Former Flagstaff resident Gary Walden wanted his wedding to be intimate and a time to connect with family and friends coming from Europe and across the nation. The wedding couple decided to rent a vacation house in the Mount Elden neighborhood, sharing the space with eight others.
“It was a great way to spend time with friends and loved ones in a relaxed atmosphere,” Walden said.
Vacation rentals are becoming a popular travel tool for travelers who desire more space, want to have the option to cook their own meals, and would like to save money. With more than 400 listings on AirBnB in Flagstaff alone, homeowners are clearly taking advantage of the growing trend. There are quite a few options to advertise their vacation rentals as well, such as AirBnb, VRBO and HomeAway.
The house Walden stayed in, called the Elden Connection, is a four-bedroom, four-bath home owned by Mark and Lisa Engelman, who live in Phoenix. Mark is a retired software engineer and Lisa works as a program engineer at Honeywell. When Lisa retires, they plan on moving to Flagstaff and into the Elden Connection.
The Engelmans started renting the home in September 2013 and have had more than 150 bookings during that time span. “We bought the house because it seemed the perfect house for a vacation home. Other people have helped to pay for it,” said Mark.
The Engelmans advertise their listing through VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), which is affiliated with HomeAway, and say that the company is reputable and takes care of all their marketing needs. People often come for weddings, birthdays, reunions, and men’s or women’s weekend getaways.
“My favorite is reading the comments, both online and in our guestbook,” said Mark. “I like hearing, ‘We had three generations of our family here.’”
The Engelmans bought their vacation rental for $300,000 and regularly pay the mortgage with their vacation rental fees, with “a little bit extra in their pockets,” said Mark.
Flagstaff residents Anne and Trevor Soper rent out a private room in their house in Sunnyside through the AirBnB website. The young couple, in their early 30s, are co-owners of UpDesign Studio, an architectural firm; Anne designed and helped build the house in which they are living. Their private room for rent is 180 square feet, with a full bath and kitchenette. It is already booked for two-thirds of the summer months, and rents for half of the winter. The Sopers say that these rentals pay the mortgage on the house and are much more profitable than renting the room on a monthly basis.
“We earn around $1,500 during the summer months and $700 over the winter,” said Anne. “A full-time renter only brings $350 and is much more wear and tear on the place.”
Vacation rentals have tripled in the last five years, according to VRBO Property Manager Jim Gillaland, driving rental rates down and occupancy up. “But it’s also a growing market, with a lot of people saying to me ‘this is my first time’ renting a vacation house.”
The unregulated vacation rental market has raised concerns with the Coconino County Board of Supervisors. On May 19, a vacation rental zoning ordinance was unanimously passed by the supervisors for unincorporated areas within Coconino County. The new code requires vacation rental owners to apply for a five-year permit, attend a pre-application meeting, create a property management plan, illustrate the boundaries of property, and ensure that on-site parking is available. The application fee is yet to be determined and the process is expected to take about 60 days. The plan will take effect Nov. 19, 2016.
“This is a self-reporting application,” said Kate Morley, senior planner for the Coconino County Community Development Department. “Enforcement is based on complaints. The goal is compliance.”
Engelman is “relieved” that the ordinance does not apply to vacation rental houses within the city limits, as a few of the restrictions would prove difficult to work around. Gillaland, who manages around 15 properties for VRBO, thinks the zoning is unnecessary. “I don’t know that the county’s plan will do anything, except cause a lot of red tape,” he said. He points out that in his experience, long-term renters cause greater damage to the house and disrupt the neighborhood much more than in a vacation rental. He adds that his homeowners with vacation rentals outside of the city will comply with the application, however.
Despite the new ordinance, owners of vacation rentals say they are a great way to use their housing resources and make money.
“Having property rights where we can have some flexibility provides a great opportunity. People can use their property but gain some income from it,” Gillaland said. “It’s a great market, and a win-win for the neighbors, the renters and the owners. A lot of benefits come from it.” FBN
For more information:
Mark and Lisa Engelman’s vacation rental: www.vrbo.com/479074
Anne and Trevor Soper’s vacation rental:
Jim Gillaland’s managed properties: www.vrbo.com/my/f38426ec-f770-40c9-b72b-cbd726ba8f0d/usa/arizona/canyon-country-northeast/flagstaff
For more information about Coconino County’s Vacation Rental Zoning Ordinance: www.coconino.az.gov/index.aspx?NID=622