live in New York City and are in the upper echelons, it’s almost mandatory to own a home in the Hamptons, anyway. You shouldn’t be renting at all.”

Mother Nature may also be to blame—at least, hopeful brokers would like to think so. “Thoughts of spring haven’t sprung yet because of the weather,” speculates Brennan. And, of course, there’s sticker shock. At the high end, prices continue to escalate, with many properties inching closer to the six-figure mark. Two weeks ago, an oceanfront estate on Further Lane was snapped up for a record $750,000.

Which isn’t to say you can’t get a deal in the Hamptons. Brennan says more houses are available for two-week leases, a previously frowned-upon practice that’s widely accepted elsewhere. Quogue and East Quogue are relatively cheap at $20,000 a month, and Amagansett North and Montauk are also surprisingly reasonable.

Or, you could take that money and live in luxury elsewhere, from a Connecticut manse with tennis courts to a turn-of-the-century Berkshire four-bedroom. What follows is a sampling of the best properties, almost all still available, whatever your price range. If any of them appeal, see the last page for broker info.


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