No rental roulette Off-season preview takes the gamble out of vacation accommodations

April 18, 1993|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Contributing Writer

Have you ever tried to cross a busy Coastal Highway from your bayside condominium with a toddler tucked under one arm and a sand chair, beach bag and beach umbrella under the other?

Do you know how heavy a bike can be when you have to haul it up and down flight after flight of stairs to your fourth-floor apartment because the building has no secure ground-level storage space?

Would you be disappointed if you had to lean over the balcony railing so you could get a glimpse of the ocean from your so-called "ocean-view" apartment? Or if you had to spend half of your vacation at the laundromat because your apartment didn't have a washer or a dryer?

If so, then you may have already decided that there's more to finding the right condominium, town house or apartment in Ocean City than just picking up the phone, dialing a toll-free number and asking for any available room.

"People really do have a choice in the kind of vacation they have when they come here," says Rick Meehan, president of the Ocean City Council and a Realtor for the Long & Foster real estate firm.

"It all depends on where their focus is. An awful lot of visitors want to be right on the oceanfront. They want to be able to see the ocean. They want to be able to walk right out on the beach.

"Others want the ocean block because there's some savings [from oceanfront rentals], yet they don't have to cross the highway to get the kids to the beach. Then there are people who specifically want to be on the bay. They want to crab on the docks, fish and have a place to put their boats. And some people want to enjoy a little bit of everything. The beach is there for everyone."

Like many renters, you may have specific needs and desires that you want to fulfill to ensure that you have a comfortable, stress-free and fun vacation stay at the beach. There are many things to consider -- from the all-important location to an assortment of amenities such as indoor swimming pools and tennis courts.

And with rental rates that average from $500 to $700 per week and range upward as high as $2,000 and even $5,000, you certainly want to find a place that you'll like.

But with nearly 25,000 rental units in Ocean City to choose from, how can you be certain you've picked the right accommodations?

Rental experts agree that finding a place to stay in Ocean City doesn't have to be a gamble -- if you pay a preseason visit to the beach and preview what's available.

"It's getting to be a real popular thing now," says Dee Rigsby, director of rentals for O'Conor Piper & Flynn.

"That way there are no surprises," added Bob Warfield, president of Moore Warfield & Glick, the largest locally owned and operated real estate firm in Ocean City. "They see what they're going to rent. They can pick their location, what floor they want to be on, what amenities they want. They can rent two or three rooms together so they'll be with friends. And if they need to park two or three cars, they can find a place with enough spaces.

"People who are unhappy usually didn't see the unit, and sometimes they expect more than they get," Mr. Warfield says.

Jim Waggoner, director of resort rentals for Long & Foster, agrees. "People want to be as comfortable as they can, as close to the beach as they can and they want to have enough funds left over to enjoy their vacation.

"If you personally preview the units, you get a better feel for proximity to the beach and the amenities in the building. I think the best thing for a family to do is come to the beach in January or February and let us escort them or allow them to look on their own at various properties."

But even if you choose not to shop for a vacation rental home in person, there are ways to improve your selection skills. Many of Ocean City's dozens of rental agencies publish free annual guidebooks that include photos of rental properties, rates, locations and amenities to help you make your decision. Some have toll-free numbers to call for reservations and information.

But don't just use those numbers to place a reservation. It's also a good idea to ask the rental agent lots of questions about any apartment that you're interested in, says Paul Faulstich, owner of Leland Realty.

If the agent has never seen a specific apartment or hasn't seen it recently, try to speak to someone

who has, Mr. Faulstich recommends. Find out how old the building is and whether the owner has installed new carpet or upgraded in any way. Ask the agent what he thinks of the apartment. If the company has a rating system for its rental units, find out where this particular room fits in.

"You've got to ask the questions," Mr. Faulstich says. "If the agent determines that you're personally concerned, then in most cases he will do what he can. You'll get a lot of answers."

Finding a place

Although there are still rental units available this summer, the best time to start thinking about summer reservations is when the weather is still cold.

In fact, some renters pick an apartment and make tentative reservations for the next year while they are on vacation. They firm up those reservations with a deposit in December -- at about the same time rental guides are being mailed out to consumers who have requested them.

The rental guidebooks can be used to make telephone reservations or they can be used to help renters select a few places they would like to preview when they visit in the winter.

The books also list lots of amenities, but be sure to ask your rental agent about specific needs. Some deluxe accommodations, for example, have first floor storage lockers, where you can stash chairs, umbrellas and surf mats -- and maybe even bikes. And telephones are available in some condos.

If decor is important to you, ask about the style of the furnishings. And because parking is limited in Ocean City, be sure to find out how many spaces the unit has so you won't have to solve the problem of where to put extra cars.

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