Inauguration Rush to Rent Houses May Tweak Maryland Economy


WASHINGTON (Nov. 17, 2008)—Marylanders are taking advantage of their proximity to the sold-out hotels of Washington to list their homes in droves for Barack Obama's January inauguration.

An Internet classified ad site listed about 1,000 inauguration housing posts as of 6 p.m. Wednesday and 157 of them were from Maryland. Those numbers doubled by 3 p.m. the next day.

Since Obama won the election, Maryland tenants and homeowners have been posting away in hopes that as the date nears, they can cash in from travelers willing to shell out big bucks.

Posts range anywhere from $55,000 for a luxury home in Potomac with catering and maid service to $100 per night in a spare room in someone's apartment in Montgomery Village. A few have even added extra perks like chauffer services to would-be renters.

"It's an enhancement to the tourist attraction that will bring people in and those residents have recognized a demand," said Stephanie Lundberg, spokeswoman for Congressman Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, who is one of six members on the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. "There's a lot of people visiting the area who will be spending money and contributing to the local economy. This is a massive event from our office's perspective."

As of their last count Thursday, Hoyer's office had received almost 4,500 requests for inauguration tickets. Lundberg said they would not be able to fill all the requests although people are still calling in daily.

Advertisers have been putting up their homes at high rates. There were at least 20 Maryland homes going for $10,000 or more, with one home as far as one hour away in Indian Head.

Destination DC, the official convention and tourism corporation for Washington, D.C., estimates that as many 1.5 million people will attend the inaugural. It is expected to attract far more than President George W. Bush's last two inaugurations, which drew about 300,000 people each.

Destination DC has received an overwhelming number of phone calls about the inauguration, said Natasha Day, a secretary for the corporation.

Although some are excited about making some extra cash from the event, others are a bit wary about letting strangers into their home.

"If I can rent the place for those days, why not?" said Zondre Morris, who is hoping to let her guest room in her three-bedroom Laurel home for $700 a night. "It's just a matter of how do you know if you got a crazy."

Morris, 33, said she plans to get references and interview potential renters before renting her home. Other potential landlords said they plan on requiring security deposits and doing similar background checks.

"We would obviously go about it carefully in talking to the people," said Jim Turner, who is attempting to rent out his four-bedroom Bethesda home for $4,500 for four days. "My thought is if somebody who may travel halfway across the country or driving four or five hours away for the inauguration, I would hope that they would be a fairly high-caliber person."

Like other potential landlords, Turner plans to stay with friends and family nearby or go on vacation with his family to Las Vegas.

Some residents have more particular concerns, but are not worried about people stealing their belongings.

"Ideally, I would love somebody who is kosher and ask that they will respect our (kosher) household," said Rabbi Janet Ozur Bass, who hopes to rent out her four-bedroom home in Potomac for $8,000. "I want references, talk to them a bit more, but I have my family with me, so my more precious possessions will be safe."

Bass, 43, a rabbi at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, said she heard about residents renting out their homes after reading somewhere that 75 percent of the hotels in the area were booked.

"I thought it would be a nice thing to make space available and good way to pay for my kids' education," Bass said. "The price of gas, groceries, our normal bills and price of heating are not what they were last year. With the cost of everything and our salaries what they are, the cost of living is crazy."

Local hotels have also experienced a surge in inquiries about stays during the week of Jan. 20. Many, like the Quality Inn in Frederick, about an hour away from the festivities, have sold out.

"It will be wonderful for Frederick especially for January because this area is always the slow in that season. It will also help the restaurants and bar area downtown," said Quality Inn General Manager David Brooks, who said people were looking at Frederick because it was significantly cheaper than hotels in Montgomery County and still fairly easy to get to.

As Inauguration Day gets closer and the competition for rentals gets fiercer, some Maryland residents are adding to their package. One ad posted by Columbia resident Duane St. Clair offers a "3-night vacation package" that includes pick up and drop off at the airport and a one-day chauffeured tour of the D.C. area. With the money, St. Clair hopes to fund a Florida vacation for himself and his wife.

"It's an opportunity to make a little money, and when it comes along, you should take advantage of it," said St. Clair, a 58-year-old, self-employed consultant.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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