When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and people realized they were going to be working from home, rentals on Cape Cod were scooped up by many looking to relocate to places like Falmouth or Sandwich for the quality of life and beautiful scenery.
Upper Cape realtors indicated some people wanted to buy, but an unprecedented housing market boom that started in early summer made it difficult to find a home and they turned to renting, Jack Driscoll, branch manager at Kinlin Grover Real Estate said. Erika Capobianco of Foley Real Estate said others were coming here from Boston, its suburbs and other East Coast metro areas looking to winter here.
An already tight rental market has been strained with a new pool of prospective tenants. Renters can expect to wait months or longer, pay up to one-third more than before the pandemic, and be prepared to outshine other applicants.
“What you are seeing is the classic case of supply and demand. The rental market gets worse every year, but this year, it has dried up,” Ms. Capobianco said.
This is especially true for year-round rental units, but even the saving grace for many people who work on the Cape—the winter rental—is no longer an option. Until now, renters could at least count on a robust and plentiful seasonal renter, where a second-home owner rents a house in the off-season, from fall to spring.
“This year, I have rented all my winter inventory, and the calls are still flooding in,” Ms. Capobianco said. “I have people calling me that were looking back in July and still haven’t been able to find anything.”
Kerry Houde, rental and sales agent at Weichert, Realtors-Donahue Partners, is seeing the same trend.
“It’s always been difficult to find a rental, whether year-round or seasonal, but now I am receiving 10 to 15 applications for each rental. There’s a shortage of short-term leases this year,” she said.
A woman who answered the telephone this week at Beach Realty in East Sandwich said they took all of their winter rentals off the market this year due to the heightened COVID-19 risk.
Many second-home owners decided to stay put for the winter, or are vacating the Cape much later in the season than usual, Ms. Houde said, adding they are also allowing family and friends looking to escape cities and suburbs during the pandemic to stay in their summer Cape homes.
“Or, they are handing the keys over to their child who in is college and can’t go back to school,” Ms. Houde said. “That scenario has happened over and over again this year.”
The situation is exacerbated by a larger pool of applicants this year. Both realtors said they are receiving calls from homeowners who have just sold their properties and need a place to live, she said.
“They sold, and now they can’t find a house to buy right now because of the hot real estate market,” Ms. Houde said. With the unprecedented real estate market on Cape Cod where homes are being sold sight unseen, for over asking price and usually with bidding wars, homeowners want to take advantage of the seller’s market.
“But now they need a place to live, so they are looking for short-term rentals,” Ms. Capobianco said.
As with the real estate market, the law of supply and demand has changed the average rental prices.
“The days of the $1,000-a-month rental is over,” Ms. Capobianco said. Homeowners were happy to take whatever rent they could in the off-season, she said. “But this year, I am getting twice that amount and I think I’ll keep the prices high for next year.”
Ms. Houde said rates are significantly higher than last winter, when renters paid on average of $1,200 to $1,500. “Owners are now asking and getting $1,800 to $2,300,” she said.
Young families appear to be out of luck.
Falmouth resident and mother Ashley Moreau said she was looking at a three-bedroom home for $1,650 per month, but the price increased to $2,000 without including utilities when COVID hit this spring. She then found another rental for $1,600 per month in the winter and $1,200 a week in the summer.
“That’s just too expensive for me and would have made it hard even working just two jobs,” she said.
She was trying to stay in Falmouth to be near her family and allow her children to stay in the Falmouth school system, but when after having to resort to a hotel room with no kitchen and a shared bathroom for $1,400 a month, she decided she had to look elsewhere. She landed in a temporary shelter in Fall River. She drives to Falmouth every day for work but is still looking for an affordable home in her hometown.
“Being a single parent is hard, trying to find affordable housing for my children...is harder,” Ms. Moreau said.
Having children has made the search much more difficult.
“I had a woman tell me ‘It’s too hard to rent to people with children. If I need to evict you there are laws that will make it much harder than it should be. I’m sorry I can’t rent to you,’” she said. Another landlord hung up on her when she said she had children.
“I’m so disappointed in the rental community that still to this day will overlook the needs of families on the Cape that have the ability to pay,” Ms. Moreau said. Those units, she feels, go to tenants without children.
Community online forums are flooded with requests from people looking for housing and reaching out for any leads, having exhausted online and real estate office listings. A woman had been searching for a home for months with a budget of $2,500 a month. Another woman offered to pay the entire year of rent up front and said she would just buy a home, but was not willing to get into a bidding war.
Ms. Houde said the sheer volume of applicants is allowing homeowners to be selective.
“I’m finding if have a pet, you’re at a huge disadvantage. Supply is low and demand is high, so people don’t have to accept animals now, where before people were flexible,” she said.
“Homeowners want to review all the applicants, as they have multiple people to choose from. Credit scores come into play now and they can hold out for a perfect credit score and someone willing and able to pay more,” she said. “It makes it hard for someone who is rebuilding, or building their credit, or just getting out on their own for the first time in their life.”
Ms. Capobianco said homeowners are also looking hard at credit scores and are turning people away for less than good scores.
“I could be saying ‘no’ to a real good person, but we have no other way to judge a prospective tenant. It’s sad to turn people away, but homeowners can choose from a large pool of candidates. I think the Cape is just pushing everyone over the bridge when it comes to housing. If you don’t have good credit and can’t buy a house, you might be moving in the next couple years,” she said.