Home Alone on Nantucket
Are you looking for your happy place? a place where you can escape the memories of your former life as half a couple and build a new life alone? I stumbled upon Nantucket four years after my husband’s death, not even knowing what I was looking for.
I did not throw a dart at a U.S. map to pick my destination nor did I rely on any “Top 10 Summer Destinations” lists. In fact, when I went to Nantucket in 2013, I stayed only four days because I had never been in such a remote location by myself before. Those four days were exhilarating, and I went back the next year for 18 days. On that second extended visit, family and friends visited me, I became aware of major weekend festivals and nonprofit events and I stumbled upon First Congregational Church, where I could connect to the community.
By Year 3, when I came for two two-week stays, I knew I needed to look for a house for Summertime ’16. A house offered me far greater value per day for the dollar and gave my family flexibility to make-last minute plans to visit. Overwhelmed by the array of rentals online, I contacted the three people I knew for recommendations: Friends who had rented on Nantucket for 25 years, my banker who often rented on the island and the wife of the Congregational minister. They recommended three different Realtors—all excellent, all with long lists of possibilities.
Renting a house for eight weeks was a giant leap into the unknown. I had never been away from home for so long, and I had never rented a house. I tiptoed into the process, trying to avoid undue risk. Summertime ’16 was successful enough that I knew within a few weeks that I want to come back next summer. For other single women of a certain age who are looking for a happy place but don’t know where to start, I will share a few keys to success.
Across the nation, condo- and homeowners are beginning to make their plans for next summer. When will they reserve their properties for themselves and their families and when will they put them in the rental market? Prospective renters are making similar decisions about their vacation time. Now is the time to start looking for a place to rent.
I was familiar enough with Nantucket to know that I wanted to be in town, where I could walk to restaurants, shops and the grocery store. My children added a few more criteria to the list. Knowing my bad knees, they vetoed steep 18th century staircases, long walks on dark residential brick sidewalks and “upside down” houses with downstairs bedrooms and upstairs living rooms and kitchens, pointing out that I would have to carry groceries up the stairs. However, they wanted me to have to have a first-floor bedroom option. I took their advice.
Since Nantucket rentals are weekly, finding a long-term rental was a challenge. Most rentals had families who came back for the same week each summer. I was lucky to find a house, renovated in 2013, that did not have an established group of short-term renters. The house had another bonus as well, which I had not considered when I began my search.
Because of the high demand for summer rentals on Nantucket, where the summer population is about six times that of the year-round population, many owners rent out their own homes for the weeks they are away. A house renovated as a rental property has only eight or 10 weeks of wear and tear each year. The sheets and towels are practically new. No family mementoes or children’s athletic trophies clutter the tabletops or adorn the walls.
Taking my son’s advice, I had my attorney read the lease before I took a big gulp and signed it. It’s not like booking a reservation at a hotel for the summer. It’s a contract. I was legally obligated to pay the rent (and made a stiff deposit up front)—no refunds, no trip insurance.
When spring arrived, along with the deadline for the final payment and security deposit, I began to think about the logistics of renting. What would I do for cash? What if I had unexpected expenses? What about dry-cleaning? housekeeping? stocking the pantry?
Again, my banker came to my rescue. I could open a free checking account at the Cape Cod Five-Cents Savings Bank with a $25 deposit. The name alone was an attraction. Its location at Zero Main Street was another. My account enabled me to pay for services with checks from a local bank, and it was handy for replenishing cash without paying ATM service fees. I ran through cash quickly, for the farm and flower trucks on Main Street as well as cabs and buses, the fish market on the wharf and the Sconset Market were all cash-only.
My Realtor provided the answers to my other questions. I could use my landlady’s cleaning service; and the island has an abundance of “concierges”—individuals who stock groceries, run errands, make restaurant reservations and find answers to all your questions.
I could not imagine arriving on Nantucket in the middle of the day and going straight to my rent house, so I booked several days at the hotel. That was unnecessary, and next year I will send my grocery list to my concierge in advance and go straight to my house from the airport.
What I did not anticipate was the amount of stuff I would accumulate during the summer: decorative items that made the house my home, books (Mitchell’s Book Corner seduced me), kitchenware, clothes. Packing up at the end of summer and returning the house to its original condition was at the end of my stay, and I will move to the hotel for a few days after the 9 a.m. Saturday move-out deadline to relax before I head home.
My previous stays at the hotel had spoiled me—the front desk could always arrange transportation and produce restaurant reservations. I did not realize how difficult that is when the island is packed with tourists. Everything has to be reserved in advance, even taxis. Occasionally, I rented a car for the day to explore the small waterfront communities and beaches and to shop at the Bartlett Farm Store and the mid-island version of big-box stores. That too needs to be scheduled far in advance to avoid excessive fees. It’s all about supply and demand.
Unlike at the hotel, where every minute was mine to do as I pleased, the routine of housekeeping—making the bed, cooking breakfast, washing dishes, doing laundry, carrying out trash—took a couple of hours each day. My mornings were not free to write, as they had been on previous visits.
All in all, though, my summer rental went exceptionally well, and Summertime ’17 will go even more smoothly. I had worried about feeling isolated in a house alone, but I I felt less alone in the house where I had a routine than in the hotel, where I was very conscious of being alone in the midst of couples, families and friend groups. In the shops, on the streets, at the events I attended, I found the status of “summer resident” far better than that of “tourist.” I felt like a Nantucketer.
Photos: Turning an 1836 house on Nantucket into a summer home, a warm welcome from my Realtor, ready for company, personal touches from local artisans, new and old friends—in the kitchen and around the table, market day.