Olympic house lettings under starter's orders

As the nation gears up for the Games, Britons plan to turn their homes into cash.
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The Independent Online

With the Winter Olympics over, the world's gaze turns to London which will host the summer games in two years' time. Concerns over transportation, ticket allocation and security aside, many Londoners – and those outside the capital but near major events – are thinking one thing: how can I make extra cash when the Olympics come? The most obvious answer is to rent out their homes to some of the millions who will be visiting during Olympics fortnight, or take in a lodger.

Any major sporting event demands a variety of accommodation, from holidaymakers to large corporations with clients to schmooze. With Britain hosting the Olympics for the first time since the austerity Games of 1948, the excitement and visitor expectations are building along with the facilities.

Bruce Abbott, who runs Hotel London Olympic Games, a free website, reports a 200 per cent increase in interest over the past month as people look to rent and let. "As soon as we won the Olympic Games, I realised that there would be a requirement for additional accommodation as well as hotels, once the mainstream became full," he says. But how to ensure a successful let while keeping your most valuable asset secure?

Mr Abbott says call in the professionals. "There are always guidelines and rules to be followed. For example, you should have your gas appliances checked and a certificate issued. Experienced letting agents and specialists are the best people to talk you through each stage of the process," he says. Silvia Lawson Johnston from A Place Like Home insists that an agent's reputation and experience are vital. The properties she handles in central London, mostly owner-occupied, are found through word of mouth.

If you want to employ a lettings agent for the Olympics, expect them to take 15 to 20 per cent of the rental income. Agent services should include securing a holding deposit as well as drawing up a formal rental agreement.

Joanna Doniger has been managing short-term property lettings for Wimbledon fortnight for 18 years. She'll be doing the same for 2012, and expects no shortage of demand. Only the competitors stay in the Olympic Village; the entourage – coaches, trainers, medical staff and the like – all need beds and hotels are not always ideal. "Each country is likely to take its own house in London," says Ms Doniger. And even that is the tip of the iceberg. Visitor numbers are expected to be close to 950,000 per day to London during the Olympics.

Prices are as varied as property values themselves. Ms Doniger estimates that a studio flat in Pimlico, central London, will fetch around £1,200 per week, which is about 50 per cent more than the regular rental, whereas she has a three-bedroom family house in Greenwich on the books for £5,000 per week. It's in an ideal location, overlooking the park where the equestrian and pentathlon events are taking place, as well as a short hop to Stratford and the main Olympic Park.

But with events scheduled across London, no area need be excluded. And no type of property; even a spare room shouldn't be overlooked. Says Matt Hutchinson of spareroom.co.uk: "It's one of the simplest ways of using an existing asset to make money, and it provides much needed local quality affordable accommodation without which the Olympics won't function." He adds that the Olympic accommodation isn't only for three weeks. There are plenty of people working in advance to make sure the Games happen in the first place. He predicts a surge in demand for rooms near the main Olympic site, and the various events. What's more, if you take in lodgers in your home you are eligible for the Government's rent-a room scheme which means you can earn £4,250 a year in rental income before having to pay tax.

And the Olympics Games aren't only in London. Manchester, Newcastle, Windsor, Dorset, Wales and Scotland will all be hosting a limited number of events such as football, kayaking, mountain biking and sailing. A private home can offer high-quality accommodation and convenience, particularly for a family, at prices comparable to an upmarket hotel. And not all tourists will want to stay for the entire three weeks. A family on holiday may be stopping off for a week, which gives you the benefit of being around for the remainder of the Games.

Whether using a letting company or not, it is vital to find out what your home insurance covers. For DIYers, take a substantial deposit and draw up a short-term contract. If the booking falls through, don't despair. Joanna Doniger says, "If it's anything like Wimbledon, there will also be those in a last-minute panic."

Olympic gold: 'We can soak up the atmosphere'

Jan Neate and her husband, John, are taking the DIY route, but cautiously. Jan feels their two-bedroom house in Wanstead, east London, 10 minutes to Stratford by train, would suit one or two couples or a small family. "Our house has everything to make a home-from-home for visitors. Pets are welcome, and whoever rents it can even have use of my car," she says.

But for luxuries like these, Jan wants to strike up some sort of relationship first. "It's not necessarily feasible to meet tenants, but I certainly want to build up a level of communication in advance." They plan to charge up to £400 per night and will move in with Jan's mother nearby.

"It also means we can soak up the atmosphere of the Olympics. When the time comes I'll want to be part of it all." The house is advertised on hotels londonolympicgames.co.uk.

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