Realtor Diaries: Hamptons Rentals

Photo-Illustration: Lined; Photos: Alamy, Getty Images

In this bi-weekly series,Realtor Logs“, hear us people in the center of a wilder market than ever. Today, an hour-by-hour glimpse into the working world of Kieran Brew, 58, a broker in the Hamptons.

5:30 I do the spelling bee and the crossword puzzle. I’m addicted to both.

I answer some texts. This morning I’m talking to someone who I plan to show rentals to later today. He can spend $60,000 from August to Labor Day, and I have a few things in mind, but I warn him that his price is low for the area he’s in, which is Amagansett Lanes. Everybody wants Amagansett Lanes because they are the only five lanes that exist from Montauk Highway to the beach, which means walking distance from the beach to town. There’s not much else like it in the Hamptons.

7:15 a.m. I’m taking my child to camp. Then I go surfing in Ditch Plains, where I own a caravan on the ocean. It’s a 1972 Princess model that I completely redone after buying it a few years ago. This is also where I stay if I rented my Amagansett home. My place is a modern Bates Masi house in the Dunes.

My dad owned a third-generation restaurant in New York, but he was also a smart investor and always owned real estate. He had this tenant who had been living in one of his apartments in town for over 40 years. She paid $52.50 a month until 1989 due to rent control. After he died, we removed 300 bags of garbage from his small apartment. She had hundreds of Playbills and magazines. Anyway, I was also in the restaurant business but I burned out; it was not for me. The margins are not large. It’s very stressful. So when I had my first child years ago, I moved east. I bought a house with rental units in Amagansett. The rest is history.

9 am I get a call from a tenant I worked with last summer. He read all articles saying Hamptons owners are forced to cut prices because the demand isn’t there this summer and wants to know if that’s true. In my opinion, it is both true and it is not true. It’s certainly not like it’s been the last two summers.

Many people bought in the East in the time of COVID with the presumption that they could rent for tons and tons of money – that’s how they justified their investment. During peak COVID times, you can easily rent out your (big and beautiful) home for $400,000 a month. Two years later, prices are back to where they were before COVID. You Can Now Find Something Near The Water For $55,000 In August and September.

What is happening now — landlords lowering their prices to find tenants — is quite normal and part of the cycle. But the new owners are just not used to it. They only did business in a COVID environment.

Yet many landlords here keep their rental prices at sky-high levels because it just isn’t worth it otherwise. They just don’t need the money. So if they can’t get what they’re asking for, they just skip. I’ve had very wealthy clients who will find something wrong with every potential tenant I bring to them – saying it’s the wrong dates or they don’t want a dog – and it all comes down to the fact that don’t want to drop their prices and they don’t have to.

But I also have locals who have always rented and are money conscious, and counting on it. So they are wisely lowering their prices. They need tenants for their livelihood. So they will drop to $55,000 per month.

10:30 a.m. I’m going to the first screening with the tenant from Amagansett Lanes. It’s basically an original ’60s “ranch Lanes”. The problem is that the decor is too, and not in a good way.

Next up is another quirky ranch, but this one has been updated and improved and is a really adorable little rental. But no swimming pool. Deal breaker.

It’s slim choices. Amagansett Lanes is almost fully rented at this time of the season. If you plan early enough, during the early summer months, you can find original Amagansett cottage cottages that were built circa the 1950s for $70,000 to $100,000 a month.

Then there are the newest, the biggest, the most contemporary. These rent between $250,000 and $350,000 per month. I’ve heard more elitist people use this somewhat derogatory term to describe these homes: “Farrell Houses” or “McFarrells” – named after the builder, Joe Farrell, who made many of these homes at one time.

I think they are great. They are large, well appointed, approximately 5,000 square feet with finished basements, swimming pools, pool houses and large open kitchens. They’re basically what everyone wants – they look good and there’s absolutely nothing junk about them, but people throw them in the McMansion category, which seems a bit snobbish to me. Big players sell for $8 or $9 million.

11:45 a.m. My client did not find anything suitable for him. A colleague has this funny phrase that I thought was appropriate here: “It’s the Hamptons, honey.” We can disappoint you at any cost.

A rule of thumb here is that during the first round of showings, show them how little they will get for their money. Then they always come back with more money. I haven’t necessarily done it here, but it’s a strategy for sure.

I wish I could help him more, but there’s nothing in the area he wants at the price he can afford.

Midday I go to a close with a client, J. Most brokers don’t go to closes anymore, especially since COVID. But I’ve known this client and his family for a very long time, so I don’t want to mess it up. And it’s good that I didn’t, because it’s a lot more complicated than I thought. I think it might have worked if I hadn’t been there. Basically, J had a huge budget. He knew what he wanted (seaside) and was quite easy to work with. Again, he’s honest, straightforward, easy to deal with, and loaded. However…don’t fuck with him.

And that’s what the seller was doing. It didn’t cover some things it promised to cover – like fixing the garage door, for example. So in the middle of closing, J stood up and said, “I’m just going to buy another house.” Then everyone turned around and looked at me, like, “How are you going to save this?”

I said, “Okay, J, let’s buy another house then.”

The seller gave in.

It’s so crazy that no matter how big the deal, it always comes down to nickels and dimes. J didn’t care about the money; he just didn’t want five things left undone on his $15 million beach house.

2 p.m. I’m going back to Ditch Plains. Besides Amagansett Lanes, this is the other area that everyone wants. It’s a barefoot surfer’s paradise. You can skateboard down to the beach. This is where many young families want to be. There are hardly any properties on the market at the moment. I have at least five buyers who can spend millions and want Ditch, and there’s nothing to show them.

I am now working with a western family who want to spend August in Ditch. I worked really hard to rent something from them, but it’s where everyone wants to be, and the prices haven’t come down (unlike almost everywhere else). That’s still $60,000 to $75,000 in August for a nicely decorated four-bedroom apartment. (It’s still cheaper than Amagansett, of course.)

3 p.m. I call the tenants and tell them that I found them a four-bedroom house for $60,000 a month. It was a word of mouth situation – a deal fell through and someone let me know. The backstory here is that buyers bought it for $1.8 million about a year ago. It is now worth around $2.8. If they can rent it out for $60,000 in August, that will cover their loan and pay off their mortgage.

My tenants seem delighted. We are planning a virtual screening tomorrow first thing in the morning.

4 p.m. I am following up with some tenants from past summers. It seems like half of my previous clients are going to Paris in August. People have other choices now. You couldn’t go to Europe for the last two years, so now everyone is flocking there.

5 p.m. I’m talking to a tenant I work with occasionally. She says, “I’m still looking…I could go to Greece. There just isn’t the same urgency as years past. But I’m not one to put pressure on anyone. Renting is about building relationships. In other words, landlords tend to put their homes up for sale to people who have rented them in the past. And tenants will eventually buy with us.

If you rent a house for the season for $400,000, that’s a $30,000 deal for a broker. Not bad, but it takes a lot more to survive here.

7 p.m. I’m at a dinner party with friends and my partner. She gets a call from tenants we’ve worked with who are checking into a rental in Montauk. There is a problem.

The owner is still there and says she didn’t know they were coming.

I apologize for quickly calling the owner and, yeah, she thought they were coming next week.

She is not one to handle adverse situations well and is in total panic. “How soon can you get out?” I ask him calmly.

“In a week,” she said. Alright, that won’t work. “I’m not even thrilled,” she adds.

8 p.m. My partner and I abruptly leave dinner and go straight there to help her pack.

8:30 p.m. The owner is a complete mess, and I think she was drunk. It’s a difficult scene. The tenants are superstars, however. We made a few calls and eventually got them a place for a few days, which we paid for as we got to work getting the owner out of there.

10:30 p.m. As I’m driving home, the tenants call me and say, “It’s not a problem. We come from Israel; we don’t get upset about little things like this.

11 p.m. Back home in Ditch, answering all the remaining texts and emails and staring longingly at my bed. This day is over.

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