Home, Sweet Hotel

March 30, 2012
By

Short-term rentals for tourists a hot trend

For the price of a downtown hotel room, travelers can rent entire gorgeous, furnished condos at nearly a dozen Jamaica Plain homes.

Short-term house rentals might be the best open secret in local travel, and appears to be a growing real estate trend. They essentially offer a bed-and-breakfast type of experience, minus the breakfast.

“We really like meeting the people,” said local real estate agent William Brokhoff, who along with wife Christine Li runs a short-term rental property called the “Arthouse” near The Brewery in Brookside. “People come from Australia, Japan—almost every country I can think of.”

The popular travel website “HomeAway” (homeaway.com) shows that JP is a hotbed of Boston short-term rentals, where visitors can stay by the night, the week or the month. A map on the site shows short-term rentals on Carolina Avenue, Lee Street, Parley Vale, Lochstead Avenue, Pershing Road, Moraine Street and S. Huntington Avenue, among other sites.

But most appear to prefer a low profile. When the Gazette contacted several owners, some did not return calls. Others declined to comment, citing concerns about riling neighbors or the hotel industry.

The local Taylor House Bed and Breakfast in Pondside straddles both worlds, operating a B&B on Burroughs Street and a short-term rental house next door on Agassiz Park. Taylor House did not return a Gazette call.

The City’s Inspectional Services Department did not respond to questions about short-term rentals. But it appears that no permits are required as long as the guests sign leases; no meals are served to them; and occupancy is kept to a maximum of four unrelated people per unit. Legally, it seems, guests are simply renters, not hotel guests or rooming house residents.

Travelers love the short-term rental option, judging by the many glowing reviews of JP properties on homeaway.com.

“The house is very well-maintained, excellently laid out and very comfortable,” wrote one traveler last August about the Moraine Street house. “Jamaica Plain is a cool part of town, and there is so much to do within walking distance.”

Details of the properties show amenities that range from comfy to stunning, such as the stainless-steel-and-marble gourmet kitchen for use in the Parley Vale property.

Brokhoff said that part of the inspiration for the Arthouse came from using short-term rentals on his own travels elsewhere.

“We found it to be way more enjoyable—more space and more privacy,” he said. “People get, basically, a condo instead of a hotel room.”

There was an economic motive, too. Brokhoff and Li used to live in the two-unit house, but were forced to move out into a rental house due to personal finances and the economic crisis. Short-term rentals at the Arthouse have been far more profitable than selling it or doing a regular residential rental, he said.

Rates range from $150-$225 a night, with weekly rates around $1,000 to $1,500, and monthly rates north of $3,000. Most renters are tourists, Brokhoff said, but some have short-term jobs or are receiving treatment at area hospitals.

It is branded as the “Arthouse” because both units contain the couple’s personal art collection. The upstairs unit’s art is a “little racy”—backstage photos of drag queens at the famous Bay Village bar Jacque’s Cabaret.

“Some people freaked out. We had one couple who took down all the art,” said Brokhoff, adding that they now warn renters and that most guests “love it.”

Other than that, renters are typically no problem, he said.

“This niche seems to select for a certain group of people. We just don’t get trouble-makers,” he said.

While short-term rentals have been good business for Brokhoff and Li, “This wouldn’t work for everybody,” Brokhoff said. He said some local friends and clients have tried and failed.

“It really is a full-time job. You need to respond to people lightning-fast,” he said. “I would say it’s a lot like running a hotel. [Renters] do expect a higher level of service than they would expect at a Day’s Inn.”

He said his experience in real estate promotion and deals—he works with the Boston Home Team, affiliated with Prudential Unlimited Realty—has given him an advantage as well. The Arthouse is currently being advertised in the window of the Centre Street Prudential office as an “affordable hotel alternative.”

For more information about the Arthouse, contact Brokhoff and Li at arthouseboston@gmail.com.