The economy may be bleak, but this week, cash-strapped young D.C. professionals and wealthy Washingtonians alike have found a quick way to make a buck: By renting their homes to travelers hoping to witness history in the making.
With Washington's hotel rooms filling quickly for President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration, local D.C. residents are getting creative. So are Virginia residents, miles from the festivities, in Tyson's Corner, and Marylanders as far as Accokeek and Annapolis.
All of them are offering up their homes for inauguration week in late January and contributing to an explosion of ads posted since Election Day on Craigslist.com.
"I figured I'd just put it up at an exorbitant price and see if someone bites," said Flynn Millard, a D.C.-area nurse who posted her two-bedroom Georgetown apartment on Craigslist Tuesday morning, asking $1,500 for six days during the inauguration.
There are literally hundreds of places left to stay, whether in luxury homes or cramped quarters -- if you're willing to pay the price. Sleep tight in a one-bedroom basement apartment in Bethesda, Md., for $2,200 for the week. Score a one-bedroom loft in D.C.'s vibrant Adams Morgan neighborhood for $1,000 per night. Put your feet up after the balls in a four-bedroom home in northwest Washington for $15,000. Or live it up in an eight-bedroom home in McLean, Va., for $35,000.
On Monday alone, nearly 90 inauguration week rentals sprung up on Craigslist in the section devoted to vacation rentals. Another 130 plus were posted in the section for apartments and housing -- as well as a plea from a desperate house hunter: "Please, post your inauguration specials in the VACATION RENTALS so that MAYBE I have a chance to find a proper apartment listing."
"It's an easy way to make some money, as long as they don't trash my apartment," Millard told ABCNews.com. She added that the price of a rental "seems crazy."
Rebecca Pawlowski, a communications director at Washington's tourism organization Destination DC, said she has heard estimates of more than 1 million people coming into town for the inauguration.
And while some will sleep at luxury hotels beneath sheets with high thread counts, others will brave the late January elements in sleeping bags and tents.
"We have some tenters coming in," Judy Strahorn, a reservationist at Cherry Hill Campground in College Park, Md., told ABCNews.com. "They'll sleep in their cars, though -- they're not fooling us."
The campground has already taken reservations for 180 RVs as well, Strahorn said, with more space available, starting at $42 a night to pitch a tent.
"We're really tickled," Strahorn said. "Pretty amazing for January."
Washington Hotels Offer Inauguration Deals
Pawlowski said some downtown hotel rooms are still available, with low-end prices starting at around $400 to $500 per night. Three- or four-night minimum stays are required.
That's the case at places like the Willard InterContinental, a hotel in a prime downtown location between the Capitol and the White House, where rates start at $949 per night for a four-night minimum. That's up from rates that start at $270 a night just 10 days before.
The Willard started receiving reservation requests at 11:10 p.m. on election night, according to public relations assistant Anna Croll. Classy themed decor, themed food and shuttles to the finest parties are included in the price. As of Tuesday, the Willard had only a few rooms left.
It's a similar scene at the Ritz Carlton's two locations in the district, both of which have sold out of standard rooms. Room rates start at $1,500 per night for a five-night minimum during inauguration week -- nearly five times the rate for a stay on Jan. 10.
And there's one lavish option left at each Ritz hotel: A $50,000 or a $99,000 inauguration package that includes a four-night suite stay with a laundry list of perks.
The $50,000 package at the Foggy Bottom Ritz includes a gold, diamond, ruby and sapphire pendant; an on-call chauffeur; a stylist at Saks Fifth Avenue who will outfit guests in a designer dress or tuxedo; two tickets to the parade; two tickets to an inaugural ball; and a private dinner. A portion of the price will go to a charity of the guests' choice.
At the Georgetown Ritz, the $99,000 package includes round-trip first class airfare; an on-call chauffeur; Gucci luggage; two parade tickets; two hard-to-come-by tickets to an inaugural ball; and a private dinner. After the stay in Washington, guests will jet off to the Ritz-Grand Cayman, airfare and hotel stay also included. The package is targeted to the eco-conscious traveler with environmentally-friendly spa products, carbon offsets for the flight and eco-adventures awaiting in the islands.
Pawlowski suggested the over-the-top offerings could be just what the city needs, saying that pumping dollars into D.C. businesses will be "a good economic boost in a time when we really need one, frankly."
Meantime, for travelers with shallower pockets, Washington is also gearing up for a series of celebrations aside from the main inaugural events, including several exhibits and tours dedicated to the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's birth.
Pawlowski, who started her job just before the first inauguration of President George Bush in 2001, told ABCNews.com that this time around, "It's definitely a different vibe than the last inauguration."
"Based on the level of phone calls and the number of inquires we've received, it's gonna be big," she said.