Everyone is well aware of the explosion of short-term (vacation) rentals over the last five years, and our cozy mountain town of Flagstaff has been no exception. Despite local controversy over allowing and regulating short-term rentals, Flagstaff Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway properties have continued to expand. In fact, owners have seen consistent occupancy rates following the initial early COVID-19 March/April lull and have expressed surprise at the robust market. A short search of the vacation rental websites for the greater Flagstaff area shows upwards of 500+ units. One Airbnb superhost I spoke with said this past year (2020) was incredibly better than 2019. Feedback she received from guests indicated they didn’t want to stay in a hotel and were inquiring about the beefed-up cleaning and disinfecting protocols. She heard from guests that they were just so sick of being home.
Blue Door Properties owner and manager Mary Jane Morse reports this past year was “the busiest year we’ve ever had.” Blue Door Properties manages short-term rentals for local owners in Flagstaff, Sedona, the Grand Canyon and Telluride. Morse goes on to say that there are many reasons why people decide to rent their home in the short term, such as increasing their monthly income, wanting to share their second home with others, helping to pay a mortgage or trying to keep their home after losing a job. “Some people are just trying to make it work,” Morse said. According to Mashvisor, an analytics website for real estate investors, the post-COVID short-term rental market is as strong as ever.
However, the guests have changed from pre-COVID times. Before March, guests came from other states and countries to explore Northern Arizona. Since COVID started, according to Airbnb superhost Eve Hansen, most guests are from Phoenix and surrounding valley locations. As people cancelled their summer vacations to far-away places, the closer, safer “mini” vacation has become a favorite thing to do. Some guests make last-minute reservations to come up to Flagstaff for a weekend to get out of the house and spend time in nature. Others book longer, sometimes six weeks or more, and work remotely from their vacation spot while the kids do school online.
And Flagstaff is an easy drive from Phoenix, yet offers the feeling of being a world away in the cool pines. Our outdoor enjoyment opportunities such as hiking, biking, disc golf, regular golf, rock climbing, geocaching, stargazing, skiing, four-wheeling, (I could go on but you get the idea) are endless. Flagstaff’s vibrant downtown offers quaint bookstores, local and native arts, delectable restaurants, breweries, outdoor equipment shops and scenic walkability. The magnificent Grand Canyon and the stunning red rocks of Sedona are only an hour away. It is the perfect getaway from the big city, the traffic, the heat and the crowded spaces. These qualities ensure that Flagstaff will always be a desirable place for vacationers to spend time.
Growth of the Flagstaff vacation rental market has had impacts on the community. Within neighborhoods, complaints by residents include noise and light disturbances, trash, parking and over-occupancy. Some people miss having neighbors; some don’t. Some feel the saturation of vacation rentals in Flagstaff contributes to the high cost and low availability of permanent housing.
Short-term rentals also provide well-paying jobs to cleaning crews, maintenance workers and property managers. Guests contribute to the tourist industry that is so key to our economy. Restaurants, bars and retailers benefit, even with COVID restrictions.
Undoubtedly the finest of Flagstaff’s attributes are its residents, the people who call it home and contribute to our rich and diverse community. Wouldn’t it be ideal if more real estate investments stay local and create wealth for those community members? The teachers and childcare workers, emergency and healthcare workers, the food and service workers, etc.? The thought of that endeavor may be intimidating for some. But short-term rentals are a reality for Flagstaff and they are here to stay. Look in FBN next month for details on how to purchase and operate your own vacation rental. Until then, stay healthy, Flagstaff! FBN
By Amber Welsch
Amber Welsch is a sales associate on The Mary Mendoza Team at Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty. She is a 20 year resident of Flagstaff and a native Arizonan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 928-607-9566.