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Staff photo by James Glover II
OCEAN VIEW: County residents often stay local for summer vacation destinations. Above, Kevin Christie, 4, of Simi Valley heads for his family's Oxnard Shores rental

The perfect vacation spot
STOP LOOKING: Local beach rentals are ideal getaways, even for county residents.

By David Heller

Friday July 28, 2000

Who can resist the charms of a Ventura County beach on a warm summer's day?

Not many.

For full-time residents lucky enough to live on the shore, a Pacific paradise lies just outside their doors on a daily basis. And for tourists -- the countless thousands who visit each year -- the white sand and blue surf is a brief, but welcome, respite from the rush and tumble of their "real" lives back home.

Then there are the renters. For a week or two or even a month at a time -- and for a fee -- whole families happily surrender to the lure of leisure in a home-like setting on a sunny beach.

"An escape from the heat motivates many families," said Pat Patterson, of Patterson & Tintorri Realtors in Oxnard. "The bulk of our clients are from L.A. and the (San Fernando) Valley but we get a lot of calls from Bakersfield and Fresno, too. We have had inquiries from Nevada, Arizona, even on the East Coast."

In fact, people come from as far away as England and Europe to spend a week by the sea. But they also come from as near as Ventura County itself -- from places like Ventura, Ojai, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Camarillo, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks.

Says Realtor Louisa Kinnebrew: "These are people who just want to get away. They don't have to give their phone number out, they can just have down who they want to. It's just as if they were miles and miles away, but they could actually go into work if they need to."

About half of Realtor Barbara Wouters' rental clients are Ventura County residents who "like coming over to the coast for a week instead of having to drive somewhere. And they have a really nice home with all the amenities."

Up and down the county's "Gold Coast" -- from the Rincon to Pierpont, from Hollywood Beach to Silver Strand -- hundreds of beachfront homes are offered for vacation rentals not only for the summer months but for all year round.

For the most part, these are second homes owned by people who live somewhere else. They were purchased as weekend "getaway" destinations but may be used only occasionally by their absentee owners. Many of these owners agree to open their homes to complete strangers to gain the extra income that can make mortgage and maintenance payments a good deal easier.

Said Patterson: "For the second-home owner, it makes sense to allow others the opportunity to enjoy the use of their often-vacant paradise, and the income can be very lucrative. Weekly rents for beachfront homes range from $2,000 to $3,000 in high season, depending on the size and condition of the property."

Val Gates, a mother and homemaker who lives with her husband and two daughters in Simi Valley, is an eight-year veteran of the summer rental scene.

"I started out at Channel Islands Shores Condos," she said, "but then I started seeing rental signs. So I gave them a call and tried them out."

Gates and her extended family rent a different beachfront home every year, usually around Labor Day, when the rates traditionally go down. They pay up to $2,000 for the week but, she says, "It's like a runaway for us. We really like the water. The family comes down. It's free and open. Whoever can come does. We just get everybody together and make a big beach party."

Family living

What's it like to live in somebody else's house for a week? A little strange at first, but the temporary residents adapt quickly. Gates admits she goes through the house and cleans, even though the rental was professionally cleaned before they arrived.

"The people who live there put their stuff away and all the closets are locked. We bring our own sheets and towels. You can rent them, too, but we bring our own."

Part of the attraction for the Gates family is living, if only for a short while, in a house and location they otherwise would never experience.

It can make a great impression on guests, too.

Gates says she had a friend who joined them one summer and was astounded at the accommodations.

"You own this place?" he asked her. "It was kind of funny," she said.

"We get a place that can sleep nine to 12 people," Gates said. "They don't all get beds, though. Some sleep on couches or futons, or even the floor. The bathroom doesn't seem to be a problem, even if there's only one. We all kind of work it out. And when the party's done, everybody cleans up. Everybody tackles it together."

Rental agents report that most vacation renters are families, and extended families at that. That means brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins by the carload -- sometimes three or four generations of family -- all gathered at the beach for a fun-filled reunion.

Sherrie Rolston of Channel Islands Realty in Oxnard says "extended families are the big summer market. A beach rental provides a place to get everybody together. Winters are different, though," she continued. "Then, we cater to corporations for their new and temporary executives, also church groups for retreats. We also rent to couples who are just looking for a romantic getaway on the beach."

The prime rental areas are Pierpont Beach in Ventura, Hollywood Beach, Oxnard Shores and Silver Strand.

But Kinnebrew specializes in beachfront properties north of Ventura, in the Solimar Beach, Rincon and Mussel Shoals areas. The market is tight there, she said, "but right now I do have three houses available for rental, ranging from about $1,100 to $2,200 for the week."

Patterson points out renting a beach house for a week actually can be quite practical and economical, compared to a hotel.

"Staying in more than one room even when connected seems to separate rather than pull the family together. And when you add the cost of meals to the room rates, a beachfront (hotel) vacation just isn't feasible for many families."

Make yourself at home

A rented beach house, on the other hand, can provide exactly the kind of setting where all family members can relax and do their own thing, whether it's intense sports activities or just hanging out doing nothing in particular. In a vacation rental house, a family literally can feel at home, not having to worry about where and when they will have to dress to be somewhere or find their next meal.

Patterson says the market is so strong his company has just started a vacation rental division to tend to the myriad details involved in short-term rentals -- "details like housekeeping, trash handling, utilities, advertising, rental agreements, inspections and greeting new tenants weekly."

For some renters, nostalgia is a powerful pull. "I get calls from families who've rented houses at the beach for years," Kinnebrew said. "Some people say they remember their times here as a child and now that they've grown up they want to rent a beach house with their own children."

Val Gates' children aren't so little anymore -- they're now 18 and 22. But for the past eight years, the girls have spent part of every summer in a rental at Oxnard Shores. And the whole Gates family -- and all their friends -- will be back there again this Labor Day.

"We've never had a problem or bad experience," she said. "We love it."