Fans And Homeowners Continue To Find Common Ground On Game Day

By Roddie Burris The State (Columbia, S.C.)

When the Kentucky Wildcats take the field Saturday night to play USC in Columbia, homeowners Erin Cook and her husband, Dan Kadar, will have all their grown children in one place -- at their Shandon home -- where they will watch the football game together and share a tasty feast.

With one small twist of fate, the whole Cook-Kadar gang would be watching the game in Beaufort at the home of friends for the weekend, because their Shandon home would be rented to out-of-town guests.

Cook, an estate planner, is among a growing number of Columbia homeowners who rent their homes during Carolina home football games and other special occasions such as USC graduations. They rent the homes through Rent Like a Champion, a company that facilitates the short-term rental of houses.

"What makes the rental work is your proximity to the stadium," Cook said. "If I wasn't in walking distance, I probably couldn't get the prices that people are offering me to rent my house out. It has to be close."

Last year -- Rent Like A Champion's first year in Columbia -- the company offered 25 or so homes for nearly 100 rentals over the course of the seven-game USC home football season, according to Jordan Curnes, one of Rent Like A Champion's three co-founders.

For this year's seven-game, USC home schedule, Rent Like A Champion has 30 Columbia homes lined up for rental availability so far, Curnes said. The company hopes to increase that total to 50 homes by the end of the year, handling about 200 rentals.

"Most people (normally) are starting to book right around now," Curnes said. "A lot of people book now for November. Florida and Clemson are the two big games."

Home rentals seem to work best for USC home football games because fans return to the Capital City with family members, often across generations, he said.

If you're wondering what makes homeowners rent out their homes to strangers for a football weekend, you can start with economics 101. Plus, Rent Like A Champion has put in safeguards to protect homeowners.

"On our part, we've had nothing but good experiences, and I was excited about this year just because we'd be in for the whole season and not just one game," said Cook. "What happens is, typically, you have to have the hotels book first. I'm not sure this weekend's game is going to draw quite like that."

Regardless, USC graduate and avid Gamecock football fan Matt Lauer of Indiana and nine of his college friends will be in town this weekend for the USC-Kentucky game. One of their greatest hopes, he said, is that they can continue to have dibs on the jacuzzied-home in Five Points they will stay at this weekend for a cool $2,100 or so.

"Every year I've got to get back for at least one game. It's just a matter of when all our schedules can match up," Lauer said.

Homes put up for potential rent in Columbia have come from professors, entrepreneurs who want to wade out into new facets of the new economy, empty-nesters and others, Curnes said.

The Cook-Kadars rented out their home only once last year, in November, to a group of six guys who were coming into town on a USC football game weekend for a guys-get-together. Cook, who meets each new renter at her home to hand over the keys, said she initially experienced mild trepidation. "When I walked away, I was like, Oh, God."

She ended up pleasantly surprised, however. "They were super-nice. They took really good care of the house. They did laundry before they left. They also left me a card for the strip club, but..."

Signed on for another year with Rent Like A Champion, Cook said she got calls more than six weeks ago from people wanting to rent her home for the USC-Florida game. Some callers wanted Cook to lower her price. She didn't. Cook rented her home to a group of eight couples -- Florida fans -- who are paying $1,800 for the privilege.

For more information, visit rentlikeachampion.com

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