If the summer rental market is any indication of the Island economy, Vineyarders can expect a turn for the better this season.

The early summer rental market is already up significantly over last year, with real estate agencies reporting increases between 17 and 30 per cent.

“We’re very excited about the season to come and found we have good, strong rebooking coming off of last season, and a lot of early bookings coming into the summer,” Anne Mayhew at Sandpiper Rentals in Edgartown said earlier this week.

Sandpiper’s summer bookings are up 30 per cent compared to this time last year.

“We’re feeling very strong, like we’re going to have a very busy season,” Ms. Mayhew said.

Vacationing trends over the past decade have shifted from monthly rentals to weekly rentals, but agents say the more recent trend of scoring last-minute rental deals may be over this year.

“Over the last two or three years we have seen a lot of last-minute bookings, and it’ll be curious to see how much inventory is going to be available for that this summer,” Ms. Mayhew added. “With the surge we’re feeling now, a lot of folks waiting until the last minute and wanting to bargain, they may not have that opportunity again.” Ms. Mayhew said.

Carol Shore at Coldwell Banker Landmarks Real Estate said last-minute bookings were unheard of in the 1990s; they just weren’t available.

“Back in the 1990s it used to be very busy. The trend has changed a little bit since 9/11 and then even more so in the past couple years,” Ms. Shore said. “There’ve been many, many more last-minute bookings, where we can look into July and August and have people give us the call and arrive the next week or week after ... it has to do with the fast pace of peoples’ lives.”

January and February are typically busy months for bookings, Ms. Shore said, because families have gotten together over the holidays and decided what they want to do for summer vacation.

But shifting from monthlong vacation stays to one or two weeks isn’t the only changing vacation trend. Real estate agents across the Vineyard are noticing the higher end homes are doing far better this year than they did last year, but low to moderately priced homes are not faring as well.

Elizabeth Weedon from rental Web site WeNeedAVacation.com said their higher-end bookings, priced at $3,000 a week and above, are up 23 per cent, whereas homes priced at $2,000 a week and below are down about one per cent.

For the online company, 2009 was one of the more difficult seasons to date. Ms. Weedon described that year as “the perfect storm” when it came to a glut in the market with little demand. WeNeedAVacation.com bookings for the Vineyard are up 31.9 per cent compared to 2009.

“January [2011] broke records, it was the highest traffic month in our history,” Ms. Weedon said in a phone interview with the Gazette earlier this week. “The numbers are pretty eye-catching.”

The site’s Vineyard bookings to date are up 17.6 per cent over last year for the peak rental season between Memorial Day and the end of October, and up 17.9 per cent for the summer months alone.

High-end property listed on WeNeed AVacation.com includes a Chilmark home available for $8,000 a week. The 4,700-square-foot house has access to the Spring Point Association tennis courts, beach, walking trails, water views, three patios, a sundeck, wireless internet and sleeps 10 people. A lower-end property includes a beach guest cottage looking over Menemsha Pond for $1,500 a week, which sleeps four people.

“We are finding that [renters] are demanding more and more amenities and conveniences and that their vacations begin the moment they get off the ferry,” Ms. Weedon said. “They would rather head right to the beach than worry about making beds.”

Ms. Shore agrees — people want the works.

“It’s really competitive now, there are a lot of rentals to be had. People aren’t just taking anything. They want a good location, they want it updated,” she said.

“A lot of people call and want to be up-Island because they want to be in the serenity of being up-Island and not dealing with traffic, and other families wouldn’t think about going to Aquinnah or Chilmark,” Ms. Shore added.

“There are still some very good choices out there and we get new listings all the time,” she said, adding:

“There doesn’t seem to be the doom and gloom there has been for the past couple years, it seems a little more robust. The atmosphere has changed. I’ve heard from some people this year that I haven’t heard from in a couple of years. I think things are on the upswing.”

Rentals aren’t the only summer trend on the rise. Wayne Lamson, general manger of the Steamship Authority, said summer reservations were up a little over 5 per cent at the end of February. Peak ferry travel runs from May 24 through Oct. 11.

Most people making reservations now travel back and forth from the Vineyard and the mainland on a regular basis, Mr. Lamson said, but many people wait to make a reservation until the last minute depending on the weather.

“We had a really good opening this year, both online and the total number of reservations,” Mr. Lamson said last week. “So far it’s very encouraging. It’s a good sign for the season.”

Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce executive director Nancy Gardella said, “These are great early numbers.

“Basically when large metro markets that are feeder markets start to rebound, like New York, Connecticut and Boston, that bodes well for us,” she added.