Looking for a place to stay this week for the inauguration, but can't get a room at the Ritz-Carlton?
You could opt for a luxurious Bethesda suite with "Jacuzzi, sitting room, finest materials [and] Louis Philippe furnishings" for $300 per night. Or "one VERY comfy futon" in a South Arlington studio apartment for $200 a night.
With many downtown Washington hotels fully booked and others charging as much as $489 for a standard hotel room for inaugural night, scores of local residents have been angling to make a little extra cash by subletting their homes to inauguration-goers.
The house with the Louis Philippe furnishings and the South Arlington studio are among more than 100 accommodations advertised over the past three weeks by would-be innkeepers on www.washingtondc.craigslist.org, a Web site that posts classified ads for free.
Enterprising renters and homeowners frequently become impromptu hoteliers when their hometowns host special events, such as the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta or the 2004 political party nominating conventions in New York and Boston.
Craigslist, which originated in 1995 in San Francisco, had not begun offering classifieds for the Washington area by the last inauguration in 2001. Its Washington site now has 46 million page views and 400,000 unique visitors per month, founder Craig Newmark said in an e-mail.
Among dozens of would-be landlords contacted last week, one sealed a deal with three young Republicans from California. Several received e-mails from a documentary film crew from San Francisco who lined up three potential places to crash before setting their sights on a Capitol Hill rowhouse.
"I wanted to hedge my bets," said Anastasia King, a member of the crew, which is shooting an independent film about how the news media cover major events.
Some top-dollar Republican supporters secured hotel rooms through LogiCom Project Management, an Alexandria-based event management company hired by the Republican National Committee for that purpose. LogiCom offered packages of accommodations and tickets to events that were tailored for each level of fundraiser or donor, according to the company's inauguration Web site. The firm reserved rooms for donors known as Rangers, who raised at least $200,000 for President Bush's reelection campaign, at the Ritz-Carlton and the Fairmont hotels at rates of $595 to $699 per night.
Inauguration attendees have snapped up almost all of the more than 400 corporate apartments managed by Bridgestreet Corporate Housing Worldwide, about a 30 percent increase over the last inauguration, said spokeswoman Melissa Thompson. All of Bridgestreet's units in the District, Arlington and Tysons Corner are booked. "We are telling people, 'All we have is Reston,' and they're taking it," she said. Many of the calls, she added, are coming from Texas.
So far, though, many local renters and homeowners advertising their own homes have been left out of the housing frenzy.
"I think supply is outstripping demand," said Jamie Beckland, who has had no offers for his Arlington studio apartment, which he's offering for $200 a night. Asking prices for such homespun accommodations have dropped steadily over the past week, from an average of $300 a night to $175.
Several local residents said they set their price after considering what hotels were charging, the expense involved with vacating their homes, such as boarding pets, and the "pain-in-the-butt" factor, as one renter put it, such as cleaning and putting away valuables.
Paul Quirk, a Rosslyn resident who is asking $2,800 for the week for his one-bedroom apartment, said he tacked $300 on to his price just for the view of the District from his window. As of yesterday he had no tenants.
Paul Sliwka's Logan Circle townhouse is among the priciest inauguration-week offerings, at $1,000 a night. His antique-filled Victorian has three bedrooms, a library and a garden, and comes with a caterer and a maid, upon request. Sliwka also provides "new hotel sheets and towels."
As of Saturday, however, no one had responded to his Craigslist ad. "Maybe it's not a good fit for this" event, he said.
Patrick Startt is one of the few who managed to land paying out-of-town guests for four days. He began advertising his two-bedroom, two-bathroom Capitol Hill townhouse on Craigslist around Christmas for $300 a night. Three young Republicans from California quickly responded. "The first e-mail I got from them was, 'Where do I send the check?' " Startt said.
But he said he grew worried the deal would fall through after seeing ads offering comparable or lower rates for similar accommodations and locations.
To make sure he wouldn't lose his customers, he threw in a last-minute perk: He offered to pick them up at Dulles International Airport, where their red-eye flight was scheduled to land around 7 a.m. Thursday.
He said he might even leave a bottle of wine around. But that's it.
"No mints on the pillow," he said.