Main Liners make megabucks renting their homes for U.S. Open Week

DAN GERINGER / DAILY NEWS STAFF Maggie Dowd, 6, new puppy Molly and their family will bounce around among family and friends during U.S. Open week so four businessmen can make use of their four-bedroom home.
DAN GERINGER / DAILY NEWS STAFF Maggie Dowd, 6, new puppy Molly and their family will bounce around among family and friends during U.S. Open week so four businessmen can make use of their four-bedroom home.
Posted: May 31, 2013

U.S. OPEN FEVER has hit Main Line homeowners like the rockin' pneumonia and the boogie-woogie flu, fueled by fantasies of making five-figure fortunes by renting their houses near the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore for the June 10-16 tournament.

One online ad for a four-bedroom, five-bath colonial boasting a 650-bottle wine cellar suggested, "Chat with Tiger Woods and the rest of the U.S. Open golfers as they walk the 8th hole directly behind this home."

Another ad touted "formal and informal dining rooms" and "three living rooms with two grand fireplaces."

But for down-to-earth Main Liners who live a few blocks beyond "Yo, Tiger! Wit or Witout?" shouting distance of the course and have just one really nice living room instead of three, a willingness to welcome a windfall of $3,000 to $20,000 for the week was the key to U.S. Open joy.

Sara Moyher, a Main Line real-estate broker, figured lots of homeowners would be as pleased as she and her husband were in 2011 when they rented their Newtown Square house for $5,500 during the AT&T National at Aronimink Golf Club.

"I went out and bought new sheets and towels," Moyher told the Daily News. "I needed them anyway. Our renters had a dog, and the dog ate out of my $50 Mikasa pasta bowl. That's the worst thing that happened. We went to Sea Isle for the week, and it was great. We were happy as heck, man."

So Moyher, who spent thousands to develop her own website and has rented 15 of her 47 listings at $3,000 to $8,000 for the Open, was surprised at some homeowners' overblown expectations.

"Some people told me, 'The only way we'll rent our house is if we get 10 grand,' " Moyher said. "I told them, 'You won't take 8 grand? It's free money.' People have given up 8 grand like it's 20 bucks. Turn their noses up at 8 grand? I'm sorry, it just cracks me up."

Diane Catalano, who has lived for 30 years in her four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath colonial within walking distance of Merion Golf Club, ignored the rumored $40,000-a-week windfalls and instead focused her business skills, honed during her catering career, on getting her home rented.

"I really was my own advocate," Catalano said. "I did my own research, did my own homework, took pictures of my home inside and outside, and sent them to real-estate people and to the USGA at Merion Golf Club. The USGA came through."

Proud of her Italian culinary skills, Catalano offered home cooking and maid service as added incentives.

A pro golfer on the tour rented the house for himself, his caddy, his agent and his manager. He accepted the maid service but declined the Catalano cuisine.

"He said he didn't need the cooking," Catalano said. "But when he comes here and I serve him lunch, maybe he might change his mind."

Catalano declined to reveal the sum she's earning for Open week, except to say, "I'm very appreciative of what I got and who is staying in my home. I'm thrilled."

She'll bunk with family members and bank her windfall.

Ilene Pearlman, who realized that the rental market was flooded when she didn't get any offers for her three-bedroom twin near the golf course, happened to run into her real-estate broker, Bob Thomas, a former Haverford School administrator and golf coach pursuing real estate as a second career.

"How's it going?" Pearlman asked.

"Not great," replied Thomas, who mastered uber-tough problem solving when he created the Rosemont College varsity men's golf team from scratch in 2011, the year males were first admitted to the historically all-female school.

Thomas, who had rented five of the $8,000-to-$20,000 houses on his 93-listings website and was negotiating to rent three more, perked up when Pearlman said, "I wish we could rent just a room or two."

Pearlman said her husband "wasn't too thrilled about leaving home and moving in with relatives for a week." Thomas had a father and son from Arizona who wanted rooms and were willing to pay $400 a night for location, location, location.

"It's good money," Pearlman said, adding that she is renting the rooms of two of her three teenagers - a son who will be away in Africa and a daughter who "can sleep at a friend's house, in our finished attic or on my floor, whatever. She's very social."

Her daughter won't mind, Pearlman said, because the rent money will help pay for her private school in Maine. "Anything extra goes right to the kids," Pearlman said.

"After all the U.S. Open hullabaloo, everybody around here was seeing big dollar signs," Pearlman said. "We were lucky to just run into Bob Thomas and rent two rooms. I'll make our guests breakfast. I'm looking forward to being forced to clean. And my husband gets to stay home."

Laura Getty, who lives a couple of Main Line towns away from the Merion Golf Club and rented her five-bedroom home to tournament superintendents, said she and husband Doug "have been thinking about this for a couple of years in an opportunistic way to make a little extra money. We don't follow golf at all."

"Sure we do," Doug said.

"We went to the Masters in Augusta," Getty acknowledged. "My husband plays a little golf for work. He kind of thinks this is going to be his breakout year." She laughed, teasingly.

Getty said the tournament people who are renting her house wanted something within shuttle distance of the course but not smack up against it. Plus, she said, she has a pool.

Her main concerns in renting, Getty said, were "we didn't want small children staying here, because of the pool. We didn't want that kind of stress."

"We didn't want to rent to a corporation and have it be a party atmosphere," she said. "And we didn't want to do it for a ridiculously low price tag. We decided how much money makes it worth it to just pick up your life and move across town for a week."

Getty said she's happy with the income, which is in the upper end of Thomas' $8,000-to-$20,000 range.

"We're getting ready by eating all the food out of the refrigerator," she said, laughing. "We will stay with family in the area. Maybe we'll use this money later this year to go to Mexico and have fun as a family. This is very exciting for homeowners like us. It's easy money. How do you say no?"

A few miles away, Linda Dowd rented her four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath colonial on nearly two acres through Moyher to four businessmen who will entertain clients.

She is hoping for the same good experience she had in 2011, when she rented to one of the players in the AT&T National at Aronimink Golf Club.

"We're taking down the bedside knickknacks and some family photos," Dowd said. "We want to make sure it's still a warm house and we want them to remember they are in someone's house, but we don't want them to feel that our pictures are peering over them in every corner."

Dowd has two teenagers, a kindergartner and a new liver-colored field-spaniel puppy. The kids, she said, laughing, are "not big fans" of the rental, which is in the $5,000-to-$8,000 range, "but they're not paying the bills. Teenagers cleaning up their rooms for strangers is on a whole different level from what they usually consider a clean room."

Dowd, who said that she, her husband and her children will "bounce between friends and family, staying pretty close to home" during U.S. Open week, is a little concerned that although Molly, the 4-month-old puppy, "was housebroken within four days, she is a voracious chewer, and I want to make sure she does not make a meal out of the leg of a chair of any of our various hosts."

Despite the warning on Thomas' U.S. Open rentals website - "Do you want to watch 60+ minutes of highway or 60+ minutes of golf?" - many of the 25,000 daily fans are booking 60,000 to 110,000 hotel-room nights, reports the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

SEPTA plans to serve thousands of riders on its beefed-up Paoli/Thorndale regional-rail trains to Rosemont Station, where air-conditioned shuttle buses will bring them to the Open.

Other fans will take the Norristown High Speed Line from 69th Street directly to Ardmore Avenue, then walk across the new pedestrian bridge to golf heaven.

Both lines will add trains for U.S. Open week, which is expected to pump $100 million into the region's economy.

And for the army of tournament volunteers, St. Raphaela Center in Haverford, which is run by the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as an all-faiths retreat ministry, is offering double-occupancy rooms with shared baths and a continental breakfast for $150 a night, Monday through Thursday.

The rooms are in an elegant stone mansion on nine serene acres - and the nuns want to keep it that way.

"After a day at the tournament, people are returning to a place of peace, not a place for parties," said Sister Marie Heenan, who is supervising the rentals. "We want anybody who stays with us to know this is a retreat center, not a frat house."

Click here for a full photo slide show looking at some of the homes for rent around the Merion Golf Club.


On Twitter: @DanGeringer

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