CHARLOTTE, N.C.-For Dustin Read, the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte seemed like a surefire way to make extra money.
An estimated 35,000 people - from delegates and journalists to scores of protesters and police - will be flocking to North Carolina'slargest city to attend the three-day convention in early September. Hefigures some of those visitors might want a bigger place to stay than acramped hotel room with no backyard.
So a few months ago, Read listed his three-bedroom, two-bathroom house as a short-term rental. His price: $7,000 a week.
"Thereare a lot of people coming to Charlotte and this was a good way to makemoney. Why not?" said Read, the director of real estate at theUniversity of North Carolina Charlotte's Belk College of Business. "Alot of people felt the same way....But the closer you get to theconvention, the more you see people looking for last-minute bargains."
It'sa similar situation in Tampa, host city for the Republican NationalConvention: homeowners looking to make a quick buck all with the addedbenefit of giving them a chance to get out while their hometown isoverrun by convention-goers and snarled with tightened security.
Charlotteand Tampa officials say they have enough hotel and motel rooms tohandle the crowds. But some listed their homes just in case peoplewanted an alternative to hotels. They're banking on landing visitors whodidn't plan ahead and need a place to stay and also targeting biggroups with deep pockets, such as lobbyists who want more space toentertain.
When homeowners in the two citiesfirst began listing their properties, the prices were steep. Some wereasking up to $20,000 a week. One Charlotte homeowner wanted $50,000 torent his five-bedroom house for a month. With less than a month to gobefore the conventions kick off - the Republicans are meeting the lastweek of August in Tampa, while the Democrats are holding theirconvention the first week of September in Charlotte - people arelowering their prices.
Just ask Fran Goods.She placed an ad on Craigslist a few months ago for her two-bedroom,1,000-square-foot condo about five miles south of Time Warner Cable Arena, where the first two days of the Democratic convention will be held. On the last day, President Barack Obama will make his acceptance speech at the 74,000-seat outdoor Bank of America stadium where the city's NFL team plays.
"Ihad some people call me, but not many," said Goods, who splits her timebetween Charlotte, to be near family, and Naples, Fla. Either way, sheplans to be out of town during the convention. "I'm not charging a lotof money. This is a good bargain. And the light rail is right outside mycondo. A few stops and you're at the arena. You can't beat it."
In Tampa, James Griffinhas put his one-bedroom loft in the downtown area on Craigslist, asking$1,250 a night. If he gets any takers, he'll go elsewhere and not getcaught up in the traffic snarls, security issues and crowds who willdescend on his hometown the last week in August.
"Ifa high enough number is offered, if somebody decides to accept, I'll gothrough the headache to clean out closets and remove the jewelry," hesaid. "But I couldn't pass up on the opportunity if people want to paythat much."
Griffin listed the condo, which islocated a short 10-minute walk to the convention site, two weeks ago.He's offering a king sized bed, washer-dryer, Internet and securitysystem. Still, he's gotten no offers that he would consider realistic.
So far he's gotten only calls from people wanting to come to Tampa to protest the convention.
"They want to spend $100 or $200 a night," he said. "It isn't worth it for me."
He's still holding out hope that someone wants to stay close to the convention and is willing to pay the $1,250 a night.
"I might get lucky," he said. "Maybe somebody will take me up on it. If they do, I'll just leave town and go to D.C. for the week. I'll go visit their hometown."
LikeTampa, the convention is a big deal to Charlotte. It's the highestprofile event the city has ever hosted. Unlike Tampa, Charlotte is notused to the short-term home rental market, something that's common inresort communities.
Charlotte doesn't have a beach or mountains. People visit the city of 760,000 people for museums, including the NASCAR Hall of Fame, or to watch the Carolina Panthersor the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats play. It's a banking and financialcenter. When people stay in Charlotte for a week, they're usually thereon business. And when they do, they book hotels.
SimonLe, a business manager for Group 15, a real estate company handlingshort-term convention rentals in Charlotte, said he's been receivingnearly a dozen phone calls each day from people who want to list theirhomes - but only a few calls a week from prospective renters.
Andhis company has gotten picky. They will only take houses within twomiles of Uptown, Charlotte's main business district. He said he expectsto rent more homes just before the convention.
Some homeowners haven't given up.
On Craigslist, there were 904 listings for convention home and apartment rentals in the the Tampa Bayregion. The price, quality and location varied widely. One listing wasfor a 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath luxury townhome along Tampa Bay for $20,000for the week. Another was for $175 a night for a 7-night home rentalnear a campy mermaid-themed water park 90 minutes north of theconvention site.
Notonly does the city of Tampa have plenty of hotel rooms, but there is alongstanding condo-hotel-apartment rental culture across the bay on Pinellas County'ssugar-sand beaches. Because of the year-round sunny weather, nicebeaches and golf, Tampa and Pinellas County are home to a thrivingsecond home culture as well.
Factor inplummeting home values, high unemployment and a weak economy in theTampa Bay region, and it's easy to see why homeowners would want topounce on those renting for the RNC. The trouble in actually cutting anydeals is twofold, real estate agents say: Too many property ownersoffered their homes for rent and set out-of-reach prices.
NickNicholson of Bradenton, Fla. decided to list his second home onCraigslist recently for $200 a night during the RNC. He bought it as aninvestment and it's empty at the moment. It has three bedrooms, a pooland is near the beach, about an hour south in Bradenton. Nicholson knowsthe location might be working against him.
"I just kind of threw it out there," he said.
Nicholson also offered another perk: chauffeur service. In the ad, he offers to drive the renters around in his Lincoln Town Car.
So far, no one has bitten.