Rental alternatives

The bed-and-breakfast phenomenon began as a homey alternative to hotels and motels. Baby boomers embraced the opportunity to stay in homelike settings and meet their hosts and other guests over morning coffee.

Now such Internet sites like AirBnB.com have taken that chummy business plan to a new place, enabling anyone with a decent guest room to advertise a room for rent. The website’s home page describes it as connecting to 34,000 cities in 192 countries.

“My events director uses AirBnB to rent out her place in New York City when she comes up here to work,” Tripp Bassett told me. Bassett is owner of the Barn on the Pond, a lodging and events rental establishment on Glasco Turnpike between Woodstock and Saugerties.

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“I’ve only been in the bed-and-breakfast business for a year,” he continued, “and I’m new to AirBnb. Because it’s a hybrid business, it doesn’t quite fit neatly into any of the online categories. But I’m on all the sites: Vrbo, Homeaway and TripAdvisor’s new site, Flipkey.”

Broker Danielle Bonesteel of Freestyle Realty in Woodstock manages rental homes for clients. She’s discovered that not all Internet sites are created equal. “I tried AirBnB,” she said, “but they charge a percentage to both the landlord and the renter. VRBO and Homeaway only charge the landlord. Plus AirBnB automatically charges the renter’s credit card as soon as they make the reservation. I could see all kinds of nightmares with unhappy renters who canceled their vacation and got charged anyway, so I canceled my account with them.”

All these websites have advantages in making possible the more flexible distribution of heads on beds. Especially when it comes to events, the proliferation of websites works hand in glove with word of mouth. A whole bunch of small places near each other, often differing in character, can each accommodate a few guests attending a nearby event. The places in this article represent only a few of the increasing variety of locations offering an ever-widening choice among lodging opportunities.

In Tannersville, innkeeper Tom Uberuaga said word of mouth gets him bookings at Nehapwa, his four-bedroom historic Catskills cottage overlooking the mountains. The term “cottage” in this case refers to the massive late Victorian arts-and-crafts homes enjoyed by wealthy summer residents around the beginning of the twentieth century.

Uberuaga, also a professional restaurateur, is expanding his B&B concept to include elegant dinners. “We’re seeing a lot of return traffic,” he said. “We’ve got two groups that have come back for the past four years. This is the first year we’ve been open full-time, and we’re hoping word of mouth gets more people here for events as well as lodging.”

He said he’s gotten bookings through AirBnB and VacationRentals.com as well as from Nehapwa’s own website. “We don’t even have a sign out front,” he said. “We probably should.”

“Because we don’t have a lot of rooms, I partner with other B&Bs in the area,” explained Bassett. “Deer Run Cottages is right next door, and we collaborate on events. People arrive on a Thursday, the wedding is on Saturday, and everyone leaves Sunday or Monday. People who come here are looking for an alternative to the hotel wedding.”

Bassett hosted the first wedding at his barn this season in May.

Josepha Gutelius, the owner of Saugerties B&B, said most of her business comes from her website or from word of mouth. “My daughter got us on AirBnB six months ago, but I haven’t gotten any reservations through that yet.”

Gutelius said her rentals, just two rooms with private entrances in an historic stone house, seem to appeal to the younger celebrity crowd. “They don’t seem to be interested in the social aspect of B&Bs that the Boomers like. They’re not here to meet people. They like their privacy and the feeling of being in a boutique hotel. The economy hasn’t had any impact on us at all. Each year business is getting better.”

Part of the appeal, according to Gutelius, is the fact that Saugerties is developing a following of its own. “When I opened six years ago, people came to stay here as a destination, but if they went out they wanted to go to Woodstock,” she said. “Now they want to be in Saugerties. They like the shops, the restaurants, the local flavor. Being a top-ten coolest town helped, definitely. And the lighthouse is a big draw.”

Bob Malkin, who owns two rental homes in Palenville, credits the Internet with making the vacation rental business possible. It’s brought more short-term renters and owners of homes together. “Years ago you didn’t have a choice,” he said. “You had to find a place that someone knew, or find it through someone else.”

When he was a boy, Malkin’s family in Brooklyn thought of Monticello as the Catskills. Each summer they paid $200 to rent a room in a house that they shared with other families. The arrangement was known as a kuchalein (sharing a kitchen).

“We had so much fun it never occurred to me to notice that there weren’t any mountains,” he said.

After 9/11, he and his wife Babs headed farther north and he fell in love with the mountains — and the waterfalls. They now live with a waterfall in Saugerties, and rent out two neighboring houses near the legendary Kaaterskill Falls in Palenville.

“I still think there’s a huge population in New York that doesn’t know that the Catskills has these amazing waterfalls and outdoor wilderness. People fall in love with moving water. But they don’t know it’s here,” said Malkin. “They think the Catskills are the Borscht Belt, just like we did.”

He’s been hearing people describe this area as the new Hamptons. “Maybe so,” he said, “but the prices are lower, and nobody really knows about it yet.”

Bonesteel reported that two five-bedroom houses are the rentals she handles that get the most interest. “I’m seeing a lot of groups who want to rent a place together,” she explained. “At $700 to $800 for a weekend, it’s a bargain with a large group. But landlords are also starting to ask for hefty securities up front when there are a lot of amenities. One of my rentals requires a $1,000 security deposit. It’s fully refundable, but since they’ve got a flat-screen television and one renter broke a brand-new hot-tub cover the first weekend it was in use the owners feel like they need that protection.”

Malkin said his business has been growing every year. But running a kuchalein doesn’t cut it with today’s consumers. “It’s got to be perfection or it’s going to flop.”

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