That Olympic ideal rental is far from home and dry
Many people hoping to let their homes for the Games are likely to be disappointed. Felicity Cannell reports
With fewer than 100 days to go to the Olympic opening ceremony there are real concerns that property owners in London and other host cities are pricing themselves out of rentals or have unrealistic ideas as to the prices to charge and the work that short-term letting entails.
It all looked so good only a short time ago. Rumours of half a million expected visitors led to initial reports of a shortage of beds, with thousands of homeowners scrambling to make up the shortfall. And this is where the ordinary householder was supposed to step in. But Miles Quest, from the British Hospitality Association says this hypothesis has proven to be fool's gold: "Greater London has 110,000 hotel beds, with a further 75,000 in the southeast, all within easy travelling distance of the Olympics," he says. "That's more accommodation available than for any Olympics throughout the history of the Games."
Consider the price of Olympic tickets, travel, taxis, restaurants – they are all non-negotiable. For the visitor, getting a good deal on accommodation is one event which they can win. And it seems the laws of supply and demand are beginning to apply and rental rates falling even in Olympic year: "There are so many properties available, we're getting silly offers from potential tenants at the moment," says Mike Malloy at Martin & Co letting agents in Wanstead, east London, about two miles from the Olympic Park.
There is certainly money being made, not least among the proliferation of websites promising Olympic winnings and charging upfront listing fees. These websites are awash with properties throughout London and the south of England: from one-bedroom flats to five-bedroom houses, boathouses to houseboats.
Some of the standard year-round holiday sites don't charge for listing, such as Wimdu, Housetrip and Airbnb, instead adding their cut and so bumping up the price to the visitor, but acting, in effect, as agents responsible for collecting payments and cancellation policies.
Other sites charge from £15 to £150, and that's often the beginning and the end of the service. It's then left to the owners to negotiate a payment plan, deposit and inventory. It's very hard to gauge the success of sites, with first-name-only, generic testimonials from homeowners claiming instant success and thousand-pound-plus profits.
"Due diligence is needed when dealing through such sites", says Joanna Doniger of Accommodate London. "There are some very reputable websites, but you want to avoid nasty moments such as 20 people turning up with sleeping bags to your two- bedroom flat."
Ms Doniger specialises in letting high-end central London properties for sporting events. But like sport itself, there are very few at the top of the game. Sol Campbell may be asking £75,000 a week for his Chelsea pad, and he may get it, but for most of us, pulling in thousands of pounds for our humble semi is as likely as scoring a goal at Wembley.
Airbnb reports rental rates being just over double the standard holiday price during the Games this summer. That's somewhat lower than the four to five times being asked by many hopeful contenders.
"On the part of homeowners, it's not necessarily greed," says Candida Cook, from the Victoria Park House Co, which offers personally inspected homes for rent in East London. "It may be a case of making the best of bitter disappointment. Many Londoners missed out on tickets, so homeowners are thinking they might as well leave for the summer and rent their homes to those who were luckier.
"It costs quite a bit to pack up and leave, to freshen up and furnish a home fit for visitors, including such things as extra insurance and storage. Then there's the cost of travelling elsewhere. Prices are high for some very modest homes, but with all the hype it is hardly surprising."
Ms Cook specialises in the area around Victoria Park in Hackney and can offer visitors detailed knowledge of the local amenities. "It must be very difficult for a visitor to know where to stay outside central London," she says. "Faced with the pages of identical websites and long lists of properties which only show the quality (or not) of the accommodation, it must be daunting for someone sitting in their living room in the USA to make an informed choice, and believe that they are receiving good value for their budget."
But where do renters really want to be? Mr Malloy says: "Most corporates want central London as they want that whole London experience and want to be as close to places like Covent Garden as possible so they can benefit from theatres and restaurants, etc. Then for media and journalists and people working on the Games they prefer big accommodation in Stratford. The reason is that they need to be up, washed, fed and into the venue for 18-hour work days."
A number of sites proclaim previous Olympic experience and success, notably in Vancouver and Beijing. Among Mr Malloy's clients is a couple from New Zealand, with a daughter competing in the swimming this summer. Listed on the internet are around 15,000 properties which potentially meet their needs. Their experience of the Beijing rental market was similar: supply exceeded demand and homes stayed unrented.
"These are just holiday lets essentially," says Mr Malloy. "It just so happens that volumes of people are visiting certain areas of London, such as Stratford, that no international tenants have heard of. Why would they? So our sell is harder and does require a pro-active agent. Unfortunately that's something these listing websites just can't do."
Ms Cook's advice is to think more of the guests you'd like to host, rather than maximising profits. One of her properties is housing, in September, the family of David Wagner, the US number one wheelchair tennis player. "It hasn't been let for a huge sum, but the owners are still delighted."
Case Study: Julie Rumble, South-west London
Julie,48, has long-term experience of renting out her home, and, living near the Olympic tennis events in Wimbledon, put her house on a number of websites. "I didn't pay much for any individual site, but they do all add up, she says.
She listed her home in March, asking £2,500 a week for her three-bedroom, two-bathroom Victorian terraced house. "Six Norwegians emailed me through rentatthegames, asking for 10 days, and we wound up at £3,000. That works out at £50 per person per day. They asked for my IBAN (international bank account number) to transfer a 50 per cent deposit. Then all went quiet. They'd found somewhere cheaper, apparently."
Julie runs New Vintage, in Battersea, south London, which sells and rents unique furniture. Her own house is similarly fitted out, and has been featured on TV. In other words, it's a house which should fit the bill for comfort and style.
"I then advertised an ensuite double room on a different website for £550 per week. It was booked straight away, by someone in Boston for one week, and the money went into my account via the website. It turns out there's six of them. They thought they were getting the whole house! I sent the money straight back."
Her advice: "Renting out a room is easier. Weigh up the time, cost and effort of moving out, packing up day-to-day clutter and making a full inventory of what's left. Visitors don't want your family photos, let alone the 10-year-old jam at the back of the cupboard."
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