Katie Allen has a powerful motivator for renting out the Capitol Hill townhouse she shares with her husband and 4-month-old son over the inauguration weekend in mid-January.
“If we can book it at $900 a night for just two days, that covers day care for a month,” Allen said. She and her family are opting to visit friends in Pittsburgh that week, hoping to rent out their house through Airbnb, a private service where property owners list short-term lodging.
The District and surrounding areas may see 10,000 Airbnb guests arriving for the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump on Jan. 20, as well as the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, according to the company.
With D.C. properties listed at an average price of about $1,088 per night for that weekend, there is clearly money to be made. Airbnb projects $3.5 million in income for hosts in the District, Virginia and Maryland. And prices of properties available for inauguration have increased by about 113 percent in the past two weeks.
As hotels reach capacity, more visitors will turn to Airbnb. Are you thinking of becoming a host? Your place needs to be within regulations, priced right and prepared. We’ve asked experts to share what you should know before listing your room, apartment or house.
Before putting your property up for rent, confirm with your lease, coop, condo board or homeowner’s association that a short-term rental is allowed.
“You may make a lot of money over the inauguration,” said Lara Hawketts, who runs Home Sweet City, a firm that manages Airbnb listings in Washington. “But you’ll still be stuck with your neighbors after it’s over. You don’t want to make them too upset.”
As for getting right with the city, Airbnb rentals fall under the watch of Washington’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. To rent your property, even for a weekend, you are expected to get a housing rental license.
“Rules for where, when and how you can do short-term rentals do vary by zoning area,” said Matt Orlins, the DCRA’s director of legislative and public affairs. “It isn’t one size.”
You’ll need to contact the DCRA for specifics, but generally if you are renting out a single-family property you are expected to get a business license for a single-family rental that costs $190.30 for two years. A license for an apartment rental costs $43 for two years. Both may require an inspection.
The fine for operating a business without a license is $2,000, although Airbnb veterans say enforcement is slow.
If you do secure the business license just for the inauguration, don’t forget about it.
“If you’re only going to do this for a weekend, you need to cancel the business license right after,” said Jonathan Addison, owner of Rent Jiffy, a D.C.-based company that expedites rental-property licenses.
He points out that the business license doesn’t end at the expiration date. Rather, two years down the road, you’ll get a notice that you haven’t paid to renew, and, he said, the late charges can add up.
Addison adds that surrounding counties, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, have similar requirements, but their processes are “less onerous” than the District’s.
Airbnb offers Smart Pricing, which automatically adjusts the price of your listing based on demand in your area. You set your own low and high prices, and the site will move your price as demand shifts.
For example, Allen said that Smart Pricing set her two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath townhouse that’s walking distance to the Capitol at $900 a night. She listed it for $1,000 a night but said she’s prepared to drop the price as the event nears.
Hawketts said that she is pricing Home Sweet City properties at four times the seasonal peak price. A one-bedroom condo that would go for $95 a night in a typical January and $200 a night in the summer is being listed at $800 a night over the inauguration weekend. The properties she manages, from studios to a four-bedroom house, range in price from $350 to $5,000 a night for that weekend.
Another way to maximize profits for her clients, Hawketts said, is to set minimum stay requirements for the listing. The listings that she manages require a seven-day stay. As the date nears, remaining unbooked properties may shift to a four-day minimum stay, she said.
Airbnb said that the most popular neighborhoods for bookings that weekend include neighborhoods that are potentially walkable to the events, including Capitol Hill and near Northeast and the H Street Corridor, but also less touristed areas such as Shaw, the U Street corridor, Columbia Heights, Petworth and Mount Pleasant. Visitor favorites such as Logan Circle, Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle round out the list.
“I thought everything on the Hill would go first, then it would go out from there, but it isn’t happening that way,” said Hawketts, who has rented her own properties on Airbnb since 2009. “We just booked something in Tenleytown.”
Hawketts has had an increase of calls from people who are Airbnb newbies and unsure about how to go about it.
They’ve asked all kinds of questions:
●Should I take pictures of my washer and dryer? (Yes, the more pictures the better.)
●What should I do about my keys? (Lockboxes are your friends, as are concierges.)
●What about my personal stuff? (Find one closet in your house that you can lock, and put all sentimental, valuable and personal items in there.)
“And all your liquor,” Hawketts added. “You don’t want to come back to find it all gone and that your guests have had a huge party.”
Inevitably, she said, it has been impossible to keep politics out of the process.
“I’ve had people tell me, ‘I’m not sure I want to rent to Trump supporters,’ ” Hawketts said. “But then they come around and say they will put their political persuasions aside and just think about the money.”
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