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New York Times - June 01, 2000

The Procrastinator's Guide to Summer Rentals

   THE eager-to-please real estate agent was not exactly hitting home runs. The waterfront "palace" on a lake -- my ticket to tranquillity -- was not, as he had promised, available for the entire summer, just June and September. At best, I'd have a bookend vacation.

House No. 2 may have been near the lake, but the hike home was steep enough to challenge a Sherpa. Inside was a bigger problem: there was nothing -- no beds, no chairs, no furnishings, save a solitary chandelier, whose ostentatious glow seemed merely to mock. "Well, you can always rent furniture," the real estate agent said sheepishly. I sighed. Fulfilling my dream of a summertime retreat was not going to be easy.

Granted, I had squandered the spring. Now I was cottageless, while better organized Manhattanites had already found not only well-appointed rentals but also their nearest equivalents to Le Cirque 2000.

We all have reasons for escaping New York in the summer. Heat, humidity, tourists, jangled nerves, maybe just a need to prove we've made it. ("Of course we have a summer place. Don't you?") My motivation was the loud crashing of something being demolished, legally or otherwise, in the building next door to my East Village digs.

I wasn't looking for a villa on the Riviera, only a modestly priced hideaway within roughly a two-hour drive. A cozy nest where I could retreat on weekends or longer to write, think, relax and let the construction take place without me. Faced with daunting odds, I had an edge in my eagerness to avoid the Hamptons. Super-high rental rates and forced shares with strangers aside, the three-hour Sunday return drive (and that's with shortcuts) seemed counter-therapeutic.

Besides, plenty of other places offer bodies of water and social possibilities, from the Jersey Shore to the Catskills and Connecticut. All I had to do was find the right one at a price that did not require floating an I.P.O. Bulletin boards at local laundromats, classified ads and Web sites could all help, but real estate brokers seemed the most efficient way to go.

Shortly before Memorial Day, armed with map and coffee mug, I headed through northwestern Connecticut and an adjoining snippet of upstate New York, meandering through increasingly rural areas. Connecticut stop No. 1 was Candlewood Lake, 90 minutes from New York City. Its 60 miles of shoreline is surrounded by thickly forested hills, private town beaches accessible to renters and hundreds of miles of hiking trails. Hungry mountaineers find relief in the many restaurants lining Route 7.

As my guide, Bill Dingersen of Neumann Real Estate, rhapsodized about motorboating and using Jet Skis, I cringed at the thought of my dreamy solitude vanishing under an amphibious assault of marauding teenagers. But one lakefront rental, a three-bedroom, three-bath house, proved a stunner -- spotless, fully and tastefully furnished, with sitting rooms on two levels, multiple decks and a lawn unfolding down the hill to the lake's edge. With only June or September available, Mr. Dingersen thought I might get the place for as little as $5,000 a month -- if the owners liked me.

This was the first lesson I learned during my forays. If you want a nice place at a good price, park that Type A personality at the city limits and slip into something more Hugh Grantish.

But Mr. Dingersen chose to amuse the landlord with an anecdote from "Pacific Heights," a movie in which a tenant terrorizes a home owning couple, and I thought it best to move on.

I chugged up Route 7 along the Housatonic River into Litchfield County, a favorite of writers, artists and movie industry types. Even with top restaurants and art galleries, the area is still more of an escape from New York than its cultural cousin, the Hamptons. I drove past bright red barns and antique shops into the town of Kent, in gorgeous hiking and fly-fishing country. Nearby towns each boast a swimmable lake or river, while Kent has a sandy man-made swimming hole.

In town, I visited David Bain, a broker with the look of a chiseled country squire, who acted disappointed to see me despite phone contact. Though I had just driven to his doorstep, he suggested that I check out the rentals on his Web site. Only after my sustained-charm assault did he reluctantly admit to having a dozen remaining summer rentals, ranging from a cottage on a brook for $5,000 a month to a four-bedroom spread with pool, tennis court and gazebo for $22,000 a month.

A bit heady, I decided, so I worked my way back into New York State, through horse country, toward the Berkshire foothills. The moment I saw Pine Plains, off Route 82 in northern Dutchess County, I knew it was my kind of town, small and unspoiled.

David Birch, the proprietor of Barns and Farms Realty on Main Street, was out, but the pictures of properties in his dusty window were encouraging. There were barns from the early 1800's, 19th-century saltbox houses and a restored tavern. I found a saleswoman (her name was on a card on the Barns and Farms door) behind the counter of a video shop. She put me in touch with Mr. Birch by cell phone.

At first, he said he had no vacancies. When I persisted, he suddenly remembered some absentee landlords who were worse foot-draggers than I and had not, at this late date, gotten around to deciding to rent. (Lesson No. 2: When stonewalled, beg.)

Possibilities suddenly included a Cape Cod with five bedrooms and a pond on 20 acres ($2,500 a month); a renovated colonial-style house on 50 acres near the Taconic Parkway ($7,500 for the entire summer); a five-bedroom Victorian in Pine Plains (cheap at $1,500 a month because it is right on Route 82); and a four bedroom on nine acres with fantastic views and privacy ($12,000 a month). Condos on the Hudson River, in Columbia County, were available, too, for $4,500 a month.

Increasingly hopeful, I took another spin last week, this time down the Jersey Coast. (I could just as easily have headed to the Hudson Valley, the Catskills or Pennsylvania; more possibilities appear at right.) On Long Beach Island, a barrier isle about two hours from New York via the Garden State Parkway, I was escorted around by the amiable Paul Gow of Crest Realty. Our first destination was the bottom floor of a duplex saltbox. True, the view of the beach was obstructed by a dune, but I couldn't get much closer to the water for $2,500 a week in August (and for less than half that figure in June). Besides, the sound of the surf wafted right into the modest, well-maintained, three-bedroom, one-bath premises.

Long Beach Island is so narrow that you are never more than a block's walk from the beach. A three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath residence, painted pale yellow, with bamboo furniture, a full bar and loads of light, was $2,400 a week in July. The nifty dormitory-style attic, able to sleep seven kids comfortably, was available for $500 a week more. A huge deck atop the garage offered glimpses of the ocean.

One modest two-bedroom top-floor duplex, $800 a week and available for most of August, had a giant display carton filled with bags of corn chips and potato chips propped strategically on a kitchen chair, as if the owner expected this to clinch the deal.

Probably the nicest find, at $2,300 a week for July and August, was an oceanside three-story, four-bedroom house decorated with nautical good taste. What caught my eye were multiple sitting rooms, two decks, and a light-filled loft overlooking a shaded back patio.
Real estate affairs turned positively surreal 20 minutes to the north in Seaside Heights, N.J., a honkytonk boardwalk town recommended by the tourist board as best suited to families with kids. A broker dressed in khaki shorts and a polo shirt promised me an ocean view from a private balcony, steps from the beach. But looming before us was a mauve monstrosity that almost screamed housing project. The only available rental unit, furnished, at $975 a week, had a television covered with what looked like sugar and bed linens best described as sinister. The balcony with beach view was five feet wide and looked out at power lines and public showers.

I politely declined to view the indoor pool.

Next, I stopped at Bay Head, a serene, affluent beach town on Route 35. Richard Donnelly of Donnelly Real Estate took me to immaculate vacancies, rattling off the names of corporate chieftains as we drove by their lavish summer residences. A spotless, sun-drenched two-bedroom apartment, over a bookstore and art gallery and only a block from the beach, seemed a local bargain at $16,000 for the entire summer.

More typical in price for Bay Head was a rambling 100-year-old, three-story shore colonial-style house with seven bedrooms and a 50-foot beachfront. The owners, an Episcopal minister and his wife, eagerly gave us a tour of mustard-yellow, sky-blue and mousse-green rooms, most with ocean views. Someone else had snapped up the house for June, leaving July at $32,000 -- or August, when the tab rises to $38,000. Either, but not both: the family wanted a month for itself. Disappointed at not getting both months for $70,000, I took my leave.

In the end, surprisingly, it was the reticent Mr. Bain in Kent, Conn., who came up with the closest thing to perfection: a simple Swiss chalet atop a hill with an open floor plan and a loft bedroom. The views were mind-boggling, and the price was even better: $6,000 for the entire summer.

I dithered for a week, promising myself I would close the deal. But when I finally called back, my little piece of paradise was gone.

I sat for a moment, dejected. Then I fired off an e-mail to Pine Plains: "Still got that little Cape by the pond?"

Mr. Birch wrote back that he had discovered another rental near Pine Plains, "$1,100, 2 BR, 5 acres." And a "2 BR with view and privacy up north," which would be only $7,200 for the entire season.

If neither works out, I go to Plan B. Right after Labor Day, I call Mr. Bain and snag that chalet on the hill -- for summer 2001. (Lesson No. 3: Jump while the pool's calm. Last one in is a broker's uncle.)
 
Find the Brokers
 
FOLLOWING are real estate agencies within three hours of Manhattan with summer rentals available Memorial Day weekend.
 
New York
 
GREENE COUNTY -- includes the Hudson River Valley and the northern Catskill mountains.

Shaw Realty, Hunter, (518) 263-4723.

Thorpe Real Estate, Haines Falls, www.thorperealestate.com; (518) 589-5481.
 
DELAWARE COUNTY -- is north of Greene County, rural and inexpensive.

Coldwell Banker Timberland Properties, Delhi, (607) 746-7400.

Delaware County Real Estate, Stamford, (607) 652-3311, (800) 400-7304; www.kaaterskillcompany.com
/delaware.
 
ULSTER COUNTY -- runs along the Hudson River and includes New Paltz.

Win Morrison Realty, Marlboro, (914) 236-3244.

Westwood Metes and Bounds Realty, Stone Ridge, (914) 687-0232; www.westwoodrealty.com

Century 21 Eichhorn Realty, Woodstock, (914) 679-8022.
 
DUTCHESS COUNTY -- is east of the Hudson River.

Barns and Farms Realty, Pine Plains, (518) 398-6180; the main office in Livingston lists Columbia County properties as well, (800) 398-8802.
 
Pennsylvania
 
MONROE COUNTY, -- with the Poconos.

Wilkins & Associates Real Estate, Stroudsburg, (800) 252-4605; www
.wilkins1.com.

Davis R. Chant Realtors, Hawley, (570) 857-0222; www.poconos.org
/members/nemanie.

C. R. Baxter Rentals Unltd., Pocono Pines, 800-962-RENT (800-962-7368).
 
New Jersey
 
OCEAN COUNTY -- Includes Long Beach Island and Bay Head.

Crest Realty, Beach Haven Crest (609) 494-6666; www.lbirealestate .com.

Van Dyk Group, Beach Haven Terrace, www.vandykgroup.com; (609) 492-1511.

Donnelly Real Estate, Bay Head, www.donnellyrealestate.com; (732) 899-0200.
 
Connecticut
 
LITCHFIELD COUNTY -- is hiking and fishing territory.

Bain Real Estate, Kent, (860) 927-4646; www.bain-realestate.com.
 
NEW HAVEN COUNTY -- includes a long stretch of shoreline.

DeWolfe Real Estate, Madison, (203) 245-4700; www.dewolfe.com.
 
FAIRFIELD COUNTY -- includes most of Candlewood Lake.

Neumann Real Estate, New Fairfield, www.neumannrealestate.com; (203) 746-6565.

East Coast Associates Inc. Real Estate (for lower Fairfield County), Norwalk (203) 853-4701.

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