by Tom Linehan
This summer you can have your pick of vacation homes all around the world: Lake Tahoe, Vancouver, London, Vail, or Paris. You name it. How about Allandale? That's right. Allandale is home to a half a dozen vacation homes. They are referred to as vacation rental homes and it is a small growth industry. Typically, renting out summer vacation homes is something more commonly found in Europe or well-known vacation spots like Aspen or Vail or out at the lake. With the explosive growth of Austin's own HomeAway, the company that owns HomeAway.com, VRBO.com and VacationRentals.com, you are now finding vacation rental listings like the ones in Allandale with names like Hill House Allandale, or Halcyon House, or the Hancock Cottages in neighborhoods everywhere.
According to Cindy Hill, a local vacation rental property owner/operator, there are an increasing number of vacation rentals in Austin. When she got into the business 2 ½ years ago, there were approximately 60 vacation rental listings in Austin. Now there are close to 200.
HomeAway is one of Austin's recent success stories. The company that started in 2005 has become the worldwide leader in vacation rental web sites. Time Magazine pointed to the company in an article in its March 18, 2010 issue, “Austin Shows How to Make New Jobs,” as an example of a successful company in down times that has helped it weather the economic downturn. People renting out homes for vacationers. What a great idea! But is it a good idea for neighborhoods like ours?
Allandale resident Maurice Anderson brought it to the attention of the Allandale Executive Committee in June that people are buying up homes in Allandale and converting them to vacation rental properties. You can go to VRBO.com, (a HomeAway web site), type in Allandale, Austin, Texas and find seven listings in Allandale.
Who wants to vacation in Allandale? Turns out a lot of out-of-towners make Allandale their destination when visiting Austin. It makes me think that Staycation we've been planning for this summer won't be so bad after all – Dart Bowl, Amy's, Hey Cupcake, Billy's, Ginny's, Northwest Pool…
Well, in fact, most who rent vacation rentals in Allandale are not really vacationing. They are visiting the City and prefer staying in a home rather than a hotel. I have spoken with two renters with properties in Allandale, Rachel Nation and Cindy Hill to find out what the appeal is. It's very simple, Allandale is a central location. I met with Cindy Hill, the owner of 2 vacation rentals at one of her homes (see photo) on a Saturday morning. It was rented out to a couple for two weeks but they were kind enough to let us visit the house while they were out for the day. Cindy tells me the reasons for people choosing a vacation rental vary. Some have relatives in the area and want to be close by. Others simply are visiting from out of town business or an event like ACL or SXSW or a UT football game and want the comforts of a home in a central location. Most have a connection here and are not just visiting as tourist. Cindy says there are approximately 195 vacation rentals in the city excluding the lake properties. There is a higher concentration of them in South Austin. I went to the vrbo.com web site (VRBO.com is owned by HomeAway) and counted 5 vacation rentals in neighboring Rosedale, 2 in Crestview, and 16 in SoCo. Travis Heights has the most with 28 vacation rental listings.
People rent for a night or a week or several weeks. It appears to be nice side business for the property owners. Rachel Nation and her husband Nick Buddo and Cindy Hill and her husband Armin Steege don't make this their full-time job though. That said, at the home I visited on Pinecrest, the price for a few nights is $225 per night. Rent it for week and you get the 7th day free. The monthly rate is $3,000. Renters pay a $100 cleaning fee plus the 15% hotel tax. On the expense side, Cindy's property on Pinecrest includes wi-fi, utilities, security, and lawn maintenance. Cindy has been in the business for 2 ½ years and says she generally has her 4 properties (she owns 3 and manages a fourth) rented out more days out of the year than not. The house I was visiting was booked for July and August.
Vacation rentals are more work for the owners than long-term rental properties because of the demands for upkeep. Like a hotel room, the property is cleaned when people check out and upkeep is the sole responsibility of the owner. There is more interaction with the renters in vacation rentals than there is with long-term renters. Both Rachel and Cindy commented that meeting interesting people from other places as a plus to the business.
Mr Anderson, who lives across the street from a vacation rental property on Whiteway (photo to the left) that was recently renovated, brought it to the Allandale Neighborhood Association's Executive Committee's attention at the June meeting because of some concerns he had. “They are not regulated by the city,” he says. “It is like running a hotel in residential area with guests coming and going and an increase in traffic.” In addition, he had particular issues with how the renovation work was being handled including having a refuse trailer parked on the street for six weeks. He believes these vacation rental properties reduce the quality of life in the neighborhood and that vacation rental property owners in effect are running a commercial business in a neighborhood. I contacted Dawn Leach with the Southwood Neighborhood Association in South Austin who has also raised concerns about vacation rental properties and she said, “We aren't specifically opposed to vacation rental properties but feel they need to be regulated, as they are in other cities, and that the owners need to be paying the appropriate "bed tax".
The City of Austin's Code and Ordinances Committee, a subcommittee of the Planning Commission, is taking up the matter. It was a topics listed on their July 20 agenda. It's not clear what they will come up with but it appears there are some concerns from other neighborhoods about vacation rentals and the fact they are not regulated. According to Carol Gibbs, Neighborhood Advisor with the City of Austin, vacation rental properties “are not currently subject to the regulations that govern Bed & Breakfast operations: registration, licensing, adequate parking, paying bed tax, etc.” Apparently, there have been problems with vacation rentals in other neighborhoods and the Committee is interested in finding out if there is a need for regulation.
Cindy Hill and her husband, Armin Steege, have two properties in Allandale, one on Pinecrest and the other near Lucy Read. Rachel Nation, a long-time resident of Allandale, and her husband Nick Buddo have two in the neighborhood, one on Greenlawn and the other Whiteway. Jemima Dawson, wife of Bert Dawson, an employee of Homeaway, has a property near Northwest Park. Both Rachel and Jemima live in Allandale. Cindy lives nearby in Rosedale. Go to vrbo.com for descriptions and photos of the listings. Next time you have guests or family visiting from out of town, you can suggest they stay in one of Allandale's vacation homes.