How did a summer packed with sharks, tornadoes, and new taxes impact vacation rentals in Falmouth? Depends on who you ask.
Real estate agents in Falmouth reported more availability than in past seasons. Some still have a rentals available for last-minute August tourists.
Jamie Edwards, an agent who handles vacation rentals at Kinlin Grover, said things are slower than usual this year. Houses that are fully booked every week of the summer have vacancies.
In some cases, owners who typically handle their own bookings have turned to real estate companies to help them fill vacancies. These owners were able to fully book their homes in previous summers, Ms. Edwards said.
Erika Capobianco, a rental manager for Foley Real Estate agreed. “We’re down about 25 percent in reservations across the board,” she said.
Online marketing and booking websites paint a different picture. Rentals are booked up this season. WeNeedAVacation.com, a popular marketing site for vacation rentals on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket is reporting an increase in bookings on the Upper Cape rather than a decrease.
The Upper Cape has seen a 4 percent increase in bookings so far over 2018, according to the website.
The Mid-Cape, for comparison, has seen a 4.2 percent decrease in bookings over 2018 data, according to statistics provided by WeNeedAVacation.com.
Elizabeth W. Weedon, press coordinator for WeNeedAVacation.com, said it is important to remember that “2018 was an exceptionally strong year for bookings.”
Outer Cape and Lower Cape towns see sharks and inclement weather as contributing factors to a rough vacation season. In Falmouth, some industry insiders view the new “hotel tax” as the root of changes in booking numbers.
The state legislature passed a short-term rental tax late last year. The taxes took full effect in July. Short-term renters in Falmouth pay a 5.7 percent state tax, a 4 percent local tax, and a 2.75 percent Cape and islands water tax.
Ms. Capobianco broke down the cost of booking a vacation rental to explain why real estate agencies were seeing a more dramatic change in booking than online sites. When someone calls to book a weeklong stay in a vacation home, Ms. Capobianco said she might give them a quote of $3,000. She then informs them that they will be charged a $500 deposit and about $370 in taxes. The added costs on top of the initial quote drives some prospective vacationers out of their price range, Ms. Capobianco said.
Rental agents are legally required to factor the new tax into their listings and collect the cost from the tenant. If a homeowner chooses to list independently online, the burden falls to them to ensure they collect the 12.45 percent tax on a booking.
Homeowners might not be actively collecting the tax this year, in order to prevent rate increases or out of a lack of understanding, Ms. Capobianco said. Do-it-yourself sites often have “very small disclaimers” about the new tax, she added.
Ms. Weedon said WeNeedAVacation.com has taken steps to alert users about the tax. The company regularly updates a blog post to help users navigate the new requirements. The site does not, however, collect the tax for the individual homeowner.
Michael Kasparian, president of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce, said he had not received any complaints from businesses about a decrease in foot traffic this summer. The season got off to a slow start, but the town is “about as full as it always is this time of year,” he said. Some businesses broke previous records for sales on July Fourth.
“I think it’s very different here than it is down Cape,” Mr. Kasparian said. He noted that Falmouth might be faring better than towns down Cape because there is a larger second-home population that does not use their property to generate income. Falmouth also tends to get “repeat visitors” because of the variety of activities and events the town has to offer, he said.