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Lake property rentals are a big business

FINGER LAKES—Enjoying summer at the lakes can mean anything from visiting some of the area’s public beaches for swimming and fishing to purchasing a beachfront house on a private point, paying the taxes, arranging for upkeep and the headaches of absentee ownership. But if summer vacation means only a week or two of family down-time each year, it’s also possible to rent a luxurious lake house for a week or more and, for a price, pretend it’s yours.
Location is one prime aspect of what makes a property special. “People are looking for beautiful waterfront, good access to the wine trails and Watkins Glen,” says Lynn Thurston, managing broker at Finger Lakes Premier Properties in Penn Yan. The other important consideration is the amenities offered. High-end furnishings, hot tubs, Jacuzzis, large-screen TVs, cable, well-equipped kitchens and outdoor barbecue equipment, fireplaces, wireless internet, non-motorized watercraft, like a sailboat, kayak or canoe, linens and a marvelous view add up. “You get into them and you feel wrapped in elegance,” Thurston says.
Property management companies, as well as private individuals, list available rental properties on-line—and they’re finding lots of takers.
As well as a lot of property owners wishing to make their lake houses available to vacationers. Rachel Sbarra, marketing director of Century 21 Sbarra & Wells in Penn Yan, which owns Finger Lakes Getaways, managing vacation rentals, says she’s constantly listing new properties.
“Owners are renting their properties to compensate for the taxes,” Sbarra says. “I don’t know what percentage are renting, but it’s a relatively high percentage.
“Even just driving around the lake you can see all the for-rent signs.”
Properties can range from less expensive houses on some smaller area lakes, where swimming may be limited, to pricier ones with few steps between road and cottage or cottage and lake, a little more privacy or a little wider lake frontage, room for up to a dozen guests, extras like a firepit for outdoor evenings, washer/dryer, watercraft. One property pulls out all the stops with a screened wrap-around porch, a miniature golf course and a heated inground pool, as well as a kitchen equipped with all the accoutrements for gourmet meals. Why is it worth the expense?
Thurston explains, “A vacation rental is less expensive than renting hotel rooms and you have a lot of amenities. Say you’ve got 12 of you coming, then you’d need maybe six hotel rooms, you’ll have restaurant expenses and where will the family gather—the lobby? It’s not just the very wealthy that will rent a high-end vacation home, it’s everyone that understand the economics of renting a vacation home instead of a hotel room.” With on-site cooking facilities and the lake for entertainment, this option works for a variety of families, she says. Luxury rentals run often run upwards of $2,000 per week in peak season, but this is often still less expensive than other accommodations for large families or groups of friends vacationing together.
For instance, SailWinds on the west side of Seneca Lake, north of Dundee, is a new house whose amenities include a shallow area of lakefront, outdoor shower, hot tub, steam shower, outdoor fire pit, washer and dryer, two fireplaces, DVDs in all the bedrooms plus a library of movies, even a high chair and a gift basket. It may be rented with an adjacent lakeside cottage to host a 16-person family reunion.
Brookside, also on Seneca Lake’s west side, north of Dundee, offers kayaks, a paddleboat, TV with HBO, central air conditioning, a hot tub—and eight beds, two of them queen-sized, as well as a plentiful supply of bathrooms.
Fish On! on the east side of Keuka Lake’s east branch offers, among other things, a variety of outdoor and indoor games and vacation equipment.
And Peaceful Retreat near Burdett on Seneca Lake offers a similar list of amenities, plus an executive suite as well-equipped as many smaller cottages. A telescope set up in one of the family-room areas suggests additional entertainment in the form of watching the stars—or other vacationers across the lake.
Vacation rentals also work well for the owners of many second homes, who use the money they earn from the rentals to pay their taxes and other expenses. While some few owners built or bought cottages as investments, most of these are well-loved family homes whose owners enjoy them during the off-season.
Premier, which currently manages 235 properties on six Finger Lakes, also employs a small army of housekeeping and maintenance staff. In peak season, there’s only a six-hour window to completely clean and refurbish each rental between guests, and with 85 percent occupancy expected this summer—significantly up from last year—the process is close to an Olympic accomplishment. “It’s like a little swat team. Amazing, isn’t it?” Thurston says.
Now and then, when all this luxury feels not only wonderful but natural, people use their vacation as “an opportunity to check out the vacation home and see what it’s like before making the commitment to buy their own,” Thurston has found. Sbarra has also seen renters so taken by the lake they’ve returned to consult the realtors to find properties of their own.
Lake rentals are available for the economy-minded as well. “The ones we’re representing are in the $760 to $1,500 a week range,” says Sue Ellen Balluff, a broker with Senecacayuga Properties, based in Seneca Falls, which began handling lakefront rentals last year. “It depends on whether the vacationer is coming to do a lot of sightseeing of if they’re coming for the lake and the fishing.”
She’s also seen the desirability of properties based on ease of lake access and amenities like paddleboats, kayaks, TVs and internet availability.
It adds up to a very active market in lakeside rentals, with this year representing a change in attitude and economy for many.
“This year they’re feeling much more confident,” Thurston says cheerfully. “And people who are employed feel they need a vacation.”

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