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Owners out, vacationers in

More Cape Codders leaping at lucrative summer rents

Megan Harden prepared twin beds in a children’s room of her East Sandwich home last week for summer renters. Megan Harden prepared twin beds in a children’s room of her East Sandwich home last week for summer renters. (Steve Haines for The Boston Globe)
By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / May 23, 2011

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ORLEANS — When the slow economy hurt his music business, Bruce Maclean decided to try what other Cape Cod residents have been doing for years: move out of the house and let strangers take over.

He did it last year and will be doing it again this summer. The $3,000 a week he can make renting his three-bedroom house near Nauset Beach in Orleans helps make up for the decline in gigs and recording work.

“It’s a win-win situation, as long as they don’t burn the place down,’’ said Maclean, 57.

As the economy plods along, more and more Cape Cod residents are moving out for the summer to live with relatives, lease cheaper apartments, or stay in campers so they can rent their homes. The income — up to $6,000 a week for beachfront property — makes the inconvenience worthwhile.

Indeed, the number of Cape and Islands residents renting out their homes rose 39 percent during the past two years, according to Weneedavacation.com, a Wellesley-based rental site that specializes in Cape listings.

The company attributes the increase not just to people looking for extra income, but to the sagging housing market.

“A lot of people that otherwise would have sold have turned to the notion of renting,’’ said Joan Talmadge, cofounder of the website.

While the supply of rental homes — both primary residences and vacation homes — has grown, so has demand, keeping rates steady. Bookings are up about 9 percent this summer compared to last year and 23 percent over 2009, according to Weneedavacation.com. Rental prices are about 2 percent higher this year, compared to last year.

In Harwich alone, the number of properties listed with New England Vacation Rentals Inc. has increased to 400 from 150 in the past few years, said managing director Joanne Logie, who attributes the rise to the economic downturn, even though homeowners don’t always want to acknowledge they are struggling.

“They’re kind of embarrassed,’’ Logie said. “They’ll say, ‘We’re going to Europe for the summer,’ but you know they’re not going to Europe.’’

Tom Rogers is, in fact, planning to go to Russia, where his wife is from, if he can find renters to pay $900 a week for his three-bedroom East Falmouth home. Last summer, he and his wife hit the road in a Toyota pickup camper, stopping at folk music festivals and visiting her son in Canada while tourists stayed in their home near Jenkins Pond.

Rogers, 70, said he can’t afford to pass up the opportunity to make an extra $7,000 or so, especially now that his freelance editing work has dwindled and lenders have refused to refinance his home. But he would prefer to stay home and enjoy summer on the Cape.

“To just stay here during the winter seems kind of absurd,’’ he said.

Maclean, on the other hand, said he loves nothing more than getting away from the Cape when the tourists flood in. He is planning to stay with friends in a tiny fishing village in Newfoundland after his renters arrive.

“August on Cape Cod, it’s brutal,’’ Maclean said. “I can’t get into my coffee shop. I can’t get a parking space at the grocery store.’’

It takes a lot of work to get a home ready for renters, from moving valuables and family photos into storage to setting up extra beds to buying towels and sheets.

“It’s a major pain in the butt,’’ said Ellen Gleason, who vacates her Brewster home with cathedral ceilings and a see-through fireplace each summer and moves into a small apartment in an old barn across town.

On the flip side, the annual routine of washing windows, fixing leaky roofs, and patching the lawn forces homeowners to keep their homes well-maintained.

Residents Google potential renters and collect security deposits, but those who have rented out their homes know the potential for property damage is always there. They have had plant stands stolen and pictures broken; one couple discovered chewed gum stuck on the walls and under countertops as they were getting ready for the next renter. Another family came home to smashed walls and the smell of beer.

Megan Harden said she isn’t worried so much about property damage when she rents out her family’s three-bedroom home in East Sandwich for the first time since moving there four years ago. But she does worry that her children — Neve, 1 1/2, who is going through a biting phase, and Finn, a high-energy 4-year-old who likes to run around in circles — may have a few meltdowns while they’re spending the summer at her in-laws’ house in Barnstable.

“My kids are always on good behavior when they’re around,’’ she said. “That behavior is going to be gone after maybe a few days.’’

But the extra income outweighs concerns about potential tantrums in front of the grandparents. Harden, who teaches Spanish and is married to an artist, said if they can rent out their home for the whole summer, the $1,800 to $2,000 a week is almost enough to cover their mortgage for the year. Then there are the student loans.

“We’re trying to get ahead,’’ she said, “and we’re not.’’

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at johnstonchase@globe.com.