Patty Gallagher, of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, took on a big responsibility for her family this winter as she looked for a summer rental home at the shore in Cape May County, one suitable for at least 12 family and friends to celebrate her nephew’s June wedding in Stone Harbor.
But while many things would factor into her decision, her search was by no means unique. Gallagher, 60, is among thousands of vacation planners and beach-home seekers prowling websites and beach towns looking for the ideal vacation home along New Jersey’s coastline.
By the time they’re finished, this army of vacation planners will combine to finance New Jersey’s $38.2 billion-per-year tourism economy, pouring enough money into rentals, food, drink and entertainment to support one in 10 jobs in New Jersey, according to a 2017 survey of the state tourism economy conducted by the Oxford Economics.
Atlantic and Cape May counties generally finish first and second, respectively, in terms of tourism dollars spent, hotels and homes rented, and other spending indicators measured each year.
And based on early reports from South Jersey Realtors, business indicators point to another strong year for the state’s shore economy.
“The average lease percentage is higher, and I think the length of stay is longer this year. We are writing a lot more two-week leases,” said Diane Bauer, a sales and rental agent for Jersey Cape Realty in Cape May. “I think people are actually feeling positive about the economy.”
A weeklong rental in Cape May can range from $700 to $14,000, depending on the number of bedrooms, the house’s location, the amenities and the time of year, Bauer said. The most popular weeks to rent summer homes are the last two weeks of July and the first two weeks of August.
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The demand for summer rentals in Avalon and Stone Harbor has increased year after year, and this year is no exception, said Holly Rennie, a sales associate for Ferguson Dechert Real Estate who has been involved in the summer rental business for 26 years.
More commitments are being made to book summer vacation homes earlier in the year, Rennie said.
“People are recognizing that the ability to find the property that they want has become more and more challenging because our available rental properties are decreasing,” said Rennie, who has about 800 properties for rent in Avalon and Stone Harbor.
Summer rental bookings in Ocean City are up over the same time last year with relatively steady prices as the family-friendly resort continues to be a popular destination for people who live in Philadelphia, said Frank Shoemaker, general manager at Berger Realty in Ocean City.
“The prime weeks are going to fill up. ... I’m not saying they are going to fill up tomorrow, or next week, but as we get closer to summer, they will be really, really sparse,” Shoemaker said. “If you want to come in an off week, we will have plenty of properties.”
Cape May County benefits more than any other county from its rental home market, with half of its homes considered either second homes or vacation homes, generating $2.06 billion in rental income in 2016, more than any other county, according to the Oxford study, based on the latest state tourism data available. A new report is due out later this year.
Only Atlantic County, with its nearly $3.7 billion in hotel accommodations, generates more in total lodging, largely through its casino-hotels.
The Wildwoods and Diamond Beach in Lower Township remain a rental destination for people living in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, North Jersey and Canada, said Hope Cathryn Rhoades, who has been involved with the real estate, interior design and staging businesses since 2005 with Blue Ocean Realty in Wildwood.
A three-bedroom, two-bathroom house one block off the beach with a pool in the Wildwoods will cost $2,500 to $3,500 a week, Rhoades said.
Joe Mancini, owner and broker of Mancini Realty Co. on Long Beach Island, said business is about the same at this point this year as last year, but it would have been even better if the recently completed winter had not been so cold, rainy, snowy and windy.
“The month of March, the weather has been horrendous, so people have canceled appointments coming down waiting for better weather,” Mancini said. “We still have plenty of available properties for the prime weeks. We don’t stop renting. We have people coming down in July for July.”
Gallagher spent a recent Saturday looking for a house to rent for a week in June that could sleep six adults — Gallagher and her two sisters and their husbands — and anywhere from six to eight college-age and young-adult children.
Bauer showed Gallagher two very different homes, one in Cape May and one in the Cold Spring section of Lower Township.
She persuaded her sisters to pick the larger home in Cape May.
“It’s significantly more money, but it’s also significantly larger. It’s going to be more accommodating for our family, and we don’t have to deal with the stress of not having enough room for everybody,” Gallagher said. “They weren’t too thrilled about spending that much money, but in the end, I think it will all be worth it.”