Would-Be Landlords Still Waiting for Inaugural Payday

President-elect Barack Obama can smile: He has a place to stay. Planners expect the largest-ever crowds for an inauguration, but many offers of housing have drawn no response.
President-elect Barack Obama can smile: He has a place to stay. Planners expect the largest-ever crowds for an inauguration, but many offers of housing have drawn no response. (By Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- Associated Press)
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By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009

On Nov. 4, the world buzzed and thousands of people danced in the streets when the Unite States elected its first African American president. On Nov. 5, hotel rooms throughout the city, the suburbs and even the exurbs and beyond were being booked.

Within days, as officials began to estimate as many as 6 million visitors and as stories began appearing of obscene sums being forked over for a few nights' stay at someone's apartment or house, a new kind of buzz caught hold: inauguration housing fever.

Or, how many months' mortgage can be squeezed out of a would-be inauguration-goer with nowhere else to go?

If the plethora of ads on Craigslist, Homeaway.com, Inaugurationhomes.com and even Facebook are a guide, folks in Alexandria and Arlington County ("just a short Metro ride away from the parade route") have the fever. Bad.

"It's all anyone's talking about," said Jen Walker, a real estate agent with McEnearney Associates in Alexandria. "I probably get 20 e-mails a day with somebody new that has a house to rent somewhere in the suburbs -- $10,000 a night and you can share my toothbrush."

Early this month, although officials had recalculated the estimated number of visitors to 2 million to 4 million, inauguration-goers could log on to Craigslist and choose from a $1,500-per-night four-bedroom Cape Cod in Alexandria, a two-bedroom "gay/lesbian" three-level townhouse for $1,200 a night or a "Stunning" five-bedroom house with two master bedrooms in Ballston for the low, low price of $10,000 for the week.

(Budget-minded inauguration-goers could opt for a "luxury" condominium in Arlington for $300 a night with this sweetener: "Our apartment comes fully furnished with everything you need. We would be happy to go above and beyond to make your stay worth it. If you need a fully stocked fridge, metro card, car, etc. we would be happy to make it happen. Street parking available.")

A lot of inauguration rental offers are out there. And truly, there is nowhere else to go. Karen Vasquez, spokeswoman for Arlington County Economic Development, said more than 10,000 rooms at the 40-some hotels in the county are booked. "There are no more rooms at the inn," she said. Emily Hellewell, spokeswoman for the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, said a handful of the city's 4,700 hotel rooms are available -- and those are suites that require a four-day minimum stay and run as much as $800 a night.

But do inauguration renters exist?

Some do. Danny Heider, who got his ad out early in the frenzy, got lucky. Right after the election, when the news was filled with reports of booked hotel rooms as far away as Stafford, he posted his two-bedroom apartment off West Glebe Road in Alexandria on Craigslist for $2,000 a night. Within a matter of hours, it was booked by a group from Cincinnati. (He asked for dates of birth and had background checks run.) "It was an instant bite," he said. His sweetener? Inaugural ball tickets. Heider runs a promotion company with a partner and is organizing a number of inaugural events with big names. "The ad said, 'Bring a tux,' " Heider said.

The five-day rental -- Heider found a contract on Craigslist and asked for a 50 percent down payment and a $1,200 security deposit -- will pay Heider's rent through October.

It's stories like his that have helped feed the fever.

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