Vacation real estate, including swanky villas and lavish homes, has long been a favorite of the rich and famous that want to steer clear of the paparazzi or other guests entirely. During Covid-19 times, when people are working from home, a private rental assures both safety and serenity for remote working (or learning).
Beyond buying out an entire hotel for yourself, vacation rentals and the destination real estate market are hot right now. According to elite vacation club Exclusive Resorts, December 2020 was its best sales performance month since 2011. In a survey of its high net worth individual members, nearly half said they are willing to spend more for “larger or more premium” (more than five bedroom) vacation rentals. More than 90 percent of its members plan to travel the same amount or more post-pandemic.
The vacation real estate market is booming
Instead of hotel stays, some travelers are shifting their focus to private homes for rental or long-term investment for future vacations. Especially popular are road trip-accessible destinations from large urban centers like the Poconos, Outer Banks in North Carolina, and many mountain regions of the west.
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Tropical destinations in the Caribbean or off-the-beaten-path locales are seeing strong demand, too, as travelers escape crowded cities and cold weather.
Ian Hurdle, founder and director of The Agency Turks & Caicos, says 2020 was a banner year with more interest than ever before in real estate rentals and purchases. Many believe that real estate can be a solid investment opportunity when financial markets remain volatile and the potential for inflation is high. Having alternative assets in destinations that are sure to rebound can be a worthwhile investment strategy.
His agency, which specializes in high-end properties like the seven-bedroom Triton, has a strong presence in the Turks & Caicos with a growing list of properties in Anguilla, Antigua, and both the east and west coasts of the U.S.
Hurdle says he has closed numerous rental deals and vacation home purchases during the pandemic.
“We’ve seen such strong demand because people are tired of social and political tension,” says Hurdle. “They want to come to island paradise and get away from it all.”
The Turks & Caicos has been lauded as a destination that has kept Covid-19 under control. Visitors must complete a negative PCR test before arriving and have proof of the results as well as insurance. This strong stance has helped tourism rebound while keeping a focus on safety.
Many of Hurdle’s customers come to the islands for an extended period of time and use it as a place for remote work or learning. Since personal tours of homes is harder during the pandemic, he says that a substantial number of leads have come through his own blog posts and social media, especially Instagram, where he uploads videos and photos of his tropical properties on a daily basis.
While much of his business is vacation rentals, he says that people are also looking to invest in second homes, especially now. Many were already thinking of buying, and the pandemic pushed them to finally do it.
“If their kids can’t attend school in person, they are moving to islands where they can stay for long periods and enroll their children in school.”
The Turks & Caicos has such a program where foreigners can apply for status that gives them the ability to live (but not conduct business) and even attend school for a fee.
Tropical destinations become second homes
For those that can afford the investment, there is a wide variety of vacation homes on the market. With eight bedrooms, a beachfront location, private pool and gym, kitchen and waterfront living areas, Impulse is one of the largest vacation rentals in the Turks and Caicos. Cleverly described as a “hotel disguised as a home,” the 21,000 square feet of space within Turtle Cove Marina stretches across three floors and comes with its own private dock.
Part of the appeal of renting (or buying) a home is that it allows the option to remain within your “travel bubble” or hire staff to help with cleaning or cooking.
In addition to celebrities, Impulse has welcomed multi-generational groups, couples traveling together, and extended family “travel bubbles.” For those that prefer not to rent, it comes with a $15 million price tag to call it your own.
Sing A Song Villas, also on the Turks and Caicos Islands, is another draw for vacationers wanting privacy. The property is for sale at $7.49 million, but hosts regular rentals throughout the year.
In addition to independent properties, there is also the option to invest in villas that are part of a larger resort complex like Wymara Villas, which is part of Wymara Resort and Villas (formerly known as the Gansevoort). This allows renters and owners the opportunity to make use of the resort’s larger facilities should they wish.
Filippo Brignone, a developer of the Careyes, Mexico resort complex says demand for private villas was high for the holidays and is continuing in the new year. They allow for social distancing from others, and many come with private chefs that live at the villa, which reduces their own outside exposure.
“Some guests have rented villas for many months at a time this year to escape city life,” adds Brignone. “Several are choosing to work remotely from their villa as most have fiber-optic wireless Internet.”
Urban, suburban, and in the middle of nowhere
Arijiju, a privately owned estate on the Borana Conservancy in central Kenya’s Laikipia region, has been seeing strong demand from Americans and Europeans looking to get away. With five bedroom suites (including two private villas), a full staff of 14 to cook, clean and lead safari game drives and an impressive spa, it offers the seclusion many are seeing with the serenity of being in the middle of nowhere (albeit with luxury within reach).
The all-inclusive rates (starting at $9,000 per night for six people) cover drinks, wellness-focused meals (many ingredients from the property’s own garden), game drives, laundry, airstrip transfers, and five hours of daily spa treatments. The rates vary based on length of stay and individual preferences. Luxury operators like Micato Safaris can organize a stay in conjunction with bush flights to the property.
It’s not just traditional real estate that is drawing attention. This mirrored house sits on the slopes of an extinct volcano just a short drive from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. It can sleep two people in what is billed as a livable art installation. It runs on solar energy, re-uses rainwater, and was built by volcanic rocks collected from the mountain. Its mirrored surface is visible to birds thanks to a patterned UV coating. For those that want to truly isolate in nature, there is something for every personal style.
Rosewood Washington D.C.’s new townhouses are adjacent to the hotel, but provide both overnight travelers and extended stay guests the opportunity for maximum privacy.
They feature their own living rooms and full kitchens allowing guests to stay within their own travel circle. The four-floor townhouses are also ideal for business travelers looking for the comfort and services of a hotel (like daily housekeeping and even turndown service upon request) without sharing facilities with other guests in a larger building.
With private entrances, furnished courtyard patios and laundry rooms, there is little need to interact with other guests. According to the hotel, standalone accommodations with private check-in are popular these days.
Earn and redeem points for vacation homes
Jennifer Hsieh, vice president of Homes & Villas by Marriott International, says they have seen a similar trajectory of interest noting strong demand especially in “drive-to and ocean/mountain destinations” with bookings over the past six months rising significantly. Marriott Bonvoy members love the option to rent a private property and be able to earn or redeem points for stays.
Members earn five points per qualifying dollar spent while elite members in the program earn even more points per dollar spent. For example, Gold Elite members earn a 25 percent bonus on points while top-tier Titanium Elite and Ambassador members earn a 75 percent bonus.
To redeem points for a vacation rental, members must search for a property on the Homes & Villas website. The amount varies based upon the property and dates.
Despite impressive measures from hotel brands that are using both human intervention and robotic efforts to guarantee safety and build back a recovery plan, having the place to yourself, whether you rent or buy, can be a whole new world.