From rowdy party houses to laid-back beach cottages, ultra-luxe rentals to quiet "mature" shares, it's still not too late to score somewhere to stay in the Hamptons. Here are five tips for finding the perfect place:
1. DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT
Keep in mind: Every town in the Hamptons has its own book of codes, which dictate the number of unrelated people who can stay in a house, the number of cars that can be parked in a driveway and what the noise levels can be by time of day.
Traditional shares - huge houses split up among a group of people who've never met - are generally favored by post-collegiates in their early- to mid-20s looking to "drink, hook up and party," says Jasmin Rosemberg, who published her debut novel, "How the Other Half Hamptons," last June. These houses often have shared bedrooms and shuttle rides to nearby nightclubs and house parties. Shares are typically priced in packaged weekends: quarter-shares are four weekends, half-shares are eight weekends and full-shares are all 16 weekends.
Then there's the traditional share, either for strangers or a rental split among friends. This is for professionals in their 20s and 30s who want a nice house and social atmosphere, but also a place where they can unwind.
A third type of house is a shared short- or long-term rental among families with kids or a traditional share house with fewer people per room. This type is usually favored by renters in their late-30s and older.
Although it's not a hard-and-fast rule, the "farther east you go, the older it gets," says David Shapiro, 38, an event planner from Manhattan who's been summering in the Hamptons for 15 years.
Hampton Bays and Southampton are generally for the post-college set; Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor are more for professionals in their 20s and 30s; Amagansett and Montauk have more families and renters looking for quiet weekends away from home, Shapiro says.
2. KNOW WHERE TO LOOK
Outside of word-of-mouth referrals, there's one main place to find Hamptons shares - the Internet.
The vacation rentals section of Craigslist (longisland.craigslist.org/vac) is the best spot to start. Most houses will include a lengthy description of the property, the amenities and the rental terms (shares, weekend rentals or long-term rentals).
For full-house short- or long-term rentals to share with friends or family, the Hamptons section of Vacation Rentals by Owner (http://www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/usa/new-york/long-island/hamptons ) lists properties separated by community. Most listings include photos, a clear list of the property's features and access to a 2009 availability calendar. All listings have an e-mail inquiry form, which is sent directly to the owner after submission.
SummerShareHouse.com has Hamptons listings, separated by community, with photos, a brief description and contact details for each property.
For high-end short- and long-term rentals, Hamptons Real Estate Online ( hreo.com ) has Realtor-listed rental properties separated by town and region, with searches for houses with pools, tennis courts and other amenities.
3. SET YOUR BUDGET, PICK DATES
Be realistic about how much you have to spend, then decide how you'd like to split up your available budget. Figure in rent plus meals, nightlife, leisure and transportation.
For $1,000, you can probably get two weekends in a house with a shared bedroom, one night per weekend on the town, two round-trip fares on the Hampton Jitney (from Manhattan) or Long Island Rail Road, or shared gas costs, with days spent lounging at the beach or pool. For this same price, you can likely rent an entire house for one week with a group of friends, have barbecues in the backyard, vineyard trips and golf during the day and gas to get there and around.
After determining your budget, think of dates you'd like to travel. Map out the best-case scenario for weeks and weekends away, but plan on being flexible in order to find the best deals.
4. MEET POTENTIAL ROOMMATES, FIND OUT THE HOUSE SPECIFICS
Once you've found houses of interest, see if it's possible to meet your potential roommates. Many group houses hold informal meet-and-greets. Others have group pages on Facebook so that sharers can gather online.
Make sure to ask what's included with the share or rental. Some houses have weekend barbecues or Sunday morning bagels included in the price; others hire pre-party DJs to play music, athletic trainers to conduct fitness classes or drivers to shuttle sharers to and from area nightlife. (Want someone else to clean? Ask.)
5. NEGOTIATE, NEGOTIATE, NEGOTIATE
"You can probably get a better deal now as opposed to last year because things are so bad," says Aaron Monet, owner of SummerShareHouse.com , who's been sharing an Amagansett house for eight years.
Raphael Avigdor, a broker associate at Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate's Southampton office, says Hamptons summer rentals are down 20 to 30 percent from last year, which means, he says, owners are willing to entertain prices that they wouldn't have accepted in the past.
In share houses, economic woes have led to more flexibility in share dates and terms. In the past, share houses might have required a quarter-share or half-share minimum; now houses book weekend stays, what Susannah Gill, who's managed a Fire Island share house for eight years, calls a "commitment-free summer."
When negotiating, work not just on price but perks. Try for a holiday weekend or two as part of your share for no additional charge, a later checkout or longer stay.