The Working Waterfront

A home away from home… for a week, anyway

Vacation rental market flourishes in Blue Hill/Stonington region

Laurie Schreiber
Posted 2015-10-21
Last Modified 2015-10-21

The Blue Hill peninsula, Deer Isle and Stonington don’t draw the millions who visit the region’s neighbor to the east, Mount Desert Island, each year.

And that might be exactly why this quieter region is seeing a growing market for vacation rentals.

“We have a working waterfront, which is the heart of the community,” said Morgan Eaton, owner of the Stonington-based Island Agency, which lists about 70 vacation rentals May through October, mostly on Deer Isle. “People come here because they want to have more of a nature experience, to enjoy the scenery and our beautiful coastline. It’s a quaint setting and there’s a sense of community here, and that’s what keeps people coming back.”

Houses rented by the week adds a different option to a wide variety of accommodations that also includes motels, inns, bed-and-breakfasts and campgrounds. It’s a relatively new industry that can earn homeowners hundreds to thousands of dollars per week.

“There’s something for everyone in most budgets,” said Eaton. The rentals go for $475 to $3,900 per week and range from tiny cottages with water views to large estate-type properties that can accommodate many people.

Eaton has watched the vacation rental market blossom.

“It’s grown tremendously,” she said. “From 10 to 15 years back, the vacation rental business has nearly quadrupled.”

The situation of the homeowners varies. Sometimes, they are folks who have a second house on their property. Others, who live year-round elsewhere, visit their summer home for a while, and put it up for rent the rest of the season. Few people buy a second property specifically with the idea of renting it in mind, because the cost usually outweighs rental earnings.

One facet of the growth is seen among people who like to vacation that way, so they buy a summer home themselves and then rent it out when they’re not using it.

The reason for renting one’s house is pretty basic—it helps owners pay for their maintenance and tax bills, and there’s usually more earnings beyond that.




For renters, there are a number of reasons to go for this option, Eaton said. It provides them with the comforts of home, such as private bedrooms, a yard and a kitchen, which means renters don’t have to go out to eat for every meal.

In the height of summer, many renters are family members vacationing together, many with young children. In the fall, not surprisingly, the market is occupied mostly by retirees. Renters contract for one week or more. An emerging segment of this market is long-term summer rentals, said Eaton.

There are many online sites—AirBNB, VRBO and the like—where homeowners can advertise rentals on their own. Why would they market through an agency?

Some do both, said Barbara Ward, who works for Compass Point Real Estate in Blue Hill, which lists about 35 seasonal rentals ranging from $500 to $3,200; some of those came in just this past summer. Ward has worked for Compass Point for two years and has seen both the vacation and affordable year-round rental markets increase greatly just in that time.

“The advantage of going to an agency is that we know all the properties and can make recommendations,” said Ward. “They can tell us exactly what they’re looking for. Also, if a tenant loses a key or if there is a problem with a rental, there is someone local to contact.”

Is there a downside to renting out your own home? Well, sure, homeowners can have nightmares about the tenant who will trash the house. But the consensus among agents was that, while it’s a risk, it’s highly unusual. Usually, said Eaton, tenants are respectful of the property. And the occasional accident is covered by a security deposit or the homeowner’s damage insurance.

While it might seem like these great earnings would make it hard for year-round residents to find affordable rentals, that hasn’t been the case in the Blue Hill/Stonington region, said Eaton and Ward.

“Everyone who can be part of the vacation rental market would like to do that, because they can make more money,” said Eaton. But some rentals simply aren’t suitable for vacation rentals. Both agencies advise accordingly.

“We determine which would be suitable for vacation versus year-round,” Eaton said. “If your vacation rental is not booking many weeks, versus a gorgeous waterfront compound, it might make more sense to rent year-round.”

What does a great vacation rental prospect look like? There’s a hierarchy, said Eaton. It starts with waterfront, then water view, then an in-town setting, which a lot of people are seeking for the convenience. Some wooded vacation settings also do well.

“Generally, properties that don’t have a connection to convenience or to the water, we consider possibly a better candidate for the longer-term rental market,” Eaton said.

Ward added pet-friendliness and number of bedrooms as additional factors.

What did people do before all these vacation rentals came on the market?

“People depended on other lodging options,” said Eaton. “We’re not replacing those businesses. In fact, we like to promote them. We often refer people who are looking for shorter stays to the local inns, B&Bs, and motels.”