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Home shares for Iowa Hawkeye games pick up in Iowa City

Rent Like a Champion connects renters with homeowners on home game weekends

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IOWA CITY — For Iowa Hawkeye home football weekends, Kristin Sellers and Chris Martin normally host a half-dozen or more friends and get decked out in black and gold for tailgating near Kinnick Stadium.

Next weekend, when the UI hosts North Dakota State, they have a wedding out of town, so they decided to try something different: They set up an account on Rent Like a Champion, a home-sharing website tied to college football games, and listed their north-side Iowa City home for a weekend rental.

“We figure it might come close to paying for our trip to (Washington) D.C. and allow some fellow football fans to have a nice place to stay together for the weekend,” Sellers said.

Rent Like a Champion is similar to Airbnb in which people rent out their homes to visitors. In this case, the Chicago-based company focuses on college towns. Rental schedules are aligned with the seven or eight home football game weekends a year, commencement weekends or other special events.

“We have a lot of SEC (Southeastern Conference) schools and a lot of Big Ten schools,” said Mike Doyle, CEO and partner of Rent Like a Champion, which gained some fame on ABC’s “Shark Tank” TV program.

“Anywhere you have big-time college football teams and not enough hotel space to go around, that fits our model. That’s why this has worked really well. Many college towns don’t have hotel infrastructure to meet the massive influx that happens six-to-eight times a year.”

Starting in South Bend, Ind. — home of the University of Notre Dame — in 2006, the partners took Rent Like a Champion nationwide in 2012, Doyle recalled. This summer they made a push to expand in Iowa City for the 2016 season, including hosting a meet-and-greet at Iowa Chop House with homeowners.

Homes typically are within 10 miles from the venue, and the company can recommend how much to charge, although the homeowner ultimately sets the price, he said. The closer the house is to the stadium, the more bedrooms and other amenities, the more you can charge.

The UI-Iowa State game this weekend has 13 rentals available at $500 to $2,500. Other weekends have 20 or more listings. The average rental rate is $1,300 for a weekend, according to the website.

The company takes 15 percent and 2.9 percent for a credit-card processing fee.

The standard stay — arrive at 5 p.m. on Friday and check out by 11 a.m. on Sunday — applies most of the time, but the homeowner and renter can negotiate times, Doyle said.

Michael Hebert of St. Paul, Minn., first tried the service a few weeks ago when he reserved a three-bedroom home a few blocks from Kinnick Stadium for the UI-Wisconsin game on Oct. 22. It took a few minutes to sign up, and he was in touch with the homeowner within 24 hours.

The Wisconsin Badger fan said three couples will share the home and split the $1,600 fee for the weekend. That’s less than a hotel, which was asking $300 a night with a minimum two-night stay requirement, he said.

“We saved a couple hundred bucks, and we are closer,” he said. “The meals will be cheaper because we can bring food there and cook at the house or on the grill in the yard, and we can all stay in one place rather than in different hotel rooms.”

In their 40s, Hebert said they won’t be partying until the wee hours of the morning, keeping up the neighbors. His only concern is he has only seen pictures, so he doesn’t know for sure what he is getting for $1,600.

The Iowa-Wisconsin and Iowa-Michigan games will be the most in demand in the Iowa City market this year, Doyle said.

While homeowners can be a little leery, a few things tend to put their mind’s at ease, Doyle said. Rent Like a Champion requires a $1,000 security deposit, has a $1 million damage and liability policy, and a $5,000 policy for contents within the home, according to the website.

Of the 1,000 rentals they’ve had, about 2 percent dip into the security deposit, and then the average settlement is $100, he said.

“We find renters are treating homes very well,” Doyle said. “These are families, not college students looking for a place to party.”

Level playing field

But while homeowners and visitors see opportunities to pocket some extra cash, local authorities are throwing a penalty flag.

Stan Laverman, Iowa City senior housing inspector, has been contending with home sharing programs, such as Rent Like a Champion and Airbnb, for several years now. He said Rent Like a Champion is as active here this year as it’s ever been.

Homeowners are required to have a bed-and-breakfast permit to take money for renting their home, he said. The initial permit is $140 for two years, he said.

His staff scouts websites that offer such services and then contacts property owners to see if they have the permit, although that can be easier said then done.

In his experience, homeowners tend to get lured by the cash influx, but soon sour on the idea of renting out their homes to strangers, he said.

“Sometimes people decide they don’t want other people sleeping in their bed and living in their homes,” he said.

Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, has reached out to local municipalities to request stronger policies for person-to-person rentals.

Coralville City Council is considering an ordinance for short-term home rentals requiring the property would need to be owner-occupied, the owner would have to stay with the renters and the home would need to pass a rental inspection.

In Iowa City, the homeowner doesn’t need to be present with a bed-and-breakfast permit.

It’s an issue of a level playing field for hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, and Schamberger questions the presumption that Rent Like a Champion fills the void when hotels are full.

“He can’t say with 100 percent certainty there’s not rooms available,” Schamberger said. “So long as the gentleman insures homeowners are playing by the same rules ..., then great. go for it.”

However, he acknowledges it’s a new and challenging world to stay on top of these new businesses that connect directly with customers. He added he thinks this issue will be resolved within the next two years by the time a new regulatory issue surfaces.

“I think it is a new reality,” he said. “Governments have to figure out how to regulate or play with the new sharing requirement.”

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