Cass Duffey didn’t exactly plan to lead a party of 12 on a happy Shore vacation – she just wanted to be back at the beach again.

“We were visiting my in-laws’ home in North Wildwood, and I was in the backyard, soaking in the sun, not having a care in the world,” says the Haddon Township resident.

“I had this lightning-strike moment where I thought, ‘We should get a house.’” Duffey called her siblings and organized a plan – they would find a large beach rental for a week in July, split the cost and treat their parents to stay as well.

A Wildwood rental fit the needs of Cass Duffey’s family

A Wildwood rental fit the needs of Cass Duffey’s family

“I just started dreaming of getting the sand between my toes,” Duffey says. She took on the role of ringleader of the family vacation, so first she had to find a beach house that could comfortably fit 10 adults and two children for a week.

“The first thing to do is think about what type of week you envision,” says Eugenia “Jean” Bonilla, president of the New Jersey Association of Realtors. “Do you have kids? Do you have pets? Do you like it quiet, or do you want to be near a boardwalk? This way you can identify the correct area to maximize that vacation time.”

For large families like Duffey’s, Bonilla recommends towns like Wildwood, where the boardwalk is nearby and the beaches are free. Families or older adults looking for serenity might opt for Long Beach Island, where the beaches are mostly quiet but other towns are within driving distance. And for those looking to have a good grown-up time, Margate and Ventnor are close to the Atlantic City casinos and have adult entertainment options.

Once you have an idea of where you’d like to rent, the best thing to do is start looking – quickly. If you’re looking for a home to rent in peak season – late-June through August – you should be touring houses in December and making your decisions in February or early spring. “If you wait until June, everything is going to be rented,” says Gloria Votta, president of the Ocean City Board of Realtors. “There may be some properties left, but they’re not going to be the prime places you want.”

For Duffey and her family, the perfect town was North Wildwood. And she had the perfect house in mind. In 2008, she had rented a large, five-bedroom home for her wedding weekend. She stayed there with her parents and the bridal party. She had fond memories of coming back to the house after the reception to relax. The house was available for the week in July that Duffey and her family wanted, so she booked it. Her specific needs – lots of bedrooms and open spaces – helped narrow her options.

“Once you say five bedrooms as a requirement, your list gets a lot shorter,” she says. “If you say anywhere from one to six bedrooms, you could be looking through so many homes it’s absurd.”

Another way to keep the options from being overwhelming is to be prepared with the right questions, says Bonilla. “Get your checklist together to make sure you have everything you want for the area you’re going to,” she says. A visit to the town’s chamber of commerce website should provide a list of nearby attractions as well as basic amenities. “Is there a supermarket in town? Are you going to be able to do a week of shopping when you come in, or is it too much of a distance?” Check with the owners of the home or your realtor for their best advice. “If you don’t plan on cooking for the week, ask your realtor what places you can order from,” Bonilla says.

Ask if the house comes stocked with basic supplies such as garbage bags, dish detergent, paper towels and toilet paper, and if linens are included or if you will have to bring your own. Get a good idea of what cleaning (if any) the owners will want you to do, and if the owners impose restrictions on the number of people in the house – or the type of occupant. “Some will only do family groups,” Bonilla warns, so a house full of teenagers for an after-graduation gathering might be out of the question. “Go in with your eyes open, and that way you have no surprises.”

Votta advises asking questions about things that will make your stay easier, like how far is the walk to the beach. “Are beach tags provided? Do they have beach chairs at the property or do you need to bring your own beach chairs?” she says. Check to see how many parking spaces are allotted for the house (if any) to avoid the hassle of parking at the Shore. And make sure you find a home with a washer and dryer, which allows you to pack much lighter, she says.

Bonilla finds that in the years since Superstorm Sandy, smart renters are asking about travel insurance. “What if the night before your rental starts, there is an illness or a death in the family?” she says. “You don’t think of those things because it’s a vacation. But if you are getting a prime house there could be a lot of money out there; you could be at risk.” Travel insurance for a Shore vacation works similarly to what airlines offer, according to Bonilla. If insured, you are entitled to your deposit and payments back in the event of a disaster, like a hurricane or other state of emergency. Most agencies will offer traveler’s insurance through a third-party vendor for approximately $45 to $75.

Once you’ve asked questions and found the perfect location, it’s time to budget.

“When you go in to the rental agreement and sign the lease, it’s usually a 50 percent payment that’s due up front,” Bonilla says. Depending on the lease agreement, the rest of the payment will be due 45 to 30 days before the date of occupation – but see if your lease will allow you to budget your payments. “Some people, instead of having that burden to pay the other 50 percent a month right before their vacation, will send in checks every month until the balance is paid,” Bonilla says. “That way, the only money they have to bring with them is what they’ll need for the week.”

Duffey used the months ahead of her family vacation to plan a budget with her siblings. “The amount for the rental was not evenly divided by the four of us,” she says. “My husband and I paid more because we were also bringing two little people and using up more space. One of my brothers was coming alone, and it wouldn’t be fair for him to pay an even fourth. So we did some math and came to what we thought was fair for everybody.”

All that was left to plan was Duffey’s favorite part – what they would do once the vacation started.

“We said, if we weren’t careful, we were going to blink and it would be Thursday,” she says. “So we came up with a very loose plan for each day.”

Duffey recommends doing plenty of research. “Talk to friends that rent Shore properties,” she says. “See what they like about the towns they go to. Avalon is different from Ocean City. Even North Wildwood is different from Wildwood proper, and you’ll have different experiences in both.”

Duffey and her family came up with a tentative itinerary for their weeklong stay – beach days were a must, but they planned side excursions like the Cape May Zoo and trips to the boardwalk amusement parks. “But don’t schedule everything to death. We had a general map for the week but if we didn’t do that one thing that day, that was fine,” she says. In the weeks before your rental begins, she adds, check the weather – you might have to plan some inside activities, too. Duffey says she and her family split up and did different activities , but they always came together for dinners or family game nights.

“It’s nice to disconnect at the Shore,” Duffey says. “Not only are you all together, but you’re all together in that happy, salty mental state.”

April 2015
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