For 28 years, Graham Cox never had to look hard to find an affordable rental on the Key.
He paid $850 monthly for the past six years for a cottage on Fox Street. The home he rented before that cost him $600 a month.
But, earlier this summer, his landlord notified him that the Fox Street cottage had been sold and he had one month to move out. That’s when Cox discovered that renting on the Key is tougher than it used to be.
“All the rentals I know about no longer exist,” Cox said.
Some Key renters, like Cox, have had to find new homes when their rentals sold, especially as the real-estate market improves.
Increasingly, however, property owners have opted to rent out their homes seasonally, generating higher rents during the first three or four months out of the year while maintaining the option to use the property for the other eight or nine months.
“I’m finding, as far as annuals, that rental rates have gone up slightly,” said Bonnie Wiedeman, property manager at Wagner Realty. “I don’t have a lot of inventory for people looking for the lower end, especially in the less-than-$1,000 range.”
A duplex on Linley Street with less than 600 square feet per unit rented in the $600-a-month range two or three years ago, according to Wiedeman. Now, those rates are up to $800 or $900 per month.
Real-estate advertisements confirm the limited supply of rentals in the $1,000-or-less category. The Longboat Observer had a single annual rental for $1,000 listed in the classifieds of its July 25 issue: a 400-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bathroom cottage in the Village.
Real-estate website Zillow.com showed just two annual rentals for under $1,000 as of Aug. 5: a 391-square-foot condo for $850 and a 400-square-foot condo for $995, both on St. Judes Drive.
Often the supply is so limited that renters rely on word of mouth for the scoop on what’s available.
Betsy Falls said she went door-to-door in several neighborhoods asking about affordable rentals before finding the Twin Shores home where she now lives.
Typically, a renter can expect to pay anywhere from $1,400 a month or more for a single-family home in the Village, according to Wiedeman.
It’s gotten especially tough to find mid-priced annual rentals on the Gulf.
One of Wiedeman’s clients is looking for a two-bedroom, unfurnished annual Gulfside rental for $1,500 per month — the amount he has paid in the past.
“I’m having a heck of a time finding something for him for $1,500,” she said. “It’s not there anymore for Gulfside rentals.”
Lisa Bouck, of Engel & Völkers Realty, hasn’t seen rates for annual rentals increase significantly, but finds strong demand whenever an annual rental becomes available.
“They’re basically snapped up pretty quickly,” she said. “At least a couple times a week we have someone coming in asking if we have something available.”
Bouck often refers people to Anna Maria Island and mainland Bradenton and Sarasota for rentals in the price range they’re seeking.
As for Cox, he’s still hoping to find a place in the Village, which he considers home. He’s staying with a friend for now and plans to continue his search when he returns from England in the fall.
“It used to be, there were 15 to 20 places in the Village alone,” Cox said.