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Pandemic spurs short-term rental market bed nights increase, but so do full-time residents

By Katy Savage

Since the pandemic started, an influx of people from cities have come to small Vermont towns, and while housing inventory is low, the short-term rental market is busier than ever. Guests are staying longer, they’re booking further ahead of time and coming more often.

“It’s absolutely, unbelievably fabulous,” said June Buttner, the reservation manager at the Killington Group, which manages about 50 short-term rentals. 

Buttner said all of her inventory is booked 60 days out. Prior to the pandemic, inventory was typically booked only 30 days in advance in the winter.

“All of February is booked,” she said.

Buttner said people are also extending their stays. She said 5-6 years ago, the average stay was two days; now people are staying a full week or more. 

“The length of stay is definitely longer,” she said. “I believe they’re bringing their computers and they’re telling their boss that they’re working. People work in their houses and in their apartments and they can’t wait to get away from there.”

However, Buttner said her company, like others, initially lost some of her short-term rentals when the pandemic started because homeowners decided to live in their homes or sell them instead of renting them.

Lisa Jameson, the property manager at Killington Rental Associates, which manages about 117 properties, said the company has lost about 20 homes since the pandemic due to people moving to Killington full time and taking their homes off the market. But Jameson said that hasn’t stopped the volume of people coming. 

“The rentals are certainly up for us,” she said, mentioning that the summer market is particularly busier, with some people booking stays for the entire summer, as opposed to short-term. 

“People are coming and staying for 30 plus days or the entire summer,” she said.

Jameson said the pandemic has also impacted winter vacation travel. 

“Last winter, we noticed a big increase in the mid-week stays,” she said. “In the past, it was weekends. A lot of people now can work from home and they are coming for the week.”

The Killington population also increased during the pandemic from about 850 people to an estimated 1,400 residents. Bret Williamson, a broker at Killington Valley Real Estate, said long-term rentals and seasonal rentals are hard to come by. His seasonal rentals were booked months ago. 

“I haven’t had inventory in months,” Williamson said. “Generally I’d be doing rentals right up until now.”

The availability of rentals has also decreased throughout central Vermont. 

Woodstock Fire Chief David Green, who oversees short-term rentals in Woodstock, said the fear of Covid-19 has led to people taking their properties off the market.

“It’s down significantly from the last two years,” he said, estimating that the number of short-term rentals has been cut in half.

This comes at a time when towns have started regulating short-term rentals, though those who  manage the rental market said enforcement has had little impact. Woodstock just started enforcing permits for short-term for rentals in town. 

Green scans websites such as VRBO and Airbnb himself and sends a message to the homes he sees advertised informing them that there’s a law in Woodstock.

It costs $75 per year to register your short-term rental in Woodstock. The fine for not registering can reach $800 a day.

“People are a little slow complying, but we are doing a soft start to it,” Green said. 

Killington started enforcing short term rentals last year. Homeowners are required to register their rentals with the town or be subject to a fine of up to $200 a day. 

Zoning Administrator Chuck Claffey said about 591 short term rentals were registered last year. The renewal date for short-term rentals started Nov. 1. Claffey said a number of properties have yet to renew. 

“We’re being a little bit lenient about the renewals this year since it’s the first year we’ve dealt with renewals,” Claffey said. “We will start contacting them and levy fines for not renewing,” Claffey added, explaining fines will likely start next month. 

Claffey estimates there are 600-700 short-term rentals in Killington in total, but he said that number “fluctuates all the time.”

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls from people about how Killington deals with short-term rentals,” he said. “It feels like there are a lot more people trying to be active in the short-term rental market.”

Killington hired a third-party software company called MUNIRevs, which scans 40 or more short-term rental sites for the town to see which properties might not be registered.

It costs $150 a year to register a one-bedroom rental in Killington, $200 for two bedrooms and $250 for three bedrooms. Town Manager Chet Hangenbarth said the fees brought in $108,000 last year. Most of the money went toward oversight. 

“It’s not like it’s a net gain to the tax base,” Hagenbarth said, estimating that about $15,000 of fees was left over last year and transferred to the general fund. “It was designed to pay for itself,” he said.

Hagenbarth said it was too soon to tell how many short-term rentals there are in Killington now. 

“Some people bought and sold houses and put them in [the rental market],” he explained of the fluctuation. “We just don’t know at this point.”

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