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Pandemic? Summer Rentals Are Booming on the Cape and Islands

This summer, David Bergmark isn’t coming to the family cottage in Truro. Like many people, he’s staying closer to home, which for him is Prince Edward Island.

But he says rentals of the cottage on Cape Cod are going strong.

“It’s been a completely different experience,” he said. “We could have rented it two or three times for each week period.”

Even with some businesses faltering and unemployment claims high, the market for rental homes is hotter than ever. The pandemic seems to have spurred new interest.


“And what they're looking for is, they're looking for a place they can go, where they can feel safe and be away from others and just spend time with their families,” he said.

When his daughter cleans the cottage between visitors, she leaves what they call a “COVID basket,” with hand sanitizers and soap to help people feel more comfortable.

But she doesn’t provide sheets, towels or blankets, like she normally would. Guests bring their own linens. Bergmark says it’s too difficult to clean all of those things adequately at every changeover.

Data from the short-term rental industry echo his experience of a boom year.

Sam Randall of Airbnb said most people are booking trips within 200 miles of where they live — places they can reach by car.


“And this is something that we see as likely to continue until there's more stabilization with COVID,” he said.

Searches on Airbnb for Cape Cod properties for Fourth of July were up about 30 percent compared to the same time last year.

And Randall said homeowners on the Cape made more than five million dollars over the holiday weekend, a bump of 25 percent.

The rental marketing site WeNeedaVacation.com specializes in Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Its website traffic dropped in the spring — that is, until Governor Charlie Baker started announcing plans to reopen.

Then, the site went crazy, WeNeedaVacation executive Jim Reese said. 

“The rebound has really, honestly, been astonishing, because we've hit numbers that we've never hit before,” he said.

In June, visitors to the website were up 300 percent over last year.

But the strong rental market puts a new wrinkle into a controversy in some Cape Cod communities.

When people are allowed to rent for as little as one-to-three nights in a residential area, some neighbors say it creates problems.

John Crow, president of the Osterville Village Association in Barnstable, said those shorter-term rentals attract events that often turn disruptive, such as bachelorette parties and reunions.

“And the house becomes a party house in a residential neighborhood,” he said. “We're very concerned about that.”

He said those are fundamentally different from the traditional Cape Cod rental of a week or more. 

“That's something we have no problem with, have never had a problem with,” he said. "We just don’t want those two issues confused, because this is a different type of rental.”

Crow belongs to Barnstable Watch, a group looking for more regulation of short-term rentals. 

The Barnstable Town Council is scheduled to consider a zoning change this month, but the group finds it too permissive.

Some residents say the debate should be postponed until the pandemic passes.

Meanwhile, Bergmark, the owner of the Truro cottage, sees the bump in rental popularity extending beyond COVID-19.

“Who knows what it will be like next year,” he said. “If there's still a virus around, I'm sure it'll be like this. And if there's no virus around, it will be interesting, because I think people probably are rediscovering local places.”

And for many New Englanders, those places are right here, on the Cape and Islands.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.