Renting an Outer Banks Vacation Home

Endless Possibilities in outer banks vacation rentals!
By Shirley Mozingo

Imagine a magical place that combines the best memories of summer camp with a grown-up wish list – a place infused with a whimsical spirit that beckons you to come and play and carries you back to those carefree days of childhood.

It’s a place where the only thing that rushes is the surf and the tallest high-rise is a lighthouse; where neglected dreams are stirred alive again and waves wash the worries from your mind.

Imagine 100 miles of unblemished sand imbedded with waterways, golf courses and wildlife sanctuaries and lined with beach houses designed solely to ease the demands of everyday life.

While others may fantasize of a place like this from their uptight-snap-your-fingers kind of world, you get to live the dream on this narrow strip of paradise.

Pocket your car keys and stroll the Atlantic shoreline. Feel the breeze in your hair and the sand between your toes. Chase a crab. Catch a fish. Climb a dune. Smell the cedars and salt air. Discover a new comfort zone.

Settle down. Watch hang-gliders and wind surfers. Chat with fishermen. Keep an eye out for wild horses, pelicans and dolphins. Talk to your son. Listen to your daughter. Slow down. Catch up. Welcome to the Outer Banks.

“There’s no other place like this in the world,” said Robert Kissell, who has vacationed here since he was an infant and is the Internet Marketing Specialist for Southern Shores Realty. “The Outer Banks is undoubtedly the best family beach destination in America. The history of the area feeds right into that. Learning about our maritime history, the Lost Colony, the Wright brothers’ first flight and much more are so intriguing that people can’t help but become entwined in the tradition and history of this place.”

In addition to its natural beauty and rich heritage, the barrier islands have an abundance of privately-owned vacation beach houses that are a key part of the area’s appeal. Visitors can find everything from a two-bedroom condo to a 20-bedroom home. Most offer a perfect pairing of innovation and relaxation.

“We have something for everyone. Every person has different needs so we spend time trying to help them find just the right place,” said Jodie Herman, Marketing Coordinator with Joe Lamb Jr. & Associates. “We have cozy bungalows for people who just got married and large houses for family reunions.”

Renting a beach house, especially for large groups, makes sense financially.

“Even in a recession, the beautiful thing is that you can come here and rent a house and that can almost be your only expense. You can cook your own meals so you eat out less. You don’t have to buy souvenirs or entertainment tickets like at Disney. Because this is a drive-to destination, the rental market here is almost recession proof,” said Richard Hess, Vice President/Sales Manager of Sun Realty.

Visitors can choose from thousands of stately beach houses, nostalgic cottages, cozy bungalows and high-end condos that span the beach between the four-wheel-drive area of Carova and the tip of Hatteras Island — and each one has a chemistry all its own. Often it’s the little things, like an art display, that make it unique. Other times, it’s the practical touches, such as an elevator, that make the difference.

“Oceanfront and pet-friendly homes are popular, but sometimes it’s the cute beach-box that was just renovated that can have the most appeal, especially for smaller families,” said Stuart Pack, Chief Operating Officer with Resort Realty. Every year brings a new list of features that enhance the “cool” factor of these hot properties, making vacation beach houses more like personal resorts.

Alongside modern comforts are amenities that indulge the home’s owners and guests —  saunas, heated swimming pools, swim-up cabanas, wine chillers, private bedroom suites, fully-equipped recreational rooms, massive patio fire pits, bowling lanes, man caves, fountains, tiki bars with fully-equipped kitchens, and 12-person hot tubs.

“Many homes now include Keurig coffee brewers and ice-cream makers. Some have whole-house intercom systems so guests can talk from room to room or pipe their music through the house,” said Janice Farr, Senior Vice-president of Sun Realty.

Wi-fi is mandatory. Beach houses with multiple gathering areas, elevators, home theaters with surround-sound, dual gourmet kitchens, and expanded outdoor recreational areas with poolside cabanas are in high demand.

“Putting greens, big-screen TVs and beach access are popular; but, whether buying or renting a beach house, it’s still about location, location, location,” Pack said.

Billy Casper, Vice President of Property Management for Corolla Classic Vacations, agrees. “If they can afford it, people want to be as close to the ocean as they can. Next, it’s the amenities, price and value. Guests look for amenities they don’t have at home because, when they go on vacation, they want to be more pampered.”

This is especially true of guests who stay in event homes. “We have several homes in Corolla that are 20-plus bedrooms set up for weddings and events. They are loaded with upgrades and even have separate event halls,” Casper said.

Whether it’s for a special event or a family vacation, the focus is on experiencing the Outer Banks to the utmost.

“As society has become more successful, vacations are hard-earned. It’s now all about expectations. We have a massive community of privately-owned vacation homes that were designed to keep guests happy. These aren’t timeshares or condos. That is very unique,”
said Herman.

One of the most coveted benefits of staying in these beach homes is that guests get to enjoy private time with friends and family away from the daily grind. There are no schedules. No pretenses. No dressing up. No morning traffic.

“It is an award-winning family vacation destination,” said Barry Breit, Sales Manager with Carolina Designs Realty. “Single-family homes with large lots prevent our area from becoming too dense, like other East Coast vacation destinations. Plus, the minimal number of condo complexes allows our beaches to remain less crowded and, therefore, creates a more pristine, natural vacation environment.”

Outer Banks beach houses accommodate nearly every whim and family member, including the four-legged ones. “It really depends upon what a group wants, but we have homes that fit all their needs. Some are remote and secluded; others are within walking distance to lots of activities. There is baby equipment for little ones and video games for teen-agers. More than half of our houses allow pets and have dog runs, crates and even dog rooms,” Farr said. The number-one search request on the Carolina Designs Realty’s web site is for pet-friendly homes.

“To meet this demand, we currently offer over 100 vacation homes that allow families to bring up to two dogs,” said Elaine Breiholz, Property Manager with Carolina Designs Realty. They are also seeing an increased demand for homes with 12 to 18 bedrooms.

“Our larger homes, reserving at 28 to 32 weeks, are grossing between $360,000 and $400,000 and are typically booked up to a year in advance,” Breiholz said.

The way that square footage is designed and divided also makes a difference to vacationers.

“I’m a fan of interesting floor plans and neat decorations. My family habitually falls in love with the things that give the homes their ‘charm.’ Impressive amenities are a way for homes to stand out, but having homeowners who put their personal touches on things gives many of our homes that distinct factor that most cookie-cutter homes don’t have,” said Kissell.

Regardless of what brings them here, many guests admit to falling in love with their beach houses, which isn’t surprising since the word “amenity” comes from the Latin root amoenus, akin to amore, “to love.”  This “love” infuses the real estate market with a steady stream of buyers and renters.

“The market is moving. New construction is up dramatically. Building permits are way up everywhere. Interest rates are still low. We have a huge amount of cash buyers looking for investment homes they can sell later. Others are buying smaller houses and taking them out of the rental market to use as second homes. The wedding business is crazy big and event homes are bringing in gobs of money. Can’t ask for anything better than that,” Hess said.

According to Breit, lenders are now offering first-time homebuyers an opportunity to buy property with only 10 percent down if their debt-income ratio is within guidelines.

“With affordable homes on the market and low interest rates, this creates an ideal environment to make a purchase,” he said. “Owning a vacation rental home is not only an investment, but also is an asset that can be enjoyed with family and friends.”

People who buy these properties as cash-flow investments understand the complexities of competing in a tourist-driven area. So they fill their homes with tantalizing amenities and place them in a management program that lures vacationers back season after season.

“We have guests who have been coming to us for years, so we know their stories and their families. I have a lady I’m working with now who is in her eighties and has been coming to the Outer Banks for 52 years. She started with us when our company was founded 46 years ago,” said Herman.
Vacation homes provide a setting for families to reconnect with each other, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

“I think it’s called ‘togethering,’” Casper said. “It means having the space to get the whole family together in one place with all the amenities anyone could possibly want. It’s an advantage that we have over hotels.”

Even outdoors, these homes are designed to invite socialization with their abundance of colorful beach chairs, porch swings and hammocks. Take-out meals take on a new meaning. At the drop of a wind sock, dinner or drinks can be served from a screened-in porch, covered deck, gazebo, outdoor kitchen or fire-pit grill.

Over time, a personal connection develops between buyers, vacationers and the folks who help them rent or own these magnificent homes. Company staff almost become an extended family as a sense of place and a feeling of belonging bind them together.

“Our guests tell us how caring and kind our staff is. We pay attention to detail and give guests a relaxing vacation experience,” said Pack.
Before they have that experience though, the majority of potential guests and home buyers are cruising another site looking for vacation rentals.
“What has changed over time is how visitors can now preview the beach houses on the Internet before committing to rent them. A vacationer should easily find a vacation rental home’s amenities, photographs and pricing in the first 10 seconds of opening a webpage,” Kissell said. “ We strongly recommend that all of our homeowners invest in digital floor plans. This allows website visitors to go room-by-room and angle-by-angle throughout the homes in just minutes.”

Updated company websites are crucial today because people are shopping year round for escape routes. Consequently, the Outer Banks has become a four-season destination. Many homes are now occupied during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and
other holidays.

“Plus there are special events, like Valentine getaways, Taste of the Beach, Bike Week, festivals and marathons that attract visitors. Fall continues to grow in popularity because the beaches are quieter, restaurants and shops are open, and the weather is still typically warm. It’s become a favorite time of year for Outer Banks’ veterans,” Pack said.

The Outer Banks is one of those rare places where you can spend a few days without spending a small fortune. It’s a gentle reminder that you shouldn’t get so caught up in earning a living that you forget how to live.

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