Growing up in Rochester, Brian Zerges saw firsthand the benefits of owning lakefront property.
His parents bought two cottages on Keuka Lake near Branchport. The family vacationed in one and rented out the other to pay for them, he said.
Today Zerges is making someone else’s vacation his vocation. As the owner and CEO of Finger Lakes Premier Properties, he oversees the renting of a mini-village of vacation homes from the Livonia/Lakeville area to Ithaca.
Finger Lakes Premier Properties, or FLPP, is the longstanding descendant of Rental Plus and is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The Penn Yan-based firm recently moved into a new headquarters in Horizon Business Park, and it also has a satellite office in Canandaigua.
“We run the business like a fine hotel,” Zerges said.
Or 285 mini-hotels, since that’s how many different properties are available from FLPP on seven area lakes: Canandaigua, Conesus, Honeoye, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga and Owasco. While Zerges owns a few properties, nearly all are privately owned and contract with FLPP for rental services.
The company provides a variety of year-round rental packages, with three- and four-night stays probably as popular as week-long getaways. There also are long-term packages that carry a 12-month lease. The vacation stays vary in price, from $100 a night during off-peak months to $2,000 a night in the peak months of July and August.
“We have everything from the basic cottage to luxury homes,” said Zerges, 56, who lives in Canandaigua.
Business starts revving up in May and remains brisk through November, thanks to the growing popularity of winery and craft-brewery tours, he said.
And while this isn’t quite what Zerges envisioned doing for a living when he left Rochester Institute of Technology in 1985 with a degree in business and hotel management, Finger Lakes Premier Properties has become a staple in the region. The company books around 4,000 reservations a year.
“After RIT I worked for Hyatt, Marriott and Disney, and then worked as a real estate broker in California for six years,” he said. “That blend of real estate and hospitality is really what this is.”
He formed the business as Rental Plus in 1993, not long after returning to the Finger Lakes area. He was the sole employee. The firm has since grown to a full-time staff of 30 in a variety of departments, including reservations, marketing, human resources, accounting, housekeeping, maintenance and owner services. There also are around 100 seasonal employees during peak times.
The website, fingerlakespremierproperties.com, provides listings of lake properties, including pictures, rates and “walk-through” tours.
“We want people to know what they’re getting before they arrive,” Zerges said. “It’s very important that we exceed expectations.”
His inventory of available properties has grown steadily, including a 15 percent bump in 2018.
“A lot of people are turning to renting because taxes are high, expenses are high and they aren’t using the property as much anymore,” Zerges said. “Some people buy the property as an investment and never use it themselves, and some only rent out four weeks a year. We have a little of everything.”
They also have a concierge and maintenance staff on call 24/7 and have added real estate services as well for those homeowners looking to sell.
“We understand the income potential a lake home can have,” he said.
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