‘You just take what you can’: Demand surges for cottage rentals during coronavirus pandemic

Click to play video: 'Sales of cottage and waterfront properties rise in Peterborough and Kawarthas'
Sales of cottage and waterfront properties rise in Peterborough and Kawarthas
WATCH: Sales of cottage and waterfront properties rise in Peterborough and Kawarthas – Jul 7, 2020

Within 24 hours, Shane Fine had rented out his Lake Scugog, Ont., cottage for five weeks.

The Toronto resident recently bought the cottage in the Kawartha Lakes region, and says this year’s rental season has been “crazy.” As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues, more people are itching to get to cottages like his.

“We’re seeing anywhere between $500 to $600 a night,” he said. “People are very excited to stay here.”

As non-essential restrictions on travel outside Canada remain, many Canadians are seeking a getaway within their own provinces.

Property booking sites like Airbnb and VRBO have seen an increase in demand, causing a surge in pricing for hopeful renters.

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“We’ve seen a significant increase in cottage rentals, specifically non-urban markets,” said Nathan Rotman, public policy manager at Airbnb.

“Our data shows that over 60 per cent of our current bookings in Canada are in non-urban markets.”

Richard Laferriere, an Ontario-based real estate agent with Re/Max, had similar findings.

Laferriere focuses mostly on properties in the Simcoe area, and has seen a significant uptick in cottage rentals in this region. This year there’s been more demand than previous summers.

“It’s going to be very, very difficult to find a cottage for rent,” he said. “The market is very tight. At this point, you just take what you can.”

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Teddy Perdikoulias knows how competitive the cottage rental market is. The 20-year-old college student tried to book a cottage this season, but has had no success.

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“I understand why we couldn’t find a place. Me and a few of my friends started looking pretty late in the summer, so it’s pretty obvious that it was going to be hard to find a place, especially with COVID-19 going on,” he said.

With the abundance of renters searching for any cottage they can find, the market is extremely difficult to predict, and there is a very small window for anyone to find what they’re looking for, said Laferriere.

Even with services such as Airbnb and VRBO, the chance to rent a cottage for the upcoming months is very slim, even if you do only plan on staying for a few days.

With the amount of interest in his property, Fine had no trouble booking multiple tenants.

“We put it up on Airbnb about two weeks ago, and within the first week and a half, we had about eight to 10 inquiries about the place for week-long rentals,” Fine said.

“We couldn’t believe it.”

Revised health policies

Even with extensive new health protocols, experts recommend precaution when visiting spaces like hotels and cottages. Any travel poses risk when it comes to the transmission of COVID-19, health experts say, but there’s ways to try and stay as safe as possible.

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“If people take proper precautions and the hotel really does follow these strict cleaning protocols … I think there’s a way that people can reasonably enjoy some time out of their homes in the safest way possible,” Dr. David Finn, medical director at Massachusetts General Hospital, previously told Global News.

Finn recommends the use of personal protective equipment, like masks, in hotels and communal spaces whenever physical distancing isn’t possible.

“Take the usual precautions: masks, hand sanitizer and minimize direct interaction with people (outside your bubble),” he said.

Airbnb understands that due to the pandemic, people may have safety concerns around renting someone else’s property — especially if other guests recently stayed in the space, too. The company adapted their strategy in April in order to address these concerns.

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“We developed an industry-standard cleaning protocol for our hosts,” Rotman said. “It includes a step-by-step guide for hosts on how to sanitize every surface of their home to make it as clean and safe as possible.”

Fine has followed the recommendations created by Airbnb, and hopes his tenants have a safe experience.

Laferriere also understands the need for increased safety precautions from tenants and renters due to COVID-19.

“Everyone is aware of the risk. Health issues are everywhere, not only with renting, but showing (properties) as well,” he said.

“There’s a list of things we have to look after, not only masks and gloves, but rules and regulations as far as how many people are allowed in the house and age regulations.”

Plan ahead

As cottage rentals increase across the country, Rotman understands the demand is difficult to be met at the moment, but he offers some advice for those seeking a cottage getaway on Airbnb.

“With so many people booking local stays right now, we recommend people plan ahead,” he said.

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“Many of our cottages are full right now. I’d suggest people use the unique listing filter on the platform. You can find some really unique experiences.”

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Perdikoulias has noticed a significant difference this year compared to previous experiences trying to rent a cottage.

“Usually, you can get away with trying to book late,” he said, “but I guess with the pandemic, everyone wants to get out of the city.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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