Snowbirds arriving in force this month will find a renter’s market.
Mary Hass, a 57-year-old from Louisville, Ky., who has been spending winters in Florida for 20 years, said she saw rent drop for the first time in several years.
“We actually paid a little less this year,” she said, “but it was minimal.”
She and her husband, Ray, 61, are staying in a home at Colonial Country Club in Fort Myers for $3,500 per month. That is about $300 less than they paid in rent a year ago.
Some local real estate agents acknowledge the slowdown in home sales leaves more options for winter residents.
“There are more rentals available than we have seen in some time,” said Keith Hopkins, co-owner with Sun West Realty Partners in Naples. “Right now, the renter can live a little higher than if he owned it.”
But the dealers are split on how much is due to an abundance of supply and how much can be attributed to the economy, and even the warm winter weather up north.
Helene Perron, property manager with Coldwell Banker Residential, has 45 to 50 properties available for rent and only about half the number of rental contracts she had in hand at this time last year.
“They keep telling us the economy is strong, but I just don’t see it right now,” Perron said. “The cheaper rentals have gone really fast, but the most expensive rentals are not going.”
She said the increase in available units could be a factor, but she noted one client recently dropped the rental price of a house in a local golfing community from $2,500 to $1,800 and still awaits a taker.
Mary Hass said the greatest difference she saw when shopping for a seasonal rental was the number of different places available in her price range. “We paid less, but that was minimal,” she said, “but I had my pick of rentals.”
The Hasses used to own a place in Florida, but for the past four or five years, they have opted for a seasonal rental in the Fort Myers-Sanibel area.
Brad Dauterman, of The Gulf Coast Team at Realty World, said it is a renter’s market.
But he said it remains a buyer’s market, as well.
“There is definitely more options available,” Dauterman said. “There are some deals to be had out there, so if you are on the sidelines and waiting to buy, now is the time to step forward.”
He said some could see about a 10 percent discount on one-year leases — adding a $2,000 rental last year can be had for about $1,700 this year — but has not seen much of a drop in the asking price on seasonal rentals.
“Now is a great time to rent,” he said. “We have been really, really busy. Seasonally, I just need some terrible weather (up north).”
Another trend that could be affecting the market are lease options, giving renters the chance to decide whether or not to buy, Hopkins said.
“Whenever you can turn a renter into a buyer, you are going to be able to sell property,” he said.
While the tourism development council reported 2,425 fewer visitors for November than last year, it is impossible to tell whether those people are not staying at a hotel because they found a deal on a rental.
And, with the drop in home sales, more rentals are available from private individuals.
Barry Zaransky, a 55-year-old Illinois retiree who has had golfing vacations here for several years, is spending a month in an Orlando rental this year — two months in Fort Myers next year.
He said he had seen no noticeable drop in prices to lure buyers.
“In fact most properties seem to be expecting the same or higher rents next year,” he said.
The condo Zaransky put a deposit on for next year is in the Iona-McGregor area and might have been sold had the market not slowed.
Matthew Simon, 46, owns the town house and was looking to sell last spring after years of tenants.
“By the time I had the place cleaned up and ready for sale, the market had turned down and I would have had to drop my price $20,000, so I decided to re-rent it instead,” Simon said. “I’m sure hundreds of other sellers in the county have made the same decision. All that extra inventory has to be good for the snowbirds.”