Renting houses for Masters Week means big bucks for both the area economy and homeowners.
Lois and Al Hutko have rented their five-bedroom, five-bath home near the Jones Creek golf course for 18 years to corporations such as Nabisco and Bayer. Their rental price has grown from $6,500 to $12,500 this year. They now rent to a group of attorneys from Winston-Salem, N.C..
Like the Hutkos, many homeowners land a lucrative deal earning thousands of dollars in one week. That paycheck often becomes disposable income that can be returned as an investment in their house, significantly affecting the local economy as homeowners spend money to prepare and even renovate their homes.
The Masters rental industry contributes many economic benefits to the city, said Sue Parr, the president and CEO of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce. Residents earn thousands of dollars in direct income, and a majority recycle at least some into local business.
“That’s millions and millions of money for property owners in our region,” Parr said. “They in turn spend that money on their home (and) vacations; we’ve even had some say they put it towards tuition.”
Sometimes the Hutkos use the extra income for a vacation, but every year they spend the money on home improvement. In preparation for renting this year, granite countertops were installed in four bathrooms, along with a wet bar.
“Every year we go through it with a fine-tooth comb. It’s more than just spring cleaning,” said Lois Hutko, a real estate agent. “It’s important to keep your house updated. It makes your (rental) price a little higher, too.”
The Masters Housing Bureau collects 7 percent on every contract. It is operated by the chamber and acts similar to real estate agents, helping homeowners advertise and negotiate rates in exchange for a commission.
Parr said the chamber reinvests in programs associated with its mission.
Several independent companies also rent homes for Masters Week.
Diane Starr, a 15-year veteran director of the Masters Housing Bureau, started her own rental company, Corporate Quarters Inc., 23 years ago.
She said most of her clients spend some portion of their rental check on home improvement before and after Masters Week.
Her listings rent primarily to corporations for prices ranging from $2,500 for a condo to $25,000 for an eight- or 10-bedroom house that serves as the host house for corporate entertaining. The average four-bedroom, three-bath home rents for $8,500, Starr said.
In the beginning
The Masters Week home rental market began in 1970, when the Augusta National Golf Club partnered with the chamber. The tournament’s growth surpassed area hotel capacity at the time, thus home rental became popular for patrons and golfers, Parr said.
Home rentals haven’t been immune to market changes. More hotels equated to more options for visitors, and poor economic conditions during the 2000s tightened the budgets of large corporations that typically rent several large homes in upscale neighborhoods.
The economic impact of Masters Week, particularly the rental housing market, has never been measured.
Peggy Seigler, the vice president of sales and marketing for the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it’s too difficult to measure the number of visitors, home rentals and the several other factors of the week. Parr said the number of rental transactions can’t be measured with certainty because several businesses serve renters.
In Starr’s recent experience, supply has exceeded demand. Not only have more businesses entered the market, but more homeowners list as well. Some people have listed for years before they land a rental, she said.
Some who rent out their homes have the preparation down to a science.
About two weeks before the Masters, Judy Smith follows a regimen for cleaning window shades, woodwork and ceiling fans at her five-bedroom West Lake home.
Window washers and steam cleaners are lined up for the week before, and the family moves out on the Friday before the tournament practice rounds. All family photos are taken down from walls and shelves, too.
Smith, who has rented her home since 2005, has a separate linen closet for sheets, towels, pillows and duvets that are only used during the Masters.
She uses the rental income for home improvements every year. This year, Smith updated two bathrooms – work she wouldn’t be as eager to do without the Masters money or a deadline forced on her with renters coming. Smith will earn $9,000 from her contract this year.
“All that money would come out of my pocket instead of a good percentage from Masters rental,” Smith said.
The Masters Housing Bureau and other companies operate online databases to manage hundreds of listings. Since Parr joined the chamber in 2005, significant investment and improvement in technology has been a key to success.
“The renter can do a lot of work on their own. They sit at home and pull up options,” she said. “We’re renting homes right up to the day, even Monday and Tuesday of that week.”
Prospective renters search listings by price, neighborhood, home size and property photos. On the Masters Housing Bureau Web site, www.mastershousing.com, they can initiate the rental process with a click of a button. The office returns with a phone call to help the client make an offer and draw up a contract, Parr said.
She said her office has received calls from organizations in other cities needing models to follow for special event home rentals. Augusta has the advantage of several decades perfecting the industry and repeating the event annually, Parr said.