They came to SW19

What do tennis stars look for in a Wimbledon rental?

In Wimbledon village, you are more likely to step in a dollop of horse manure than on a food carton. Riders from the Common bob along a parade of shops that is more market town than London suburb, while takeaway outlets, like ill-bred relatives, are banished down the hill to Wimbledon town. Once a year, though, all Wimbledon basks in the reflected glory of tennis. Differences narrow as everyone, downhill and uphill, finds a bonus in being the centre of the world's attention for two weeks.

Few benefit more than the owners of houses close to the All England Lawn Tennis Club who are willing to rent their homes. While most of us are familiarising ourselves with the performance of this year's top seeds, they are clearing out - often leaving Wimbledon altogether - so the players, television companies and journalists can move in. Their concerns are less likely to be whether Becker will make it to the finals, but more whether his wife will like the colour of the bedroom.

Susan Carstensen is one of those preparing to rent her house out for the first time. She and her husband and two young children are going away for four weeks while one of the world's top 10 players moves into their two-year-old Octagon home on Wimbledon Common. "It is a fantastic way to make easy money. We will earn pounds 2,000 a week which will pay the mortgage for a few months. We go to Denmark every year anyway, but there are people who move to friends or cheap rented accommodation for the tennis weeks. It's certainly no trouble for us. The player renting our house has two children the same age as ours, which is perfect. The only thing we have to do is to move our clothes into one room and give the house a good clean."

However, more people want to rent out their homes than there are takers. According to Joanna Doniger of the agency Tennis London, many people have unrealistically high expectations. "Even a top player is not going to pay more than pounds 3,000 a week. That has to be a very smart house with at least five bedrooms close to the courts and in its own land for complete privacy. Players are not particularly fussed about pools, though. Our highest rental is pounds 4,000 a week for a corporate letting.

"The amount most players pay is about pounds 1,500. The house has to be immaculate; they'll be an almighty row if it's not. And they don't like clutter. The one thing they all absolutely insist on is a power shower. They also want to be close to the village because they love the atmosphere there in the evening," says Ms Doniger.

"The fact is, tennis players have to be realistic, after all they may be knocked out in the first week. Players always feel they are being ripped off, and owners that they are not getting enough."

Although Tennis London, and other agencies, take 15 per cent commission, a private no-contract, no-deposit deal with unknown tenants can prove expensive. Wimbledon has its share of burnt fingers.

Serious money is not within the grasp of most residents. But the trickle down from the tennis honeypot spreads widely. A driveway rented out for parking contributes nicely to household funds. Some let their garden and house for daytime functions while others turn their homes into B&Bs.

The congregation of St Mary's Church displays particular commercial enterprise. It turns its field into a car park with volunteer attendants, and sets up food stalls supplied by rotas of baking and sandwich-making parishioners. And at the end of two weeks they can expect to share out some pounds 15,000 between three charities and the church.

It is just the sort of community effort which Robert Holmes, a Wimbledon estate agent, believes draws people to the area and keeps them there. "Most of the people buying and selling are within Wimbledon itself. It is not unusual to have a chain of four properties all within SW19. There is a great demand for period houses within the village and they are selling for the full asking price. A two-bedroom cottage on the Common will go for at least pounds 300,000. We sold one recently for more than pounds 400,000."

The advice of the agent John D Wood to those with more limited funds is to get a foothold in a good street closer to the town and station, where there are some small conservation areas. Buyers might be nearer Southfields or Raynes Park than the All England Club, but for those at the right end of the right road, it's still SW19 and it counts.

The chances are that such buyers will work their way up the housing ladder until they get to the Common at the top. And those who have paid a premium to be there will at least have the comfort of knowing that for a few weeks in June every year they call the shots.

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