Horses

Home rentals during WEG fall short of expectations

Like hundreds, maybe thousands, of other Central Kentucky homeowners, Judy Metcalf of Wilmore still hopes she can rent her home during the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

But she isn't holding her breath.

The anticipated wave of people clamoring for truly home-style accommodations for the 16-day event beginning Sept. 25 has yet to crash into the Bluegrass.

The officially sanctioned broker for WEG housing, Event Home Leasing, has 765 listings on its Web site and 90 signed contracts. Each property owner paid a $199 application fee to the company for the listing and agreed to pay an additional 25 percent commission to the firm if their home is rented.

Meanwhile, hundreds more listings can be found on an array of Web sites, including those operated by Georgetown-based Equestrian Home Leasing, the Lexington-Bluegrass Association of Realtors and Craig's List.

"It doesn't seem to be going well for anybody," said Metcalf, a retired farmer who is hoping to rent her newly renovated four-bedroom home for a reduced rate of $400 a night. Metcalf is not using Event Home Leasing, relying instead on other Internet services to market her house.

The January 2008 news release about Event Home Leasing becoming a WEG partner said "more than 600,000 spectators" were anticipated for the event, a claim that Event Home Leasing's Web site still made Monday.

However, WEG officials now say they hope for half that many people and sales of 500,000 tickets. Officials said Tuesday that more than 300,000 have been sold.

John Johnson, executive vice president of Short's Travel Management, the official housing bureau for WEG, said in a phone interview last week that no one could have pinpointed the exact housing demand for the Games, which has never been held in the United States before. He also said no one could have anticipated the economic downturn that came after the announcement of the Games.

But as late as July 2009, when only about 100 homeowners had signed on for the Event Home Leasing service, co-owner Dana Martin said in a Herald-Leader story that "demand (for home rentals) could go into the thousands."

Martin said her company is no longer accepting new properties. If the 765 listings on the site don't garner contracts, she said, the $199 fee is not refundable. She said it's much like putting your home up for sale: There is always a chance it won't sell.

The roughly $150,000 in fees generated from the un-rented homes covered the cost of marketing the properties, she said. The company declined to provide the Herald-Leader with the names of any homeowners using the service.

Amy Walker, a spokeswoman for the Games, said last week that she encouraged people to go through Event Home Leasing because, as the official WEG partner, it would "have a realistic expectation as to what opportunities" to rent were available.

Martin said the company focused on Fayette County and Georgetown as the primary markets for rental housing, but the group "pretty much took all comers." She said that in a way, it allowed people to be part of the experience of the international event.

Other Games officials have consistently cited the number of hotel rooms available in Fayette County at 7,500, with rental-housing advocates saying the overflow presented an opportunity to make money.

As it turns out, WEG officials are conducting a "myth busting" campaign to let people know there are plenty of hotel rooms available. On Monday, Johnson of Short's Travel said about 60 percent to 65 percent of the county's 5,000 to 6,000 room nights are reserved during the Games.

It's hard to say just how many Central Kentucky home owners are actively seeking to cash in during the games.

In addition to Event Home Leasing, Georgetown-based Equestrian Home Leasing has about 270 properties on its Web site. Business, according to owner Amy Barron "has been slow." She didn't cite specific numbers of homes rented.

Another Lexington company, Neighborhood Realty, has 50 WEG rentals but contracts for only five or six, agent Ty Brown said. "I think that need (for rental housing) probably has not been as great as we were led to believe or as everybody wanted to believe," he said.

Meanwhile, the Lexington-Bluegrass Association of Realtors had 913 rental listings on its Web site, www.lbar.com, as of Monday, 771 of which were WEG-specific. Some of those properties might be listed in other locations, such as Event Home Leasing's Web site, but the LBAR figures indicate the depth of supply, said Anthony S. de Movellan, president of the group.

Throw in a dizzying number of fee-collecting businesses pitching WEG rentals on the Internet, dozens of blogs, pages of entries on Craig's List and a lot of determined individuals, and it's hard to get a firm count.

Georgeann Chenault and Todd Strecker are among the homeowners who took a do-it-yourself approach. They are trying to rent out a property they bought next to their home.

They contacted rental agencies but, in the end, they "just figured a little tinkering on the Internet and it would pop on its own," said Chenault.

She is offering her Lexington property for $500 a night with a six-night minimum.

Joel Brown, owner of Brookside Farms less than 4 miles from the Kentucky Horse Park, site of the Games, said he knew he was taking a chance paying more than $400 to list his house on a Web site called Weghomerentals.com. His posting just went up.

But, he said, he figures it might be worth the investment if he can find a willing renter. For his eight-bedroom, 8,000-square-foot house, he's asking $7,500 a day.

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