The coming summer rental season in Montauk is already as wild as a summer night at the Surf Lodge. “In 12 years I have never seen anything like this,” said Theresa Eurell of Town and Country Real Estate. While rental calls normally start in the beginning of the year, this time they started in October.
Marge Harvey of Pospisil Real Estate estimates that more than half the inventory is already gone. Yet most renters, who tend to be in their 20s and early 30s, are bypassing real estate agents altogether and going directly to homeowners.
For one thing, they can. International short-term rental websites such as VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) connect homeowners and prospective renters without a go-between.
For another thing, many of those looking for rental properties in Montauk are groupers — groups of hormone-fueled youths known for sharing bedrooms and, of course, beds. And playing loud music.
“Last summer people were knocking on random doors and asking if they wanted to rent their houses,” said Samantha Ruddock, a fire dancer and native of Montauk.
It’s against the town code to rent a house to four or more unrelated people. Thus, most real estate pros want nothing to do with them.
“We’ve had quite a few inquiries about larger groups,” said Michele Gosman of the Martha Greene agency. How does she screen customers to determine if they are groupers? “We ask basic questions like, ‘How many in your party? Bedrooms? Pets? Tell me about yourself.’ ”
Alas, she admits that most likely groupers lie about the number in their party. Her only real weapon is “a feeling” as to whether they’re part of a group or not. It starts with the phone conversation. Sometimes they offer telltale hints. If she asks, “When do you want to see it?” and they tell her they’ve already seen it, that lets her know that probably another agent showed it to them before catching on to their true intention.
“If you’re really not sure, you have to give it a shot — meet with them. Then you can tell by how many show up.” Also, she said, there’s always background conversation from which to pick up clues. “There’s no other way of knowing except to give them a lie detector test.”
The demographics of Montauk are undergoing major change. “It used to be a lot of families looking for the summer,” Ms. Eurell said. “Now they’re just looking for a month.” It seems that the middle-class families that traditionally spent their summers going to the beach and fishing have been priced out.
“You’re looking now at a minimum for a modest home of $5,000 or $6,000 a week,” she said. And on the high end, rentals have climbed up to $225,000 for the season. “We have seen most homeowners raising prices across the board 10 or 20 percent.”
No matter, the renters keep coming in droves. Ms. Eurell has customers seeking four bedrooms with a pool and a budget of $65,000. “We can’t find anything in Montauk. They’ve got to spend $80,000.”
Those who can afford that are the young set, those with “very good jobs, who come from Manhattan to Brooklyn — we get a lot from Brooklyn — and want the whole season.” These renters typically have a budget ranging from $60,000 to $80,000 and desire four or more bedrooms and a pool.
“As a company we’re not doing group rentals, which is what these are turning out to be,” said Ms. Eurell. As such, the company has forfeited a lot of business. “It’s not worth it to me to have this over my head. I pride myself on having good relationships with sellers and landlords — that’s how we all feel. We don’t want to be responsible for their homes being filled with 10 or 12 people.”
As with other agencies, Town and Country goes through a screening process. “All we can do is ask for references from past rentals,” Ms. Eurell said. The challenge is that, as licensed agents, they can’t be seen to discriminate. If she is at all suspicious, she will recite the law to potential renters. At that point, it’s up to the homeowner to decide.
Gone are the days when an agent placed a tenant directly in a house. It has gotten to the point where “owners want to be at the house and meet potential tenants,” Ms. Eurell said.
Owners are also raising their security deposits. Group rentals have added more wear and tear to the fixtures. Where it once was 10 percent, the norm is now 20 percent. “We have two clients asking for 50 percent,” said Ms. Eurell. Even more significant, some owners are requiring to be shown the tenant’s homeowner’s insurance and demanding to be put on the policy.
In what seems to go against the past real estate agency position, Ms. Eurell echoes the current attitude among Montauk agents. “There’s a lot of reasons to go directly to a homeowner,” she said. “Homeowners can show up and check out the place. We can’t do that. We’re not a property management company. We put two parties together. After that our job is supposed to be done.”
Meanwhile, if next summer is anything like last summer, there will be endless letters to the editor in this paper complaining of group noise and unseemly behavior.
Michael Sendlenski, who was appointed as assistant town attorney for East Hampton by the new town board, said, “We’ve been discussing [the group issue] since we started in January . . . [and] will be enforcing the town code to make sure quality of life is preserved.” His office will be “coordinating efforts with all the public safety” departments in town, he said, though he wouldn’t comment on procedures. He doesn’t want to “give violators a way around the law.”