A Summer Place: Home Away From Home

April 10, 1994|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Special to The Sun

Ocean City has 13,000 condominiums, 9,500 hotel and motel rooms plus an assortment of apartments, cottages, town homes and bed and breakfasts for vacationers to choose from.

But with such a wide selection, finding the place that fits your lifestyle can be quite a challenge -- whether you like to step right out of your door onto the beach, vacation in luxury or give up amenities to cut costs.

Renters who have a "perfect, paradise vacation" home in mind should preview units during a pre-season visit to the beach so they won't be disappointed, says Juliet Wilkerson, a member of a three-person rental management team for ERA English Realty.

"If you're renting blind over the phone you can't expect perfection," says Mrs. Wilkerson, whose husband, Gregory, is also on the team. "The decor of a unit reflects the owner's tastes and needs. Opinions differ about what makes a place nice."

However, if callers are unable to make a preview trip, Mrs. Wilkerson says she will try to match them with a place she thinks they will like based on their conversation.

Some people, for example, tell her that they are just looking for a "beachy place" and are not "real particular" about the furnishings, Mrs. Wilkerson says.

But most renters today have "sophisticated" tastes and want to vacation in style, adds Eileen Smoot, Mrs. Wilkerson's mother and partner at ERA English Realty.

"They don't like furnishings like shag carpet and vinyl couches that were popular in the '70's," Mrs. Smoot says. "And the days of plastic dishes and soup mugs with broken handles are gone. People want to be able to prepare and serve a meal as nicely as they can at home."

Rental agents agree that whatever beach-goers' expectations may be, they should make their vacation plans early. Many travelers call for reservations in December or January; some book a year in advance-- while they are on vacation.

"If you have restrictions on what you need -- whether it's a handicapped-accessible unit, a fireplace or a boat slip -- and are adamant about being accommodated, you need to call as early as you possibly can," says Barbara Shaffer, a rental agent for Prudential Groff Realty.

This is also important if you cannot be flexible about your summer vacation date. Travelers who want to try programs like ERA English Realty's popular "mini-week" with rentals from Monday to Friday or Friday to Monday instead of the traditional Saturday to Saturday or Sunday to Sunday also need to plan ahead.

For many people, location is of primary importance with the greatest demand for oceanfront units. (Some of these directly face the water; others are on the side of oceanfront buildings.) Also popular are bayside waterfront apartments with boat slips.

Ocean-block renters do not have to cross the highway to get to the beach. Bayside rooms offer savings and convenience for boaters; however, the walk to the beach may be as long as 14 or 15 blocks.

Rates average $500-$575 per week for a two-bedroom unit on the bay. A similar oceanfront unit on the boardwalk is $1,200- $1,300. An oceanfront building farther north is perhaps $875. More expensive units are available -- a five-bedroom penthouse with indoor pool and tennis court is $2,300.

Some renters -- often parents with small children and lots of beach gear -- want to be on a lower floor. Many request a pool, telephone and kitchen with microwave and nice cookware. Some are particular about the style of furnishings. Talk to an agent who has been inside of the unit you are considering and ask lots of questions about decor, conveniences and the building itself.

"There is a small percentage of people who know exactly what they want and will keep searching until they find it," says Kim Looney, property manager for Century 21 New Horizon. "We offer our help in guiding them in the right direction. I tell people exactly what I know about a place. Sometimes I even take a picture and send it to them."

Cancellations sometimes make units available at the last minute, but be prepared to compromise on your requirements. A list of about 30 firms offering rentals in the town is available from the Greater Ocean City Association of Realtors at (410) 524-6544.

For other accommodations, call the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association at (800) OC-OCEAN or stop by its office in the Visitor's Center at the Convention Center, 40th Street.

"In the summer, we keep a current list of available rooms," says Mary Tawney, administrator of the membership organization. Information is available about the logistics of the town -- from the convenience of a boardwalk room to the quieter atmosphere uptown -- as well as which hotels and motels allow pets and have hot tubs, Jacuzzis and children's activity programs.

QUESTIONS TO ASK RENTAL AGENT

* How is it decorated?

* How has it been maintained?

* What do I need to bring?

* How is the view?

* If it's an oceanfront unit, does it directly face the ocean or is it on the side of the building?

* What type of appliances does it have?

* What is the walking distance to the beach?

* How many parking spaces are included?

* What is the cancellation policy?

* Are there deposits for pool passes, parking permits, lobby door keys?

) * Are there parking fees?

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