A home away from home

University alumnus launches temporary lodging Web site that offers alternatives to Charlottesville hotels

When most people think of hotels, tall buildings with dozens of rooms and diligent wait staffs may come to mind. Small, uniform spaces of single and double beds equipped with a television, telephone and complementary set of shampoo, conditioner and hand soap complete the picture.\nBut thanks to Collegeweekends.com, a temporary lodging company based in Charlottesville, people may begin to rethink the typical hotel stay.\nCollegeweekends.com allows students and local residents to turn their homes into hotels of their own. It connects travelers with short-term and vacation rental properties by listing available housing options in college towns.\nThese options are alternatives to hotels - particularly during peak times of year like football season and graduation - when hotels tend to book fastest, owner and CEO Gordon Sutton said.\nTravelers can use the site for free to browse property profiles and rent a location. The site allows them to contact the property owner, who then determines the cost and makes final arrangements. Those who register with the site pay a $179 annual fee for a basic listing and $229 a year for a premium listing, which includes more pictures of the property.\nSutton, a 2001 University alumnus, decided to launch the site in 2004 after recognizing an absence of adequate accommodations for guests in college towns. He added that most owners opt to vacate the premises while renters occupy it, but others decide to rent out only a portion of their home at one time.\n"As a student, I was aware of the demand that exists," he said. "There is often a ton of people around town but not enough places to stay. The site is a logical solution."\nSutton added that as a student, he wished he could have had the chance to make additional money by renting.\nSecond-year Law student Rebecca Gantt said she has used the Web site to rent her property and build additional income for about a year.\n"The service helps me to make the mortgage," Gantt said. "There is always a shortage of housing in the area, and it's nice to add to the supply."\nIn a slowing economy, it seems like more people have turned to the Web site as a more affordable alternative to expensive hotels, Sutton said.\n"People are financially stressed right now," he said. "It's hard to make mortgage payments. Using the Web site, they can make a dent in their payment in one weekend and generate additional income."\nAs a listed property owner, Gantt has also noticed an increase in site usage. Compared to last year, she said she has received substantially more rental inquiries this year.\n"A lot more people ask for discounts, too," Gantt added.\nDespite the nation's economic slump, Gordon is confident in the's Web site ability to generate a profit. Collegeweekends.com offers a 300 percent profit-back guarantee on the annual listing fee that owners must pay to list their properties.\nCurrently, a free trial is available to new customers, Sutton said.\n"This is the best marketing tool to use," Sutton explained. "We offer a quality listing service."\nCollegeweekends.com prides itself not only on its affordability, but also on its quality of service. Sutton said that during the five years he has been owner and CEO of the site, no complaint of damage has ever been reported.\n"It's incredible," he said. "Those who rent properties on the site are usually grateful for a place to stay. They are very respectful."\nGantt, who rents out her home once or twice a month, agreed, noting that she has not experienced any property damages or misconduct.\n"Naturally, I am initially a little nervous leaving my property with renters, but my experiences have always been positive," she said. "The renters are usually alumni or somehow connected with the University. They always leave my home clean."\nA guest once drank her apple juice during their visit but immediately reimbursed Gantt and wrote her an apology letter.\nTo protect owners in case damage or misconduct occurs, the site provides an agreement that guarantees full legal recourse. The Web site also takes measures to protect owners from scams and furnishes a rental agreement drafted by lawyers, Sutton said.\n"We screen all owners, talk to them and follow up before they are listed on the site," Sutton added. The Web site allows renters to post reviews as well, making it easier for potential guests to determine which property will best suit them.\nBecause of the success that the site has seen since it launched five years ago, Sutton recently decided to expand the business throughout the nation. The service is now available in at least 12 college towns in 11 states where the demand for housing during certain periods is especially prevalent.\nAs an alternative to pricey hotels at busy times of the year, the University Alumni Association recommends Collegeweekends.com on its Web site, among other options.\n"Collegeweekends.com is an excellent option for alumni who don't want to stay in a hotel or have a big group," said Mary Elizabeth Luzar, the assistant director of Student and Young Alumni Programs. "From what I've heard, the site works well for both parties involved"

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