Memorial Day weekend usually marks the unofficial start of the summer tourist season on Cape Cod. But with strict guidelines in place for shops, restaurants and accomodations like short-term rental homes, the season so far has been a lot quieter. WGBH Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with the CEO of the Cape and Islands Association of Realtors, Ryan Castle, about how the short-term rental market is doing during the pandemic. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: I assume part of the reason why things were quiet is that short-term rentals are still technically not allowed on the Cape. As I understand, they are still set aside for first responders and other frontline workers. And I assume, Ryan, a lot of them are sitting empty.
Ryan Castle: That would probably be the case. The leisure accommodations for both hotels and short-term rentals are included in phase two, which I guess will be scheduled starting June 8, if there's no more delays.
Mathieu: So what happens if you've got an owner and they're listing their home and they're putting it up for rent now? It would be otherwise empty. That's illegal, or at least breaking the rules for somebody to rent it?
Castle: For 31 or less days, yes. But what we've seen is actually a real uptick in full-season rentals, especially in the more high-end luxury market, of people coming down for 90 [to] 120 [days], for the whole summer, essentially. And you talk about the slow start of summer, but one of the important things to feature is that this summer was 14 days longer than most summers anyway, because it's the longest period of time between Memorial Day and Labor Day you can have. So even starting it two [or] three weeks later, you'll still get almost the full, normal summer out of it.
Mathieu: I hope that means that there's hope to make up for some of the time lost here. You mentioned June 8 as a possible date here. There've been worries about the season overall on the Cape. I know you had warned of damage that could be done by extending shutdowns. What would be too late to salvage the season?
Castle: I wouldn't say that. What I'd say is the reason why June 8 or even sooner is more important for short-term rentals is to have time to stagger in capacity. The closer you get to Fourth of July for restaurants, for beaches [and] for short-term rentals, the more rush of people you may have. And as such, it's better to stagger in that capacity so we don't overwhelm our system and we can gradually bring people in.
Mathieu: It's interesting, Ryan, I heard reports from a couple of people on the Cape over the weekend. [They] said that they went to get takeout food or some of the other things that are restricted that don't allow you to walk into a retailer, for instance, and they saw long lines. Are you worried about having a cap on business because of the social restrictions that I presume will last well into Phase 2?
Castle: Yeah, I'm not so sure about that. What I guess I'd say is the businesses that have not opened yet, as they start to open [and] as you start getting more that capacity from that standpoint, you'll be fine. But you know what? If you're worried about the long line, stay home. These businesses are working their tails off to open and to adapt their entire business structure and practice, so just be patient with them. They're working their tails off to get this done.
Mathieu: It's no different than the businesses in our own neighborhoods, of course. Do you expect this will impact rental prices for the year, or are your members holding the line?
Castle: So far, we've seen some holding the line. As of right now, I think it's too early to tell what it will do to prices because you just don't know how it's going to respond to the pent up demand. What I'm hearing from a lot of the real estate brokers is they're getting a lot of inquiries, but what they're mostly doing right now is making plans for how to safely practice short-term rentals when they do occur — getting their cleaning plans up to order, getting no contact or curbside checking-in processes done. So they're really making those changes to really allow for a season to happen in a safe way.
Mathieu: That's something I wanted to ask you about, Ryan. This whole idea of showing the effort that's going into cleaning. The play for confidence, basically. Are you going to deliver guidelines, or have you already, as part of the association, to your members who own homes to follow in terms of keeping their homes clean and making people feel confident to come out of the cave?
Castle: So we have absolutely already created what we believe will become guidelines. We're not releasing them to our membership because what we did was we actually released them to the governor's reopening task force. We said, 'Here's the guidelines we created. You should make this for the Department of Public Health's policy around the state for short term rentals. We're willing to open that up and give that to you.'
However, they said there will probably be more restrictions on the short-term rentals. So what we're waiting on to release them is what the restrictions from Department of Public Health will be so that we can make sure that our guidelines exceed those. We believe the ones we've created will be releasing to our members with model cleaning plans they can use with their cleaners, and the way to proceed in a safe way to make people feel secure.