Sussex County rental market shows double-digit gains

At a time when the economy in Southern Delaware and across the United States is beginning to show real, sustained growth, Realtors from Sussex County’s coastal areas are reporting rental figures that continue to increase year over year.

For the 2012 summer season in Delaware’s coastal resorts, rental data from most of Sussex County’s real estate agencies are up double digits over the same period a year ago.

“I think a big reason for that is that people are a little wiser now on how they spend their money. They are prioritizing how those dollars are spent, and I think vacations are always on the top of the list,” said Crystal Smith with Wilgus Associates in Bethany Beach, who reported rentals sales in 2012 that are 10 percent higher than in 2011. “When they come here for vacation, it’s family time and time for relaxation. Everyone needs time to do that.”

Across the board, real estate agencies in Southern Delaware’s coastal areas are reporting double-digit increases in summertime visitation for 2012. From the “nation’s summer capital” of Rehoboth Beach, south the Quiet Resorts of Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island, the popularity of Delaware’s beach resorts continues to grow, according to the Sussex County Association of Realtors (SCAOR).

With many people much more conscious of how they spend their hard-earned dollars in the wake of the recent crippling recession, the popularity of so-called “one-tank trips” has also continued to increase, SCAOR representatives said. These are vacations that are closer to home, at destinations that can be reached without expending more than one tank of gasoline.

“We are a strong destination that is affordable to get to and we have so much to offer,” said Andrew Ratner with Prudential Gallo Real Estate in Rehoboth Beach. “We are up about 8 to 10 percent over this time last year, but honestly we’ve really been seeing [those numbers] slowly increase for years now.”

Ratner handles rental properties in multiple Delaware beach locations, and reported that tendencies have certainly emerged over the last decade or so. For the Rehoboth Beach market, he reported the majority of visitors come from the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area, while Lewes visitors hail more from northern Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Another positive aspect of Southern Delaware that continues to draw visitors from surrounding states are the amenities they can utilize during their stay in the First State, particularly the variety of quality restaurants and the multitude of outdoor activities, local Realtors said. It’s those amenities that could soon begin drawing an even greater following, particularly in light of recent weather-related events.

“I feel really bad for the folks in New Jersey who are dealing with storm damage right now, because that could have easily been us here in Delaware,” said Sharon Palmer Stauffer, vice president of the rentals division for Coldwell Banker Resort Realty in Rehoboth Beach. “We certainly don’t want to take advantage of that, but I think we’re going to see an even greater increase in rentals next year because of the damage suffered in New Jersey.”

As of Oct. 31, rental volume for Coldwell Banker had also risen double digits over the same period a year ago. Stauffer credits the strong tourism industry in Sussex County as a big reason why visitors continue to flock to the resort towns that border the Atlantic Ocean.

“We are giving them what they want and that should ensure that the industry stays strong here in Sussex County,” she said.

While Southern Delaware’s tourism industry has contributed to a continuously strengthening rental market in the area, it is also a big reason why the overall real estate market has continued to outperform most other areas in the Mid-Atlantic, according to the Realtors.

The area’s second-homeowner market, for example, is a big contributor to why they say the market is now rebounding at a faster pace than many surrounding markets.

“We are very fortunate to live and work in an area that visitors seek out when deciding where to vacation with their families,” said Trina Joyner, 2012 president of the Sussex County Association of Realtors. “And Southern Delaware also continues to be popular with folks in the mid-Atlantic region who are looking to purchase second, or vacation, homes. As long as we continue to put out the welcome mat for our visitors, I think our markets will continue to remain strong and robust.”

To read more about issues related to Sussex County’s real estate industry, visit SCAOR’s Web site at