One visit to the charming, coastal town of New Buffalo was all it took for Jason Milovich to pack up and start a new life along the shores of Lake Michigan.
“I’m a Chicago transplant, I grew up in the suburbs and lived in the city, but I came to visit New Buffalo 20-something years ago,” he said. “I just fell in love with the place.”
Milovich and his wife, Erika, who is a Southwest Michigan native, own Bluefish Vacation Rentals, which specializes in managing rental properties in the Southwest Michigan region. The couple originally owned Light Harbor Rentals, which then acquired Bluefish in 2017.
When Milovich and his wife were operating Light Harbor Rentals, they became close friends with the previous owners of Bluefish — John Natsis and Tom Hemingway — and were ecstatic when they had the opportunity to purchase the company.
“About 16 years ago, my wife and I started Light Harbor Rentals, and we had two properties, Milovich said. “Bluefish had already been in business, and it was the biggest rental company in the area. It was the benchmark of what you should be doing as a vacation rental company — they were the best. When we started, I was always like, man, I would love to be Bluefish someday.”
And here they are.
Owning Bluefish for three years now, Milovich said it’s been a blast.
“It’s been really nice,” he said. “We went from 45 homes to 90 overnight, and now we’re at about 110, give or take. The first year was obviously a heck of a transition to double in size and just run with it. But, I think it’s gone really well.
“The nice thing, too, is that the old owners of Bluefish — who are still our dear friends — we’re all in the same office together, because one of the guys still sells real estate out of the RE/MAX office, and we talk all the time.”
Bluefish’s properties are all located in Harbor Country, which includes: Sawyer, Harbert, Lakeside, Union Pier, Three Oaks, New Buffalo, Grand Beach and Michiana. And because Harbor Country is located so close to Chicago, it’s a quick escape from the city.
“It’s just so easy for them to get here, and it’s pretty quick,” Milovich said. “And once you get here, it’s just so different, it’s such a departure from what they’re used to.”
Bluefish has a range of rentals, from one-bedroom cottages and bungalows to five-bedroom properties. Some listings have extraordinary lake views, and some are tucked away in the quiet woods.
“We can basically sleep two to 26 people,” Milovich said. “Our houses and condos range from $1,000 a week to $16,000 a week. There’s definitely a wide variety between condos, homes, cottages, homes on the water or homes in the woods.
“And we do that on purpose. We like to keep the variety because we really think everybody should have a vacation. I want to appeal to a small family, a large group of people, and people with a budget, and those people with unlimited budgets — God bless them.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, Milovich began to panic. But, shockingly, this year became one of the business’ best, he said.
“We were shut down basically March through May,” he said. “Not only were we shut down, but people were just cancelling left and right. We were in serious trouble. Somewhere around mid-May, it shifted into a new gear like a rocket ship. And here we are — with three months missing — we are busier and done more revenue this year than any other year.”
In response to the pandemic, Bluefish has completely changed its cleaning protocols, allowing for an extended COVID clean.
“We want guests to feel confident that the house has really been taken care of,” Milovich said. “It’s a scary time, and maybe it’s not as scary as it was two or three months ago, but we want everybody to feel safe and confident when they come into one of our rentals.”
Milovich’s day-to-day job includes managing all of the properties, booking visits and assisting with vacation planning, but the best part is the people, Milovich said.
“I love that my homeowners put the trust in us to take care of their homes,” he said. “It’s a big deal, other than their main home, it’s probably their second-biggest investment.
“And same thing with the guests, especially during COVID. Guests know that when they come to Bluefish, they’re going to be taken care of, and if they do have a problem, we’re a phone call away. I just love what we do — we’re not selling insurance, we’re selling vacations.”