Suddenly, Everyone Wants to Hit the Shore

Destination Report: Beach Rentals

Maybe you’ve heard that beach houses in places such as Bethany Beach and Ocean City were all rented by January this year and that you’re out of luck if you procrastinated.

That’s only partly true.

What is the case: Since last summer, when families realized they could work and study from anywhere—yet couldn’t escape, say, to Europe—the beach rental market has thrived. “We’ve never had rentals like this,” says the owner of a seven-bedroom house one block from the beach in the Outer Banks. “We had November rentals, December rentals, lots of January rentals, February rentals.”

While houses within walking distance to the beach may be leased, Sharon Palmer-Stauffer of RE/MAX Realty Group Rehoboth says rentals are still to be had, especially in big, new communities that have sprouted in recent years on the outskirts of Rehoboth and Lewes, several miles from the shore.

“It may not be your first choice, but there still is availability,” she says. “Plus, all year long we’re adding new listings—even in July and August. Someone may have bought a house, just settled on it, and wants to rent it.”

What’s also different: who is renting.

“We see people coming from farther away,” Palmer-Stauffer says. “We used to never see folks from New York, New Jersey, but that’s a lot of our business now. We see people from Ohio, even California.”

The owner of that Outer Banks house says about 20 percent of his rentals this year are single families—mom, dad, a couple of kids, maybe a nanny. In seven bedrooms. “They’re happy to have the space,” he says, “because they’re sick of being cooped up together.”

Some of his other renters, though, defy Covid logic: “There is way more overcrowding. In season, when the house rents for $7,500 a week, you’d expect three or four families. But we were seeing 10 or 12 people coming in March, when it’s $2,500. One renter, they had nine cars. They had people coming from all over. Think about that. People feel safer in a beach house than at a hotel. But it is sloppy. They feel, My friends don’t have Covid.”

This article appears in the May 2021 issue. 

Editor in chief

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986 as an editorial intern, and worked her way to the top of the masthead when she was named editor-in-chief in 2022. She oversees the magazine’s editorial staff, and guides the magazine’s stories and direction. She lives in DC.