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Home Games: Penn State football weekend house rentals prove a winning formula for some residents and visitors

by on September 29, 2017 10:21 AM

With Penn State football fans traveling from near and far to watch how this season plays out, many need just a little more than a day of great tailgating and a show-stopping game to keep them happy. They also need a place to stay.

While hotels near downtown are a convenient and popular choice, another option is making itself known on the State College hospitality scene — football weekend home rentals.

It’s an option that’s come into greater popularity within the travel industry as a whole in recent years.

Popular home-rental provider Airbnb released a report the week before Penn State’s big game against Pittsburgh on September 9 announcing a 271-percent increase in guest arrivals to State College during that weekend alone. Because of the surge of incoming fans, Airbnb expected a record 1,150 guests, paying more than $250,000 to hosts in the region.

In fact, Airbnb noted that between August 1, 2016, and August 1, 2017, about 350 State College hosts, welcoming 10,000 or more guests, earned approximately $1.6 million.

Take a look at the Airbnb State College listings and you’ll see pages upon pages of potential rentals, ranging from private rooms in downtown condos to full homes in Park Forest. With an average price of $345 per night, the platform makes it easy for guests to pick any amenity they so desire, from indoor fireplaces and hot tubs to laundry and gym access.

“Our host community is making it possible for more football fans to actually experience State College for a weekend rather than simply making a day trip,” says Josh Meltzer, Airbnb’s head of public policy for the Northeast United States.

Airbnb is hardly the only option for homeowners and renters in the State College area, particularly when it comes to football weekends. Rent Like a Champion is one alternative service that specializes in rentals for college towns with major football programs. The service works in more than 20 college towns, with the average homeowner earnings for a weekend being $1,100.

Kayla, a Boalsburg homeowner, lists through Rent Like a Champion, renting her two-bedroom, one-bath home for $650 on the less-in-demand weekends, and up to $950 for special occasions like Commencement Weekend 2019. She’s already booked for most home games.

“We decided to start renting out our home during football weekends to make extra money,” she says. “With that extra money, we do updates to our home, so in some ways, the house is paying for itself. We have been renting out our home for two years now, and we will continue to do so as long as we live here.”

She says most renters are looking for a mixture of affordability and proximity to the stadium.

As for her experiences with Rent Like a Champion, she has nothing but a glowing report.

“They handle all the nitty-gritty work and I have peace of mind knowing that they back me,” she says. “If anything were to go wrong, I have 48 hours after the guests check out to report to Rent Like a Champion, and they will take care of it. People that have booked my home have been respectful and love my home as I do. At the end of the weekend, you have some extra cleaning and laundry, and that’s it!”

There is another option that truly encapsulates the Penn State community and family of alumni.

StateCations offers approximately 35 properties throughout Centre and Blair Counties, as well as Huntingdon, with about 80 rooms, and is constantly adding more. The platform’s prices range from about $125 to $750 per night.

StateCations has a long history in town, but recently received new life after being purchased by Lew and Sharon Lazarow and a few of their alumni friends.

“Our thought was, here was a great opportunity for us to provide a service both to folks who wanted to come into the Penn State area, but also to provide a great service for the hosts who were living in this area who wanted to pick up some extra money, but also loved welcoming people into their homes,” says Lew Lazarow. “Most of our properties are different from a lot of the other services, because most of our hosts don’t move out. They’re actual hosts.”

It’s this host mentality that makes StateCations properties seem more like visiting and staying with an old friend over a football weekend, rather than crashing in a stranger’s home.

“There’s just a level of personalized service,” Lew continues. “Our hosts [may] cook them breakfast each morning that they’re here, will sit around and talk with them if they so desire. … We’ve had hosts [say], ‘Oh you need a lift to the stadium for the game? Sure, no problem, hop in I will totally drive you to the stadium, and then let me know when you’re done and I’ll come and pick you up.’”

Each StateCations host is vetted before listing a home on the site.

“[Guests] like knowing something about their hosts,” Lew says. “We don’t just sign people up to host; we meet our hosts. [We like] knowing that our hosts are outgoing and friendly and love having folks in. Like we have one host (Lefty and Connie McIntyre) who lives within walking distance [to the stadium], who’s a huge supporter of the wrestling program … so we have folks come in and we [can say], ‘Oh you’re going to love staying with them. They’re going to make you blueberry pancakes, they’ll talk about Penn State wrestling and Penn State volleyball.’ Folks like knowing they’re going to be staying with someone like that.”

Beyond the experience, though, the Lazarows say StateCations guests also appreciate the site’s pricing. Likewise, the trend continues of guests preferring properties within walking distance (or at least a short driving distance) of campus, and private bathrooms are also a top demand.

“For coming in for game weekends, beyond just paying for the tickets and the parking, it’s very expensive,” Lew says. “We can offer people sort of a group lodging situation, where you can come in with your family and not have to worry about how many people [you’re] trying to jam into a single room, and how many rooms [you’re] going to need. So [beyond] like a family of four or an alumni group of six or eight or a whole group that comes in for graduation weekends, we have requests for anywhere from 12-20 people coming in. We can find them something far more affordable to come in and stay for the weekend than [they would find] otherwise.”

The Lazarows have a few tips for homeowners considering hosting as a means of side income.

Flexibility is a key factor, whether it’s dealing with guests with severe food allergies, or just allowing a guest to stay an extra few days.

They recommend you know your neighbors, and well. An unhappy neighbor may stir up a little bit of drama by calling the municipality.

On this note, David Pribulka, Ferguson Township manager, chimes in.

“We’ve had some complaints, not many, about these types of rentals,” he says. “I think that people that rent them, for the most part, are families and alumni that are coming into town, and it’s not been a rowdy group of people, that we’re getting constantly bombarded with noise complaints and other issues.”

The bigger concerns for homeowners should be issues like permits, Pribulka says.

“We just recently, as of this year, began to regulate [football weekend rentals] in the same manner we regulate any other rental housing unit,” he says. “If you are a resident or property owner and you want to rent your home out on a short-term basis as a football rental, you have to get a rental housing permit from the coding administration. … If you’re going to rent your house out, it used to be you had to rent out seven or more consecutive days to [need] a permit. Now it’s one or more consecutive days. … You have to meet the standards.”

College Township also requires a permit.

The State College Borough has been monitoring football weekend and other short-term rentals for about five years, collecting data on the impact they have on police services and other costs to the taxpayer and borough, spokesman Douglas Shontz says.

Officials are seeing no major impact on borough services. Currently, short-term rentals (defined as a single-family home that someone is residing in fulltime, but renting out through a service like Airbnb) have no regulations or coding requirements, and no such action is planned in the near future, Shontz says. However, it is against zoning ordinances for a home with no full-time resident to have short-term rentals week after week, and the practice will be shut down if discovered, he says.

Those who rent their homes short-term are supposed to pay taxes on the rental just as hotels are required to do. The state tax is 6 percent, while the county charges an additional 2.5 percent. Some municipalities also add a tax.

Lori Miller, interim executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the percentage of home renters who pay the tax is “not necessarily easy to track,” but “we check to see what’s happening.”

The bureau receives the county portion of the tax.

The success of the football team has been good for hotels. Miller says reports of vacancies this year have been rare.

Centre County Treasurer Richard A. Fornicola says the weekend home rental market is growing here and throughout the country. He agrees it’s difficult to keep track of, but he works to do so.

“Some register and do it the right way,” he says, but many, particularly individuals not working through a reputable agency, do not.

Paying appropriate taxes, coding, and relationships with the municipalities are issues StateCations hosts are well-versed in, and the Lazarows are confident that’s just one of the reasons their hosts remain successful.

The bottom line, however, really goes back to the Penn State community mentality that StateCations strives to embody.

“The people who do well at this are the ones who really enjoy it,” Sharon Lazarow says. “We have hosts who actually go on cruises with guests who have stayed with them. They thoroughly enjoy what they’re doing.

“I think it’s a lot of good people who are coming in [for the games] and a lot of them are true Penn State fans who want only good for the university. … Penn State has gone through difficult times, and the people who are coming are the ones who want to support the community through those difficult times. … Once you open your doors to these people, you recognize that there’s a whole lot of goodwill out there that really makes you feel better about who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing.”

Holly Riddle is a freelance writer in State College.

 

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