If you’re feeling like you could use a change of scenery, then you’re not alone. The most exciting way I shake up my routine these days is by putting on a pair of jeans and going for a drive, and the idea of spending a few nights somewhere new sounds amazing. Maybe you’re hoping to spirit your family away to the beach or the mountains or even just check out a new town, but you’re wondering: Is it safe to rent a house this summer?
“There is a little risk in everything we do in life," Gabriela Andujar Vazquez, M.D., infectious disease physician and associate hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, tells Romper. “Everything from now on is going to require a lot of trust. Platforms who rent houses will have to attest to having cleaned it properly.” The virus is so new, however, that it's hard to know exactly how to sterilize against it. (It's called "novel" for a reason even if it feels like it's been around for so long.) "I don't know if any company or third party cleaning agency can truly, 100% sterilize against the virus in the same way that a hospital can. The data on UV light is also not validated," Niket Sonpal M.D., New York-based internist and gastroenterologist, tells Romper. This means if you do rent a house, you'll probably want to bring your own cleaning supplies and do a bit of sanitizing yourself.
If you’re working with a realtor to rent a house (which may be the case especially if you’re planning to rent for a few months), the experience of finding the right rental will be different and you won’t be as free to bop around seeing multiple houses in a day.
“As with most other industries, much of the promotion and touring options have gone digital even more so than before. Video tours, floor plans, and matterport videos have been tools in the past but are now pretty much required to give agents and buyers as much preview as possible before considering an in-person showing,” Meghan French, a real estate agent in Portland, Oregon tells Romper. Your first visit to a house might be via a FaceTime tour instead of in-person, so it’s a good idea to have a list of things you specifically want to see that might be overlooked if you're not in the physical space. What’s the inside of the refrigerator like? How big are the closets? Is the washer or dryer super loud?
If you (understandably) want to see the house for yourself, you can do drive-bys to check out the neighborhood, French suggests, then narrow it down to only a small handful of houses you’re truly interested in. “Usually families like to tour and see homes together but with restrictions on how many people can be in a home at once and mandatory masks and gloves [in some cases], it can be hard to accommodate. With childcare extremely limited at the moment, this has looked like a parent waiting outside with kiddos while the first parent views and then taking turns.” She adds that some agents will take extra precautions like having kitchen cabinets and closets throughout the house already opened, which reduces the amount of touching involved in the tour.
Many families like to rent a house with another family, both because it’s fun and it cuts down on costs. “Experts said that if both families have been quarantining and limiting their exposure to others, this is pretty safe,” NPR reported. However, “with every new person under the roof, the risk rises,” pediatrician David Hill M.D., an author and American Academy of Pediatrics Spokesperson, tells Romper, so it’s best to keep it to just your own family, or one other family who has been practicing social distancing.
Even if the house has been thoroughly cleaned beforehand, it's still smart to wipe down high-touch surfaces like cabinet pulls, appliance handles, door knobs, faucets, and remotes. “The coronavirus can live for hours to days on surfaces like countertops and doorknobs. How long it survives depends on the material the surface is made from,” Dr. Sonpal tells Romper. The virus can live on metals for as long as seven days and on paper products and glass for four days, per Healthline. "Emerging data suggests that fabrics like linens pose a very low risk of passing coronavirus," Hill says, so couches and upholstered chairs are not a huge concern. "It can live for a time on hard surfaces, but what role they play in transmission remains an area of active investigation," Hill says.
In addition to COVID-19 related precautions, you’ll have to assess the house for any other safety risks. “Most critical is water access, especially for children aged 1 to 4 years, for whom accidental drowning is now a leading cause of death,” Dr. Hill tells Romper. If there is a pool, make sure it's surrounded by a 4-foot high fence with a high locking gate. Look out for hot tubs, open toilets, kiddie pools, and easy access to the beach. "Look, too, for hazardous staircases, unsecured cleaning supplies, and sharp objects that a child might find,” Dr. Hill adds.
If you do decide to rent with another family, Dr. Andujar Vazquez stresses the need to have trust and open communication. You'll want to have a frank conversation about what each family's distancing has been like, if the kids are allowed to share toys, and if you'll be sharing food. But if you're comfortable with the arrangement, trust your housemates, and are willing to do some heavy-duty sanitizing, then renting a house can be a relatively safe way to get a much-needed change of routine this summer.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.
Meghan French, real estate agent in Portland, Oregon
David Hill M.D., pediatrician and co-author of "Co-parenting Through Separation and Divorce: Putting Your Children First"
Niket Sonpal M.D., New York-based internist and gastroenterologist
Gabriela Andujar Vazquez M.D., infectious disease physician and associate hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center