This post was originally published here on February 21st 2017. One of the nation’s fastest growing metropolitan areas, The Villages, is also one of the hottest rental markets in the state with investors buying look alike homes to profit off snowbirds who prefer manicured yards, 774 holes of golf and beefed-up security to Florida beaches.
The rental market in The Villages has changed drastically in the last three years, according to Alistair Barrett-Powell, CEO of The VIR Group, which rents the ranch-style homes for two weeks or less. The company advertises the homes on popular websites like Airbnb.com, Booking.com and VacationRentals.com.
“It’s on fire here,” said Barrett-Powell, who changed the business model of his realty firm last year to only include short-term rentals. “Our business has increased 500 percent since last February. It’s absolutely insane.”
Last February, VIR had 56 bookings and this month the firm has accepted 201 reservations and is on track to end February with about 260 bookings, he said. The majority, or 94 percent, are for seven days or less. Most people are reserving for the next winter season and some homes are booked through 2019.
“The majority of our clients are 40-55 years of age and are checking out The Villages for a future retirement home,” Barrett-Powell said. “They’re still working and can’t take more than a few days off work.”
Barrett-Powell said he stumbled on the short-term rental market by accident when someone called last February and asked if he could find a three-day rental while they attended a funeral. He forgot to change his website from three days back to 14 and they received 25 bookings.
“That’s when I knew there’s a market here,” he said.
January through March has traditionally been the high season at The Villages. That’s when the 43 golf courses are full, the 48 recreation centers are hopping and it’s tough to land a dinner reservation.
Norma Jean Teufel, who moved from Erie, Pa. to the retirement center with her husband in 2012, has taken advantage of the market. They were planning to sell their two-bedroom villa until discovering they could make more renting the home to visitors. Instead of selling, they purchased another home just 16 minutes outside The Villages in Sumter County.
“The Villages management takes care of their community like no one we’ve ever seen.” said Teufel, 67, a beauty salon owner. “Investors are coming in and buying up homes just to rent out for the winter season.”
The winter season boosts The Villages population to more than 110,000 people, according to Sue Kelly, executive director of the Lady Lake Chamber Commerce. The Villages first downtown square, Spanish Springs, is in the town of Lady Lake.
“It’s crazy here during the season,” said Kelly, whose parents bought a home in Lady Lake 30 years ago when there wasn’t even a traffic light. “The roads get wacky and it’s hard to get into a restaurant. This is an amazing community that draws active retirees from across the country because there are so many things to do.”
Each month, The Villages Daily Sun newspaper, prints a magazine-style section detailing everything from cooking clubs to pickleball games. Kelly said seniors who visit The Villages come to dance in one of their three town squares or play golf on one of 11 championship and 32 executive golf courses.
“From a purely mathematical standpoint, the more The Villages build houses, the higher the percentage of renters,” said Judy Novella, owner of Villagershomes4rent.com, an online rental resource with 1,750 listings. She said many of the homeowners use her service rather than pay The Villages a 25 percent management fee to oversee their rentals.
Novella said investors are buying new properties in the Village of Brownwood and renting them during the season. The older neighborhoods, like Spanish Springs, have more full-time owners, she said. Each of the neighborhoods in The Villages have their own manned security gate.
Novella, whose parents started the company in 2005, said she doesn’t have numbers detailing the increase in rentals but “our business has grown tremendously.”
The Villages Hometown Property Management, which lists homes from $1,000 to $5,500 a month during the winter season, did not respond to a request for an interview.