From the beginning our experience arranging a rental property in Florida has been markedly different from what we were accustomed to on Hilton Head Island. Foremost we have had to deal mostly with real estate agents rather than property managers. As a former real estate lawyer I acknowledge that the supreme interest of real estate agents is the sale of realty, not the rental of it. Obviously the vitality for sale is prompted by the anticipated commission which is patently higher than when renting a property. Property managers by contrast have what I imagine to be a more aggressive compensation arrangement with the owner (even though commensurately reflected in the heightened level of supervision of the tenancy from beginning to end). The distinction however does nothing to advance the plight of prospective tenants such as ourselves when compelled to deal with real estate agents by default.
Even if we have been lucky enough - so to speak - to encounter a property manager when seeking a rental unit, frequently the agency is located as far away as San Francisco. Though they may have local contacts to perform required tasks such a showings there is never the feeling of intimacy we had when dealing with the local firm on Hilton Head Island (whose office we regularly visited for a variety of reasons such as the collection of forwarded mail or the need to send a fax transmission). Though it sounds hopelessly retrogressive of me to abhor email and on-line communications, it is no match for the personal contact we once enjoyed. For example in Florida it was only a year later that we finally met the real estate agent with whom we had corresponded to arrange this year's rental. And while it is true that the arrangement came to fruition as planned there is no question that considerable irritation and related anxiety would have been removed from the process had we had the benefit of face-to-face communication from the start. Regrettably the face of long-distance rental arrangements is marred by frequent stories of misrepresentation and fraud which naturally fuel angst.
Our Hilton Head Island experience was marked by comparative trustworthiness on all sides. For example it was nothing for us to have been given the keys to any property in which we were interested for a visit and viewing. Here by comparison we have on one occasion been told we must pay a $500 deposit for the privilege of seeing a unit! I needn't tell you that we ignored that particular deflection! Otherwise we have met with a real estate agent here who made it clear that his performance was a favour for friends in the same building where he too resided and who made no effort to conceal the primacy of incoming telephone calls during our meeting.
Today we are meeting with what I expect is an on-site concierge at a large condominium to view a couple of rental units. The meeting was arranged with a faceless internet contact who is associated with a rental agency. The on-line presence of the rental agency matches what we have seen on Hilton Head Island, including up-to-date calendars showing dates available or already booked. This contrasts with what we've encountered when dealing with real estate agents who very much deal with details on an ad hoc basis and certainly not on demand. The real estate agents have not the disposition, knowledge or familiarity to deal with routine maintenance concerns. This impediment tends to set us adrift as tenants.
The most depressed rental experience is that associated with VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) or other similar web-based platforms for unique and non-professional landlords. There are exceptions but generally these self-help oases are marked by all the usual attributes peculiar to do-it-yourself venues. While the commercial structure may satisfy the landlord's desire for control and administrative management it is clearly not the most fluid vehicle for the tenant. The psychical distance of a strictly business relationship is lacking; and the evolution of a transaction is marred by the predictable shortcomings of a novice. In particular issues relating to security for deposits and bulk payments are difficult. The independent landlords seldom have any comprehension of the value or availability of deposit insurance.
An overriding - and paradoxical - distinction between the Florida experience and the Hilton Head Island experience has been that the thrust of the rental market in Florida (at least in Daytona Beach Shores) appears to be directed more to long-term residential use rather than short-term vacation use. Certainly in Daytona Beach there is a strip (Atlantic Avenue) along which most of the beach hotels preside. But beyond that relatively restricted area the tourist flavour quickly evaporates and is overtaken by strictly residential use. It is common knowledge in the fringe condominiums that the transient element of tourisism is much to be avoided where possible. For this reason some condominiums have it embedded in their constating documents that minimum 2 or 3 month rentals are required. One real estate agent signified that a mere six-month tenancy only qualifies as short-term. I have no objection to this perception; it would not for example be at all uncommon in almost any other urban environment. But in the vicinty of what is touted as "the world's most famous beach" I hadn't expected a rental aversion to transient interlopers. Perhaps the more accurate explanation is that most people in these "tourist" areas do not customarily spend as much as six months at a time and that the local hotels and condominiums actively cater instead to the more ephemeral visitors who by virtue of their limited stay are disposed to pay a premium on a per diem or weekly basis. Similarily it may be that longer-term residents gravitate to more secluded or exclusive areas of Florida where they own their own home. The only other possibilities of which I am aware are the "over-55" ghettos and RV parks neither of which have any especial appeal to us, not for the least of reasons that they are usually situate inland away from the Ocean. Based upon our own inadequate survey there are few Canadians who spend six months each year in Florida. This alone may partly explain the dilemmas we encounter in finding the proper fit for our need. Nonetheless we are not about to capitulate - as has often been suggested by people here - to buying into the local real estate market. For the time being at least we'll continue to suffer the indignity of being a tenant.