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Vacation Rentals in Flagstaff: A Love Story?

No doubt, most everyone who travels in Flagstaff and elsewhere around the world has heard of or participated in vacation rentals of privately-owned residences.  Of course, renting a room to a tenant is nothing new, but the number of vacation short-term rentals hosted by online providers has surged everywhere, especially in destination locations like Flagstaff. 

These sites, such as VRBO, Airbnb, Evolve, Flipkey, Booking.com, to name only a few, allow a seamless booking and payment experience for both homeowners and short-term tenants.

This sounds like a great thing, right? More visitors enjoying and spending money in Flagstaff certainly is a good thing…or, is it?

It all depends on who you talk to. I called a property owner who purchased a home in Flagstaff earlier this year. She lives in Phoenix and plans to enjoy her home with her family in Flagstaff about four weeks out of the year. To make her purchase more cost effective, she rents her property out as a short-term rental, using one of the above sites. She employs a local cleaning crew to keep the place sparkling to contribute to her rave customer reviews. Her income since January is more than $50,000 for the short-term rental of this property. Short-term rental income can help defray property owners’ expenses, including mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance and upkeep.

I had the pleasure of meeting with a primary property owner in one of our beautiful areas of Flagstaff at an open house. I asked her how she enjoyed living in the community. This home owner relayed her experiences of living next to a property that is being used as a short-term rental property. She lamented the loss of cohesiveness of her community, the parking problems that invariably arise from more cars and tenants unaware of local parking regulations and noise from celebrating short-term renters, which is something this neighbor says she endures every summer weekend. Her frustration and sadness was evident. She and her husband chose this beautiful neighborhood years ago to retire and enjoy the tranquility of her home. Instead of welcoming her neighbors for a visit, she found herself putting up “no trespassing” signs to prevent short-term tenants from walking through her backyard as a shortcut.

How do these short-term rentals affect our City of Flagstaff? Does a short-term rental property owner pay the same taxes that a hotel contributes to our BBB base?

When our local law enforcement is called for noise or parking complaints, who pays for these additional services?

Do these short-term rentals have any effect on our Flagstaff world-class hospitality industry? Or are they complementary? Would you prefer the unique flavor and adventure of a short-term rental, or would you choose a well-managed and established quality hotel with all their amenities?

In speaking with a local professional property manager who manages short-term rentals and long-term residential leases, her opinion was that it is rare to have unruly and disrespectful tenants with either tenancies, but it may be better to have a disruptive short-term tenant, rather than that same tenant with a long-term lease.

Professional and local management of these properties is far superior, in this manager’s opinion, rather than relying on an offsite Internet app to manage any rental property, especially a short-term rental.

Talking with consumers, I learned that this appears to be a consumer-driven industry, similar to Lyft or Uber. Some travelers may choose a taxi service or public transportation, and others may appreciate and enjoy the ease of booking a privately-owned ride on their cell phone.

Short-term renters tell me they enjoy the ease of booking, ability to read reviews and live in a community that they wouldn’t have as an opportunity otherwise. I checked out Airbnb this afternoon just to see where I might book a room tonight in Flagstaff and there were 139 options to rent. One was in a travel trailer with great reviews!

Flipkey had 169 rentals, Evolve 47 and the VRBO website had 83 pages. Will these numbers increase? Or will these short-term rental property popularity wear off for consumers?

Perhaps a more important consideration regarding this consumer-driven free market enterprise is the overall effect on our Flagstaff community.

It makes sense that properties that allow short-term rentals make an excellent investment for investors who seek a semi-passive income in Flagstaff. Increased demand drives down the already limited supply of available properties, and will increase the property prices of Flagstaff’s home high sales prices even further.

Housing affordability is a major concern for buyers who want to live in and contribute to our rich Flagstaff culture.

Sure, Flagstaff has a beautiful location with peak views, ponderosas, countless trails and outdoor adventure opportunities, but the heart of Flagstaff is truly the people who live here. Flagstaff city and county services, Coconino Community College, Flagstaff Medical Center, Northern Arizona University and local business owners and staff support us all in countless ways. Flagstaff is also home to those who generously volunteer and donate to our more than 100 non-profits in efforts that enrich all of our lives in Flagstaff.  Hospice services, music and art, conservation groups, educational and science are just some of the treasured non-profit’s missions that Flagstaff’s community members contribute to with their time, money and passion to make Flagstaff’s beauty more than skin deep.

It is a right of property owners to enjoy and profit from their property, within the legal ordinances and/or HOA restrictions. It is also a right of a primary property owner to experience “quiet enjoyment” of their home.

What are your thoughts on short-term rentals in Flagstaff? FBN

By Paula Mack

Paula Mack is a realtor with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty. She can be reached at 928-699-6837 or paula.mack@russlyon.com.

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