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ND alumni speak about real estate business

Madeline Buckley | Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Notre Dame’s Entrepreneurship Society has hosted speakers that have graced the cover of Forbes Magazine. But co-president Michael Streit wanted to feature something a little closer to home this year.

So when a group of recent alumni who started a business in South Bend contacted Streit about speaking to the Society, he saw an opportunity.

The 2001 Notre Dame graduates founded Rent Like a Champion, which restores run-down houses surrounding campus and rents the homes to students and visitors during home football weekends.

“I think this is an interesting case. These Notre Dame guys are true entrepreneurs, taking land lording and trying to do it a little differently,” Streit said. “This is cool because it’s very real and a little more close to home.”

Streit said he is expecting about 140 students to attend the talk at 7 p.m. Tuesday night in room 155 of DeBartolo Hall.

Co-founder of the company Jordan Curnes said he, along with two college friends, bought a house in foreclosure in 2005 and spread the word to family and friends that they had a space available during home football weekends.

When they were able to rent it for five football games in the first year of owning the house, it dawned on the three friends that they had a real business opportunity.

“There was a big risk. People thought we were crazy for going into real estate in South Bend,” Curnes said. “We had a lot to learn. There are a lot of real estate rules, but we pooled all of our savings.”

Now, the company owns and rents 30 properties – some to students living off-campus for the year and some to football fans for a weekend.

“That’s part of entrepreneurship,” he said. “You have to be willing to take a risk.”

Curnes said the company aims to buy one house about every two months, usually at St. Joseph County tax sales. He said they have bought houses for as little as $8,000.

The company follows the city’s zoning laws, and the student houses aren’t clustered together to avoid problems in the neighborhood, Curnes said.

“We rehab them to make them look nicer. We put in new kitchens, new floors,” he said. “We can teach students how to do it. This is a very realistic business you can get into with relatively low amounts of money.”

Curnes said the company started an intern program this summer to give Notre Dame students a chance to get some real estate experience.

“We feel a strong obligation to help out students,” he said. “We got so much out of our experience at Notre Dame.”

Sophomore Stephen Shin worked as an intern at Rent Like a Champion this summer, and he said the internship offered hands-on experience buying and rehabbing houses.

“For students interested in real estate, you don’t always get an experience like this,” he said. “They took the interns to tax sales and we really learned a lot about real estate development.”

Curnes said the company is trying to approach the business of renting houses in a different way. He said they struck up a partnership with the Entrepreneurship Society on campus to help educate as many students as possible about starting a business.

Although Curnes lives in Chicago – Rent Like a Champion is a side business – the South Bend company allows him to return to the area every few weeks.

“It’s just fun for us,” he said. “We love Notre Dame and this is a fun, interactive thing we can do with the students.”

Streit said he thinks the Entrepreneurship Society will learn a lot from Curnes and his colleagues.

“Everybody kind of dreams of starting their own business and we think they can really help us out,” he said.