Charlottesville Rental Market First to Capitalize on College Weekend Phenomenon

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Property owners in Charlottesville, VA have been raking in the dough during big campus events like game day weekends, graduation weekend, and class reunions. University of Virginia graduate Gordon Sutton facilitated this concept when he founded CollegeWeekends.com in 2004. The website is a platform for connecting travelers with short-term and vacation rental properties in college towns that are under served by hotels. The site has been so successful in Charlottesville that Sutton is taking the company to a national scale with Oxford, MS next in line.

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the idea was so well received right out of the gates by both homeowners and renters that I knew I was on to something.

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Property Owners in Charlottesville, VA have been leading double lives. During the week they go to work, come home, pick up the mail, work in the garden; but when the weekend rolls around they are nowhere to be found. In their place are friends, family and fans of the University of Virginia that are in town for the big game, parent's weekend, graduation or just for a relaxing visit in the town of their alma mater. Charlottesville, just like college towns all across the country, suffers from a lack of accommodations to support the hordes of visitors attending these large events.

In the past, visitors have crammed into overcrowded hotel rooms or stayed 45 minutes down the road in the next town, but with the help of a web platform called CollegeWeekends.com these travelers are finding sanctuary in the homes and investment properties of C'ville residents who are happy to accommodate them and take a lucrative weekend out of town. Only half of the 45 properties on the site are owner occupied, and the rest run the gamut from mother-in-law suites to expansive country estates to vacant condos run by property management companies. This whole phenomenon started to gain momentum five years ago when Gordon Sutton, then a recent graduate of the University of Virginia and a Charlottesville native, launched CollegeWeekends.com.

The company had humble beginnings as Sutton did his best to get new listings spreading the word on nights and weekends while he worked a full time job with a local ready-mix concrete company. Sutton told us "the idea was so well received right out of the gates by both homeowners and renters that I knew I was on to something." The idea was based on the notion that demand for these weekend rental properties would be driven by the lack of available hotel rooms during these big events. Sutton reluctantly admits, "I did not fully appreciate the fact that we are offering a much higher quality product than your standard hotel room."

When you take a look at the properties on CollegeWeekends.com you can see why people start reserving properties on the site long before hotels get booked up. Per square foot, the vacation rental properties on the site are typically 50% -75% cheaper than hotel rooms and offer five times as much space than the average hotel room (325 sq ft). If you are in town with the whole family for graduation weekend, you can keep everybody together and even throw a party (after getting the owner's permission, of course). In addition, most of the properties on the site are located much closer to all the action than any hotel.

After testing the waters in Charlottesville for several years Sutton decided to head back to graduate school and get his MBA from the University of Colorado. He has spent the last two years fine tuning his business model and is now ready to take the concept to a much bigger scale. Sutton says, "Ultimately we think CollegeWeekends.com can work in any college town, but in the immediate future we are focusing our efforts on Boulder, CO and the SEC where we have a lot of friends and football is a huge draw." The company has just launched new sites in Boulder for the Buffs , and for the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford, MS.

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