As London gears up for the Olympics in summer 2012, many of the capital's homeowners hope to cash in by letting their properties to the million visitors expected to descend on the city for the Games.
© Danny Elwes
Most of the Olympic events will take place in Stratford - but could my East Dulwich home turn out to be a winner? A trawl of the 34 planned sporting venues shows just how many areas could prove popular with renters who want to stay locally: Hyde Park will host the triathlon, Earls Court the volleyball and Greenwich will be used for equestrian events.
Lettings agent Joanna Doniger of Tennis London has housed Wimbledon's players for 25 years and is anticipating a double whammy for owners hoping to let their homes for the annual tournament in June and the Olympic tennis events in July. Doniger's website, AccommodateLondon.com, will match owners across the capital with visitors looking for somewhere to rent.
Having already been approached by the media - 20,000 journalists from all over the world will be sent to London for the Games - Doniger says: "They all want to be in Stratford but there aren't enough of the right properties there, so they will have to look further afield. Properties must be of a high standard and within 10 minutes' walk of a train or Tube station, as cars won't be allowed in the Olympic Village."
Accommodate London is signing up homeowners now. Only 30 properties are registered so far but Doniger thinks 3,000 private homes will be needed. She visited my five-bedroom Victorian semi in SE22, and also the home of my neighbours Kate and Andrew Sims (left), who have a similar plan. Kate says: "We're hoping to let our house and go on a really good holiday with the profits."
© Danny Elwes
Warning that "many are seen but few are chosen", Doniger says she looks for homes with good transport links, wi-fi, a flat-screen TV, cleaning and linen changes offered and a "meet and greet" service.
"It is expected and the personal touch means that they are more likely to take care of your property," says Doniger who, on the thorny issue of rental rates, cautions: "Owners must not be greedy. London has many hotels so you must be competitive."
Do visitors really prefer private homes over hotels? "They like space where they can relax, kick their shoes off, maybe have a barbecue. These are people who want to save money on expensive hotels and who also feel that hotels can be a bit claustrophobic and soulless." Visitors often travel in groups or with friends and so will look for a locality where there is more than one house to rent: neighbours all registering together can, therefore, be a good strategy.
As my neighbours and I live within 30 minutes of Stratford, thanks to the new London Overground service at nearby Honor Oak Park, Doniger accepted both properties but with a proviso: my peeling window frames are not a problem "they're renting, not living here" but some furniture must be repaired or replaced. "Beds must be comfortable." Also, adding an extra bed in my home/office could allow me to charge £600 a night.
As for the detritus of family living, we're been advised to leave storage space in each bedroom, lock away valuables, empty bedside drawers and bathroom cabinets, and give our home an industrial clean.
"If you've got any decent wine for God's sake put it away," warns Doniger. "People aren't light-fingered but they may run out and be tempted." Owners may specify no smoking, though she makes an exception for alleged cigar smoker and former tennis champion Martina Hingis: "She's paying so much - why not?"
What rents best?
Family houses within walking distance of Victoria Park, E3 or Stratford, E15 rent best, followed by apartments and houses in central locations within 10 minutes' walk of a station.
Accommodate London's rental rates start from £130 a night for a two-bedroom, ex-local authority Chelsea flat, up to £20,000 a week for a six-bedroom "Wimbledon mansion".
What owners must do
Take an inventory beforehand. Arrange professional cleaning before, during and after, and '"meet and greet" the tenants to hand over keys and show them around your home. Inform your insurers and, if necessary, take out extra insurance for damage or cancellation. Tell the tax office if you earn more than £4,250 in rent. Visit: accommodatelondon.com.