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May 23, 2024 | read

The Evolution of Short-Term Rentals: Key Market Shifts

Thomas Castelli

Recent Trends in Short-Term Rental Market

Over the past 18 months, there has been a noticeable trend of declining occupancies in the short-term rental market. This decline was initially prompted by the pandemic when travel came to an abrupt stop, causing a significant drop in the demand for short-term rentals. Interestingly, as 2021 approached, a swift resurgence in demand was witnessed, pushing occupancies to higher levels than those seen in 2019. This demand-supply mismatch further grew as the supply started to increase, currently standing at 25-30% more than the pre-COVID levels.

The Effect of the Pandemic on Occupancy Levels

The pandemic introduced a unique dynamic in the market. As travel restrictions were imposed, urban residents began converting their homes to cater to long-term rentals. This shift was complemented by the fact that many individuals, given the freedom to work remotely, began using their second homes more frequently. By April 2021, as the demand for rentals bounced back faster than anticipated, there was a clear shortage in supply, driving the occupancy levels upwards.

Comparing Current Market Conditions to Previous Years

For context, the occupancy levels of 2018-2019 serve as a benchmark. During this period, the short-term rental industry witnessed average occupancy levels, which typically hover around 55-56%. In comparison, the hotel industry, a close relative of short-term rentals, has slightly higher average occupancies of around 58-59%.

Understanding the Metrics

  • Investability

A key metric to evaluate in this industry is investability, which represents the average annual earnings of a property in relation to its purchase price. This metric is instrumental in providing insights into the potential profitability of a short-term rental. Present market conditions have showcased record investability levels, painting an attractive picture for potential investors.

  • Average Daily Rate (ADR) and its Significance

Another critical metric in the short-term rental space is the Average Daily Rate (ADR). ADR provides a glimpse into the average rate that guests are willing to pay for rentals. It is calculated by dividing the total revenue by the total number of bookings, giving property owners an idea of their earning potential.

  • Revenue Per Available Rental (RevPAR)

Revenue Per Available Rental, commonly referred to as RevPAR, is calculated by dividing the total revenue by the number of nights a unit is available. However, for a unit to be considered ‘available,’ it should have had at least one booking over the past month. This metric offers deeper insights into revenue earned based on the unit’s availability.

Market Predictions

Looking ahead, industry experts predict a beneficial slowdown in supply growth for existing operators, as it would mean reduced competition. Market forecasts suggest flat revenues in the forthcoming year, and it’s anticipated that the currently low investability might persist for the next 12 to 18 months. Nevertheless, as market dynamics evolve, there will likely be a recalibration, leading to more enticing investment opportunities in the future.

Debunking the Myths

A recent tweet stirred up discussions in the housing sector by suggesting a significant 50% decline in the Short-Term Rental (STR) market’s Revenue per Available Listing (RevPAR). This kind of information can quickly lead to unfounded fears about a looming housing market collapse. However, a deeper dive into the numbers tells a different story.

Often, there are individuals, sometimes referred to as “housing doomers,” who predict recurring housing market crashes. But if we look historically, these drastic collapses are rare. When it comes to the real figures, while the tweet alarmingly claimed a 50% RevPAR drop, a thorough analysis indicates that it’s closer to a 4% decrease in the highlighted markets. This significant discrepancy might result from analytical mistakes or potential misinformation.

Additionally, it’s vital to put the STR’s role in the broader housing market into perspective. STRs account for less than 1% of the entire housing stock. Hence, even in a hypothetical scenario where every STR property owner decided to sell, it’s unlikely to cause a significant disruption in the overall housing market.

While the STR market naturally experiences its ups and downs, the current data available doesn’t suggest any impending vast collapse. As with all sensational claims, it’s crucial to approach them with a discerning eye and delve into the actual facts.

Urban vs. Rural Destinations

Traditionally, urban centers have been hotspots for short-term rentals, attracting both business travelers and tourists eager to experience city life. However, since the pandemic, there’s been a notable shift towards rural areas and smaller cities. These destinations, often closer to nature and offering a respite from crowded urban environments, have seen a surge in demand.

The implications for investors are twofold. Firstly, properties in rural areas and smaller cities may offer a more lucrative return on investment due to increased demand. Secondly, understanding the longevity of this trend is essential. If this shift is merely temporary, urban centers might soon reclaim their dominant position. But, if it signifies a lasting change in traveler preference, rural and semi-urban properties could continue to be profitable in the long term.

Data-Driven Decisions

The modern STR market is increasingly reliant on data. The right insights can guide investment decisions, helping hosts and investors identify profitable locations, forecast demand, and optimize pricing. It’s not just about buying a property anymore; it’s about understanding local regulations, gauging market saturation, and anticipating traveler needs. Armed with the right data, investors can navigate this dynamic market with confidence.

The Return of the City

Despite the initial drop in demand for urban short-term rentals, cities are making a comeback. With travel restrictions easing and businesses reopening, city properties are once again seeing increased bookings. Investors shouldn’t dismiss urban areas; they should, however, be strategic. Recognizing the type of traveler – be it a business traveler or a vacationer – and catering to their specific needs will be paramount to success.

Navigating Regulations

A major concern for many in the STR sector is the potential for stricter regulations. Some cities, seeking to balance the needs of residents and travelers, are imposing limits on short-term rentals. While this might seem like a setback, regulations can actually stabilize the industry, creating a more predictable environment for investment.

However, investors should always be prepared for challenges. Occasional negative experiences with guests, the evolving nature of regulations, or shifts in traveler behavior can all pose hurdles. 

But remember, short-term rentals are an active business – not a passive one like traditional long-term rentals. Like any business, success requires adaptability, resilience, and a willingness to evolve based on industry insights.

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