NAPLES — Marketed as an “architectural masterpiece,” a mansion on Marco Island rents for $35,000 a month.
A “cheerful” estate in posh Port Royal fetches $25,000 a month, while a “charming” bayfront home in Park Shore commands $17,000 a month.
They’ve been described as trophy rentals — and there’s a growing demand for them in the Naples area among the ultra-rich, who can easily afford them and are willing to pay big money for all the comforts they’re used to in a home, from built-in movie theaters and Jacuzzi tubs, to gourmet kitchens and Olympic-size pools, to fireplaces and private guest houses.
“The rental market is hot, hot, hot — just on fire. I wish I had more rentals, I wish I had more high-end rentals, definitely, because there are definitely clients for those high-end rentals,” said Lauren Fowlkes, a Realtor with Downing-Frye Realty Inc. in Naples.
Some of the glitzy multimillion-dollar homes can only be rented in the busy season, which traditionally runs from November to April, while others are available for weekly and monthly stays year-round, with rates dropping by as much as 30 percent for the summer. There are some annual rentals, too.
This season, local Realtors say demand for the showy homes spiked with a stronger economy and surging financial markets. Wealthy renters have scrambled to claim the homes for next season, said Fowlkes, who specializes in high-end home sales and rentals.
“My inventory is almost entirely rented ... (Almost) everything is gone. It’s just hot as a pistol,” she said.
She’s told anyone she’s working with who is considering renting next season to “take a day to think about it, then make your mind up because after that there are five people behind you to rent the property.”
Much of the inventory she handles requires at least a three-month stay. For renters, that can mean spending upward of $70,000 to be in the Naples area for just a few months.
“It’s staggering,” Fowlkes said.
Premier Sotheby’s International Realty in Naples has a portfolio of 25 single-family homes and condominiums from Port Royal to Barefoot Beach that rent for at least $10,000 a month — and about 95 percent of those are seasonal rentals, said Craig Jones, the company’s vice president of marketing. As season winds down, 20 percent of the renters already have rebooked for next winter, she said.
“It’s a sought-after group and they go quickly,” Jones said.
The most expensive rental in Premier’s portfolio is on Marco Island, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a newer one, listed at $35,000 a month. Spanning more than 11,600 square feet, the estate includes five bedroom suites, six full and three half-bathrooms, four fireplaces, an elevator, an exercise room, and a billiards room with an English-style pub.
It’s interesting that rentals have remained so strong, even as sales have picked up with a recovery in the housing market in Southwest Florida, Jones said.
“There is still a strong group of people who would like to rent,” she said.
It makes sense that the Naples area would be so attractive for high-income renters because of the city’s reputation as a playground for the wealthy.
Wealth attracts wealth, Fowlkes said.
“You can pull up to a stop light next to a Lamborghini and have two Ferraris in front of you,” she said. “Where do you see that? Maybe Beverly Hills?”
Some renters are testing the waters, staying in affluent communities, such as Port Royal and the exclusive Bay Colony in Pelican Bay, or in luxury waterfront condominiums where they’re considering eventually buying homes.
“They are exploring the market,” Fowlkes said. “Maybe they’ve never lived in a high-rise and they want to know what it’s all about.”
She’s noticed a growing trend of well-to-do renters staying for more than six months so they can be considered Florida residents and avoid paying higher state income tax rates up North, where they have another home.
“What they want to rent is not just a two-bedroom get-away,” Fowlkes said. “They want to rent a very, very nice property.”
The high-flying renters want to be close to fine dining and boutique shops, but also seek easy access to the beach and boating. Luxury golf communities also are attractive, with more of them starting to welcome renters, realizing the potential for those renters to become buyers.
Randy Bacik, the CEO for Royal Shell Vacations, a leader in luxury rentals in Southwest Florida, said more owners are realizing that renting out their second homes is a good way to offset their costs.
One of Royal Shell’s newer offerings is a 4,000-square-foot condominium in the high-rise Aria, in Park Shore, off Gulf Shore Boulevard, offering views of the Gulf of Mexico and Venetian Bay. It’s listed for $25,000 a month — or $833 a night — and includes three bedroom suites, four-and-a-half bathrooms, three terraces and a gas fireplace.
Time & Place Homes offers private luxury vacation rentals across the Americas and Europe with concierges who handle everything from stocking the refrigerator before guests arrive to making restaurant reservations when they’re in town. The business has among its listings a Gulf-front mansion in Naples that goes for as much as $7,150 a night. The posh estate includes three master suites and five bathrooms in the main house, along with a state-of-the-art home theater and a chef’s kitchen, a pool, a spa and wraparound lanais with views of tropical gardens and Koi ponds.
Though the rental amounts for the most exclusive homes are eye-popping, they only contribute a small percentage to the county’s tourist tax collections because there aren’t many of them. The tax is a 4 percent charge on all hotel stays and vacation rentals.
Last fiscal year, tax collections from the apartment, condo and single-family rental segment grew 18 percent over the year, with rates on the rise overall, said Jack Wert, Collier County’s tourism director.
“It’s not growing like it was last year,” he said. “I think it’s probably leveling off, now that prices are about as high as they can get.”