Property: Home, set and match

Allowing a pitch invasion in your own house can be lucrative, says Meg Carter
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The Independent Online
As the hordes descend on Wimbledon for a fortnight of tennis, scores of locals are quitting their houses for a lucrative two-week vacation. The deal is simple: they move out and the tennis stars move in, taking over prime locations within yards of the tennis courts on short-term lets for up to pounds 3,000 a week.

This seasonal migration has become as much part of Wimbledon as Pimms, strawberries and cream, but it's no longer limited to the tennis set. Estate agents and wily householders in locations near a growing number of sports venues across the country are eager to cash in.

In Henley, for example, those planning to attend next month's regatta can take a local family home with garden and, if they're lucky (and flush), their very own mooring, for pounds 800 a week. Fancy a spot of polo? Private houses around Midhurst for the Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup in July are are going for pounds 2,000 a month if taken for the entire polo season, through local estate agents King and Chasemore.

And it's not just the poshest sports whose supporters are willing to pay to stay in local homes. Events like the British Open, for example, can pose problems for golf fans when staged in a one hotel town like Sandwich in Kent. Demand for privately rented properties was recently so great that weekly rents were pushed up to more than pounds 3,000 for a family home.

Short-term lets are also popular in Cowes on the Isle of Wight where a growing number of local families move out each summer for pounds 1,000 per week. "The level of interest has been phenomenal in the last couple of years, particular with 1997 being an Admiral Cup year," says Tim Rogers, owner of local estate agents Marvins. Two years ago, he rented out 55 local homes for Cowes week; so far this year it's 80.

Marvins' service is typical. "We personally inspect every property we register. Typically, each is a home for 50 weeks out of 52," Mr Rogers explains. The company is responsible for letting each one, issuing a holiday lettings contract requiring a 10 per cent deposit up front and full payment eight weeks in advance. A bond is also required to cover any damages. An arrangement with BT is also in place to monitor faxes and phone calls made on homeowners' telephone lines.

Away from the more popular tourist destinations, few estate agents get directly involved in this type of short term deal. "You'll find most local estate agents deal only in short term lets of a minimum six months," a spokesman for Henley-based Davis Tait explains. Shorter term lets are typically fixed up through the small ads sections of the local press, he continues, adding a note of caution: "We wouldn't advise this as there will always be an element of risk when letting to a stranger. You must consider who'll oversee things while you're away."

It's a fair point, although one questioned by homeowner David Smith, who let his family home in Sandwich to golf fans attending the British Open in 1993. Agents usually handle properties for a fee of around 12.5 per cent, he points out - one reason why he'd go solo next time round: "All they did was take a picture of the house and `sell' it. Once you know what to look out for, it's all pretty straightforward."

Mr Smith was approached by a local estate agent acting on behalf of a South African sportswear manufacturer which was bringing seven guests for the tournament. "We moved out for nine days, taking our clothes but otherwise leaving 95 per cent of our stuff in the house," he says. "Valuables were left in the safe."

The deal was that the golfing tenants would replace all food and drinks consumed from the Smiths' kitchen and pay for any breakages. There was just one - a burn mark left by a saucepan; they paid for the repair without quibble. "I have no reservations and would not hesitate to do it again," he concludes.

Even so, Mr Smith (not his real name) sounds a note of caution: Don't forget the taxman. "We thought the money earned came within the tax-free limit," he explains. "We were going to declare it on my wife's tax return ... but forgot." The estate agents were not so lax. They submitted full accounts to the Inland Revenue. Mr Smith was subsequently taxed in retrospect on the proceeds of his nine nights away from home - at 40 per cent.

An alternative route is to go through a local tourist office: many list homeowners willing to rent. This is a typical approach for cricket fans unable (or unwilling) to book rooms in hotel accommodation around Hedingly and Edgbaston.

Event organisers are also worth approaching as many already have links with homeowners who house visiting sports players and their teams. At Silverstone, the local Brackley tourist board has details of local properties for Grand Prix fans although spokeswoman Linda Anderson points out: "As yet, we've not had the right people to let them out to."

With an event like next month's British Grand Prix, most people want to come only for the weekend while most householders want to move out for the entire week, she explains. "Also, we often find people are put off by the prospect of having a team of mechanics, or rowdy fans, staying in their house."

This is, perhaps, the most common concern. When London-based communications consultant David Longman was approached to rent his Leeds property to football fans for Euro '96, he declined even though the move was made via an estate agent. "The money was good, but when it came to the crunch, I didn't fancy the prospect of Bulgarian football fans spilling beer on the carpet," he explains.

For those happier to take a gamble, however, it's a bet that could pay dividends.

Hallowed turf

Ascot Largest properties, rented while owners holiday abroad during the races, can go for up to pounds 10,000 a month.

Cowes, Isle of Wight A six-bedroom family house for sailing types can cost from pounds 1,000 to pounds 2,000 for seven nights; smaller properties start at pounds 550.

Henley-upon-Thames A modestly-sized family house with its own mooring for the regatta costs from pounds 800 per week.

Midhurst Polo types can pay pounds 2,000 a month to rent prime local homes for the season.

Sandwich, Kent One home went for pounds 3,300 a week to golfing devotees attending the British Open back in 1993.

Silverstone Local houses are regularly rented for the week of the British Grand Prix. Prices from pounds 500 a week.

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