House-lending can be very lucrative, but make sure the tenants move out before you arrive home with your suitcases and the children in tow.
It is not just Wimbledon residents who have been picking up a few thousand pounds providing beds for foreigners, but an increasing number of Londoners elsewhere in the capital. Tennis players and their entourages are just one lucrative, if short-lived market and, while their priorities may be somewhat different, in one essential way they are the same as many other visitors. They want a home from home, not a hotel room.

So owners of flats and houses in central parts of London find that they can earn anything from pounds 500 to pounds 5,000 a week - quite a bonus if the property would normally have been left empty.

James Martin, a lawyer, has an attractive one-bedroom flat in the Notting Hill area of London. He managed a trip to Vietnam and the Far East for three months with the money he earned from letting his property. James says: "It was the only way I could afford three months travelling in the Far East.

"The flat was let for pounds 500 a week, and a sum was paid into my bank account every month. I didn't have to worry about anything. I suppose I was a little nervous at the prospect of someone I didn't know living there, because I had spent a lot of time painting and creating the flat I wanted and I am extremely attached to it. But once I met the tenant I knew it would be fine."

Mauricette Lalloz, who has a two-bedroom flat in Kensington, regularly lets her flat for periods of two weeks to two months. "I think it's daft not to. You can leave pretty well everything as it is and earn money while you are away. I also like the idea of the flat not being empty for security reasons." A corporate let is perhaps the most reliable. Both let their flats through Foxtons, the estate agents, who provide tailor-made short- term tenancies in private rented accommodation.

In summer two thirds of these properties are large family houses in Islington, Notting Hill Gate, South Kensington and Mayfair. Among their regulars they include owners of a three-bedroom terrace Georgian house in Westbourne Grove with a roof terrace and large private garden which is let for pounds 1,800 a week and a five-bedroom house near Holland Park with five bedrooms and three receptions which fetches between pounds 2,500 and pounds 3,500 a week according to length of stay.

Arnaud Cheung, from Foxtons' Islington office, says that the rental should be compared with hotel costs which could be in the region of pounds 3,000 a week for a family needing three rooms.

A number of agents, though, have pointed to potential risk in the short- term letting market. Their concern is that anyone paying less than pounds 480 a week is automatically an assured shorthold tenant and if he or she refuses to budge they then can stay six months before being legally evicted.

While most Central London properties fall outside this category, landlords still cannot move tenants out the moment they are in breach of an agreement. Arriving home from the airport,children in tow, is not grounds for summary action.

Marveen Smith, from Dutton Gregory, solicitors specialising in the residential landlord and tenant market, says that every landlord takes a risk, however small. "But there is no greater risk in short-term lets. Regardless of the tenancy granted by a landlord to a tenant, if the tenant refuses to leave when it comes to an end, the landlord would have to take legal action through the courts to regain possession of his own property."

A Place Like Home has been putting overseas visitors in Londoners' houses for 11 years. Some 80 per cent of their business comes from the United States. "There is always a potential for trouble-making but we have not come across it. All our tenants are closely screened and must have references, and we do not take on anyone we are uncertain about," says Silvia Lawson Johnston, the owner. "We find tenants for any length of time, but we offer a housekeeping, not a management, service. The great thing is that owners do not have to denude their homes."

"The place must be spotlessly clean, but visitors generally like to see a few things around. Apart from putting away expensive glass and china and hanging their clothes in one closet, we do ask that cats and dogs should go elsewhere. We supply all the linen and towels." In high season, as at present, the agency has about 250 properties on its books. They range from a third floor walk- up studio to a detached house with a swimming pool, all in central London. "Most popular with couples sharing a holiday is a place with two bedrooms and two bathrooms for around pounds 1,000 a week", says Ms Lawson Johnston.

As well as carrying round baskets of lightbulbs and loo rolls, their service runs to meeting and greeting. "We like to fetch them from the airport. They have been known to go missing and while we are waiting for tenants in the property they have rushed off to a theatre matinee."

Foxtons charges the homeowner between 20 and 25 per cent of the rental as commission (0171-973 2050). A Place Like Home does not take any commission off the property owner, but builds its charges into the tenants' costs instead (0171-228 4668)

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