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November 3, 2017

Newry real estate broker partners with global vacation firm

Courtesy / Mountain Real Estate Co.
Courtesy / Mountain Real Estate Co.
Songo Pond Cabin in Bethel is an example of a rustic, lakefront cabin that's private yet close to town.

NEWRY — Mountain Real Estate Co., formed in this western Maine community four years ago, has partnered with Portland, Ore.-based Vacasa, a vacation rental management company.

The partnership, finalized Sept. 26, allowed Vacasa to add MREC's 31 short-term rental vacation homes, ranging from condos to large single-family homes, to its portfolio of 108 existing properties in Maine. MREC owner Susan DuPlessis will continue to operate her real estate and property management business.

Reached by phone, DuPlessis said she started the rental sector of her business with just a couple of properties in May 2015.

"It grew rather rapidly," she said.

But the many layers of the short-term vacation rental sector made it challenging to balance it with her full-time real estate brokerage. "We had a rental manager who decided to pursue other things, so that was the impetus for contacting Vacasa," she said. "I knew that I could not do the daily operations along with my real estate sales."

Vacasa, which was founded in 2009, today manages a portfolio of 6,000 vacation homes in the United States, Europe, Central and South America and South Africa.

DuPlessis discovered Vacasa through a client who had used the service, she said.

"So we contacted them and, as it turned out, they had had an eye on our region for quite some time," she said.

Vacasa, she said, is different from vacation rental platforms like Airbnb in that it employs a local team to provide full-service management, like helping homeowners have the proper insurance and adequate housecleaning services, marketing the property, providing a reservation system, collecting deposits, paying taxes, paying the homeowner, and ensuring customers have a good experience, which might mean getting calls any time of day or night.

"That's different from someone saying, 'I'm going to rent out a room in my house through Airbnb," said DuPlessis.

Vacasa's marketing includes things like shooting 3D video that shows properties in detail, everything from the environs right down to the coffeemaker.

Rental income vital to second-home market

Courtesy / Mountain Real Estate Co.
Courtesy / Mountain Real Estate Co.
Deer Run in Newry is an example of a secluded chalet with an upscale interior, close to the Sunday River Resort.

The vacation rental market is booming in the region, said DuPlessis, who deals almost exclusively with second-home sales: "I've seen exponential growth in the number of buyers I work with who want to know about the possibility of renting their properties and what they could receive for income. This has grown tremendously. And there are others who wouldn't purchase a home here if they couldn't count on that rental income. It's become an important component for real estate sales."

Typically, she said, rental properties are those that are used by the owners part of the time. She said she hasn't seen the situation driving up home prices.

DuPlessis has been selling real estate in the region for nearly 13 years and has seen an increase in the number of short-term vacation rental properties in the area.

"I think people who are traveling to the area are looking for that kind of vacation home rental experience that they might not get in a hotel," she said. "Customers want a property where they can all spend time together, they can cook together, and have an experience that's different from being in a hotel room."

Skiing alone brings in a lot of vacation renters, she said.

"With skiing, you get a lot of families that want to vacation together and all be in the same household together, so they're leaning more and more to vacation homes," she said.

The region is also known for its hiking, golf courses and other recreational attractions, and it has many wedding venues. Increasingly, she said, visitors are coming to experience the region's night sky.

"We have a lot less light pollution. That sort of thing has attracted people to our area," she said. "So I feel that, even though our area has always been a destination for outdoor enthusiasts, Vacasa will expose our region to an even broader-based audience, more people from across the country that didn't know about our area specifically."

Vacation rentals in the area range per night from $80 to $100 to as much as $1,300 for larger luxury properties during peak seasons, she said.

How Vacasa works

Alex Plew, Vacasa's public relations manager, said the firm has proprietary technology intended to drive more bookings and revenue for homeowners.

"Yield Management 2.0, or 'Alan', is a machine learning-driven algorithm that optimizes rates throughout the day by automatically adapting to market changes, which in turn maximizes revenues for homeowners," Plew wrote by email. "'Alan' is constantly evaluating and making real-time changes to rental rates based on millions of data points such as weather forecasts, location-specific events or holidays, occupancy, competitor prices, etc. Vacasa's technology not only benefits the homeowner by revenue optimization but also ensures guests are getting the best rates based on market trends."

In addition, Plew wrote, Vacasa partners with other listing platforms such as Homeaway and Airbnb, listing Vacasa homes on these channels to drive more bookings. Since 2009, Vacasa has grown from two to more than 1,600 employees. The firm raised a total of $140 million from private investors in October, the Oregonian reported.

The firm hires employees in each of its markets and "hopes to provide employment opportunities to the Newry community through this partnership," according to its press release.

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