Short-Term Rentals: The New Paradigm

A little more than two weeks from today, it will once again be Memorial Day. The East End will get an early look at the coming summer, eager crowds, lines, headaches, but also a sense that we are all in it together, lifelong local and visitor alike.

Truth is, the high season does not really get going at the end of May anymore, if it ever did. June is quiet, at least until the kids get out of school, with weekends the exception.

One thing on our minds lately, is how new shorter-term rentals affect life and business in and around the South Fork. Anecdotally, some retailers say that Airbnb people passing through don’t spend money the same way monthly or seasonal renters might. In one example, a woman who used to sell a lot of throw pillows to people looking to add a splash of color to rental quarters no longer sees that kind of traffic. A lingerie shop owner’s take is that short-termers bring everything they need for two or three nights, while people in town from June through early September might come in to stock up on a whole drawer full of what she offers.

Chances are high that we will look back on this era as one of tremendous change. It used to be that to get a piece of East Hampton or Southampton one had to ante up five figures or more. Now, just about anyone who can scrape together $1,000 and a gas card can buy into the game for a couple of days.

Local governments have made half-hearted attempts to tamp down the short-term scene. Nonetheless, many property owners, hosts in Airbnb parlance, have just carried on with impunity. It is not that short-term visiting is all bad. It has certainly been a boost for restaurants and helped pay the bills for many people. But there is little doubt that the trend is transformational. The problem is that none of us even remotely understands yet how transformational it will be in the end.