Columbia homeowners getting in the rental game for USC football weekends

07/25/2014 12:00 AM

07/24/2014 1:57 PM

What would it take to get Columbia-area homeowners to rent out their houses for a weekend during USC home football games?

A group of young businessmen are betting the answer is, “a good offer.”

The five have put up a website, ColumbiaFootballRentals.com, where homeowners can post their houses for any or all of the seven football games the University of South Carolina will play at home this year, beginning with Texas A&M on Aug. 27 and ending with South Alabama on Nov. 23.

“Renting a home, kinda nearby the stadium, allows you to have a great, full weekend – spend it in town, spend it at the university, see the pep rallies, see all the different activities,” said Jordan Curnes, one of ColumbiaFootballRentals’ co-founders. “It just makes it real easy.”

The concept bets that – like football fans elsewhere in the country – some USC fans will trade traditional accommodations for homes with spacious kitchens, nice backyards for grilling and close access to the stadium.

Big football programs in smaller college towns, like USC in Columbia, attract 100,000 to 150,000 people to the area for each game, Curnes estimates – a crowd he thinks local hotels can’t accommodate.

“Plus, when people come back for football games, they’re usually coming back with their aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and their kids, the grandparents, the whole big family is coming back,” Curnes said.

That makes multiple hotel rooms too expensive a venture for a weekend, Curnes said, and less conducive to quality family time.

Begun in South Bend, Ind., in 2006, this group’s college football home rental portfolio has 250 homes for rent in its initial market location around Notre Dame University, Curnes said. Within the next two weeks, it expects to have 20 or so homes listed in Columbia for this season.

For homeowners, it’s an opportunity to earn extra cash – and possibly get out of town when the football fans crowd restaurants and clog traffic. That’s what many people do during the Masters golf tournament week each year in Augusta. Homeowners can make $5,000 to $10,000 extra a year, Curnes said.

“This same group does it (in Columbia) for the Masters,” said Tom Regan, USC Department of Sport and Entertainment Management graduate director, but it’s probably a first in the Capital City for college football games.

“They’re doing it in a lot the mid-sized cities (and they help because) you don’t have the Atlantas and the Charlottes – those type cities – in the Southeast Conference. You usually have college towns and Columbia is probably the biggest SEC city outside of Vandy (Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.). It fits.”

However, the rental housing market does not have to pay the city’s hospitality or accommodations taxes like hotels do, Regan noted, which is a loss for city coffers.

In Columbia and most other areas, Curnes said houses generally rent for $1,000 to $1,500 per football weekend, Friday evening until midday Sunday. Like game tickets, though, prices can be higher for certain marquee games. Also, an IRS homeowner income tax exemption called Topic 415 could apply, allowing the homeowner to avoid federal taxes on income generated by renting out a primary residence 14 days or less per year, the group says.

Curnes, a Notre Dame graduate in finance in 2001, worked in the financial industry for several years before returning to school to earn a master’s degree in business administration from Duke University in 2007.

As USC has become a football powerhouse in the Southeastern Conference, Curnes said many of his USC friends had mentioned the difficulty in finding lodging during football season conveniently close to Williams-Brice Stadium. So, his group decided it was time to open up in Columbia.

“They really had trouble booking – the hotels are booked a year in advance,” Curnes said. “We looked at what towns to expand to, and we (decided on) Arkansas, Florida, Clemson and Columbia.” The group establishes individual websites for each town they operate in. It currently has home rental operations in cities such as Ann Arbor, Mich., and State College, Pa., Curnes said.

Homeowners who list in some of their markets have been able to pay a year’s worth of mortgage payments with the earnings from game rentals during a season, Curnes said, while others have saved their homes from foreclosure with their gains.

The real driving force behind the jockeying for livable space on USC game day weekends is the large number of USC fans who come back for games, Curnes said, adding that fans have been energized by the Gamecocks’ turnaround under coach Steve Spurrier.

“Spurrier has brought the team back into the national championship picture,” Curnes said. “They’re a real competitive and dominant force in college football. Plus, the tailgating culture has really expanded.”

Cockabooses, cockominiums, a buzz around Williams-Brice Stadium and the programming the university is doing to draw people back to school all have been expanding the past few years, Curnes said. Now, “people want to come back and stay for the whole weekend.”

He added: “When the team’s good, more people are interested in coming back for more games. It’s just more fun – and they have a great home schedule.”

Overall, the concept should be good for the city and good for football, Regan said.

“Is there a market for this? Yes. Do I think it’s going to explode? No,” Regan said. “But it has possibilities. It’s competitive with hotels, but I think this kind of entrepreneurship is good. It keeps everybody in place and it puts a little competition back in the marketplace if there’s enough demand.”

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