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D.C. residents still looking for inauguration weekend renters

Saturday - 1/19/2013, 3:22pm  ET

Taylor_and_Stefani512.jpg
Capitol Hill residents Taylor Swindle and Stefani Truman are renting rooms in their two bedroom, two bathroom apartment during inauguration weekend. Residents in the D.C. area are renting their homes and apartments in hopes of making extra cash, but the demand for lodging has not been as high as it was during President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009. (WTOP/Stephanie Steinberg)
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Many apartments available, but few bidders

WTOP's Megan Cloherty reports

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Stephanie Steinberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - When Michael Filippello put his infamous row house on Craiglist for a three-night stay during the 2009 inauguration, the response was instant.

After weeding through several inquiries, Filippello settled on a man from California who offered $2,000 to rent the first floor of his Capitol Hill home -- the same home where Miami Herald reporters caught former Senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart in the midst of an extramarital affair in 1987.

As soon as President Barack Obama was re-elected, Filippello and his husband put their residence back on the rental market in hopes of making some money again. But with the ceremony a few days away, they still don't have any bites.

"We've been a little surprised at how long it's taken," Filippello says. "We started at the original price we did last (time), and we've brought it down to $400 a night."

While there was frenzy over renting homes and apartments before Obama's inauguration in 2009, realtors in the D.C. area say the interest has drastically died down.

"Before it was like house swap -- ‘for the week, I'll give you this room for X amount of dollars,' but I just don't see it," says Lisa Bailey-Harper, a realtor with The Realtor in Your Backyard in Fairfax, Va.

Bailey-Harper says she's seen an influx of people advertising their homes or apartments for rental next weekend, but there are few takers. She pointed to one client who is offering her bed and breakfast in Fort Washington, Md. for $10,000. The 10-bedroom house has been on the market since December.

Bailey-Harper, who has worked in the D.C. area for the past 12 years, says her client set the price too high.

"She may have been able to get that with the first inauguration because people were really trying to get here -- I had people calling me just to stay at my house -- but I just don't see that fire like we (had)," she says.

In 2009, about 1.8 million people came to the nation's capital to witness the inauguration of the first African American president of the United States. This year, officials estimate 600,000 to 800,000 people will attend the ceremony.

Hotels in the area had about a 98 percent occupancy rate in 2009, but few hotels are sold out next weekend.

Theresa Belpulsi, vice president of tourism for the non-profit Destination DC, says many hotels in the area have lowered their rates and length of stay requirements. Some visitors paid an average rate of $600 a night in 2009, according to STR Global, a company that tracks hotel data. This year, tourists can find rates for as low as $99.

Belpulsi says the inauguration will still be among the top five in history in terms of attendance, but the hype is much lower compared to the first.

"Second inaugurations are always not as busy as the first initial inauguration," she says.

Despite the lower demand for lodging, Airbnb -- an online company that matches homeowners with travelers looking for short-term lodging -- has seen a large increase in the number of visitors staying with hosts in D.C neighborhoods.

About 2,000 people have signed up with Airbnb in D.C. for this inauguration, compared to 150 people in 2009, according to Airbnb spokeswoman Emily Joffrion.

The most popular area is Capitol Hill, which Joffrion says has about 240 Airbnb guests booked for next weekend.

Airbnb hosts Taylor Swindle, 24, and Stefani Truman, 21, of Capitol Hill claim they have one of the cheapest apartments on the market. They normally charge about $80 per night to stay in their pristine white guest bedroom that's decorated like an IKEA showroom. For the inauguration, they upped the price to $150 a night.

"We booked it right away," says Swindle, adding that in hindsight, he wishes he had charged more.

Airbnb listings for inauguration weekend range from $300 to $900 a night depending on the location and amenities. Swindle, a CFO for a high-profile politician he declined to name, and Truman, a law enforcement official, use the profits to cover their $2,400 monthly rent and utility bills.

The couple put their own bedroom on the market for $250, eager to make extra money. If they get a renter, they plan to crash at a friend's place or book a cheap hotel.

"Even if we have to get a hotel outside the city, we would end up making a profit," he says.

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