The four-bedroom, three-bath contemporary in East Hampton always found a renter by spring. It was uncluttered, tastefully furnished, and had a heated pool overlooking the woods. In the past, tenants paid between $40,000 and $45,000 for the season. This year, its owner Michael Braverman started at $35,000, anticipating a bad year—but even then it didn’t go. So in mid-May Braverman cut the asking to $25,000. “Slashed to recession level,” his ad said.
The chill on the 2009 summer-rental season has been felt everywhere. Many repeat renters aren’t repeating; if they are, it’s for one month, or a week, not the season. Others are delaying, sometimes till just before vacation, says Jersey-shore broker Hugh Merkle of Prudential Fox & Roach. “We have a couple who want an August rental. They said, ‘Okay, we’ll call you in July and see how much of a bargain we can get,’ ” says Elyse Harney, a broker in Litchfield County, Connecticut. One woman looking for a place in East Hampton offered $75,000 for two $90,000 rentals (they’d already been discounted from last year’s $125,000), then walked away even though both owners finally agreed to her price. “There’s a huge amount of people who are very brutal,” says Brown Harris Stevens’ Martha Gundersen.
In the two weeks leading up to last weekend, the Hamptons picked up (although prices stayed low). But everywhere, negotiation is the norm, and renters are getting more—closer to the beach, another bedroom, a tennis court. One top broker says she relocated a client who’d been renting year-round in Bridgehampton North for three years for $110,000. He’s now on Mecox Bay for $90,000. “If you were to categorize how I’m feeling [about this rental season], it’s ‘flexible,’ ” says one Westport, Connecticut, landlord whose cottage with water views is yet to be taken. “I’m flexible on time, I’m flexible on price, I’m flexible on dogs.” A sample of cut-rate properties from the Jersey shore to the Finger Lakes, all available as of this week.