Owning a Beach Rental – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Most days I still can’t believe that we own a beach rental in Cape May. I am typically not a risk taking, adventurous person by nature. My personality type is more of a high verify not a just take a leap and figure it out later type. In my earlier post, “Did you really say “Let’s buy a beach house?”, obsession was the only words that truly described my determination. Looking back on that time, it was as if I was taking inspired action. That was nine years ago and it has gone by in a flash.
Let me start with the ugly first and get that out of the way. I can sum most of it up in two words – Hurricane Sandy. Our first mortgage payment was due the very day that Sandy made landfall in Cape May—October 29th, 2012. We were nauseas with the thought of the potential destruction that our new home might withstand. I was the one who pushed for this. It was all my idea. It might have been the biggest mistake of my life and our family’s life.
You see, we knew there was a nasty leak in the roof above the kitchen. Anyone could tell by the huge stain on the ceiling. That part of the house is an addition, and an outdoor deck sits on the roof above it. The roofer was scheduled to begin work that very week using a crane to remove the deck. Of course, it was all postponed due to the impending storm. We had to try to do something ahead of the hurricane. So, in a desperate attempt to mitigate the damage, Gerard cut a hole in the ceiling of the kitchen. He then tried to divert the rainwater we knew would flood in by making a shoot of plastic into a gigantic trash can. Then we waited with everyone else. Holding our breath…
After the storm passed, it was virtually impossible to get on the island and information was extremely limited. The Facebook group Cool Cape May members were so awesome! The locals who stayed offered to drive by and give people a quick assessment of their homes and the water levels. We learned that the storm surge had reached our home, but it did not appear to be flooded. It was several days before we were able to visit. Upon entering the back door, we immediately saw that the ceiling of the bathroom and kitchen had been completely blown out from rainwater. Sandy laughed so hard at our water diversion tactic. There was seaweed covering our front porch, but the water did not cross the threshold into the interior.
Sandy also did major damage to our air conditioning units. We foolishly thought we only needed to replace one part of the system. What we didn’t know is the entire system was discontinued by the manufacturer and parts were near impossible to find. After struggling to keep them running amid numerous renter complaints, we finally threw our hands up and put in new AC units – at considerable expense. That hurt…
But we were truly blessed to have sustained so little damage compared to others. Our hearts broke for those across the east coast that lost everything.
Our old house must pay for herself, so for several months in the summer she is a full-time rental property. The income covers the mortgage, utilities, insurance, cleaning, general upkeep and so forth. We do enjoy sharing our Cape May home with other families who are making their own wonderful lifelong memories. Many of our guests have been renting from us for years. Most of the time, multiple generations are there for the week (or two). They frequently write in a small journal that we keep in the living room. We hear about their adventures, seeing dolphin jump right out the water, fabulous meals, bike trips… I could go on and on. The first thing I do when we go back for the first time is read that journal. The truth is I secretly want to own a Bed and Breakfast and this is as close as I can get (Gerard is really not onboard with that idea.)
Most of our guests treat our home as if it were their own. They come year after year on the exact same week. We even have one family who leaves behind little gifts for us each year. However, not every experience has been positive. Unbeknownst to us, one of our weekly renters were senior week celebrators. As you can imagine, the neighbors on our quiet little street were most displeased with the loud music and revelry at all hours of the day and night.
Then we had the golfing guys weekend guests who notified us that they “accidentally punched a large hole in the bedroom wall”. It was very clear by the size of the hole that it was a head and not a fist that did the damage. I don’t even want to know how that happened.
Our absolute worst guests were ones that never even paid rent. They had no contract. There was no security deposit. A mama raccoon had her babies in the wall of our master bedroom! Yes, you read that right.
The first guests to notice heard a little scratching and we sent the property manager right over. They found nothing amiss, and our guests weren’t concerned so we chocked it up to birds outside. The guests the next week heard louder scratching and were quite terrified. (I thought it might be our ghost, Margaret, but I was not going to tell them that.)
The property manager was dispatched again, and this time cut a hole in the ceiling and discovered evidence of Mrs. Racoon. Our guests wanted no parts of a raccoon family (completely understandable), so we worked with our rental agent to find them a new place and refunded them the full week’s rent (ouch). The next family said if the raccoons were just in the wall and not the house they didn’t care—party on! When they left, we were able to get a company to come and trap them (to humanely relocate them). They did not anticipate how wily mama was and our old house had a lot of spaces in the walls to hide. At the end of the day, a quick visit from our dog, Lance sent her and the kids packing. She just had to smell a pooch near her kits and off she ran with them. The entry point was discovered and sealed so no new freeloaders allowed.
Where do I begin? We have been so fortunate to have the opportunity to do this. The countless memories that have been made by us, but also our extended family and great friends are priceless. Our kids have brought there friends to the beach every year, especially on Memorial Day. Our daughter’s friends actually have self assigned beds that they use every time they come. We have wonderful neighbors who have become great friends which is a huge bonus. Our family considers the time spent at Ann & Lee to be some of the best days of the year. We love it when the house is full of friends and family, and everyone is laughing and talking and having a great time. We have so many pictures throughout the years and each one makes me smile.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the work involved. There is a lot to do each year keeping up with repairs, lawn work, heavy cleaning of furniture, carpets, and linens. However, it is not much different than what you do with any home. At the end of the day, it was a great decision. One of our favorite parts of the house is the front porch. The horse drawn carriages go by while we are having coffee. In the evening, we like to sit on the rockers with a cocktail or glass of wine and listen to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach.
Do you ever think about trying to buy a beach rental house or condo? If you do and want more info into our experience, please reach out. I would love to hear from you and give you the 411 from my experience.