Got a spare room? Don't mind strangers? Want extra money?
With the UCI Road World Championship bike race a little more than a year away, Richmonders are thinking about how to cash in on the crowds by renting out their homes.
"This would be a great way to help pay the mortgage," says Thomas Arrington, a cook who owns a home not far off Monument Avenue. After all, he says: "I don't own a business. I'm not expecting to hawk any T-shirts or koozies with logos on them during the race."
The sports event is projected to bring 400,000 spectators, and if even half that number shows up, along with the teams, support staff and media — demand for housing will be huge.
The race's marketing director, Lee Kallman, says there are 18,000 hotel rooms in the Richmond area, and they've already begun to fill up from team bookings. That leaves plenty of room for the average Richmonder to get in on the action. The 2015 committee even has discussed setting up some kind of exchange to connect visitors with housing.
"As the hotel inventory goes away," Kallman says, "people begin looking for all kinds of alternative means of lodging."
There are plenty of options online for enterprising residents: Dozens of Richmonders list spare rooms, apartments and houses on such websites as Airbnb.com and Homeaway.com, which connect travelers with locals across the world who have space to spare.
On a recent weekday morning, one such resident sat on her front porch near Carytown with her toy poodle, Squeaker, and a German visitor, Lukas. He's staying in an upstairs bedroom for $50 a night.
She also rents out a pullout couch in her living room for $35 a night and a basement apartment for $75. She pays state and federal taxes on the extra income, she says, which totaled $10,000 last year.
The resident, a freelance editor, didn't want her name to appear in print — a concern that highlights the murky legal area that such hosts occupy. She says she asked the city, which informed her that she'd have to apply for a permit and go before City Council for approval.
City Attorney Allen Jackson says the practice could raise issues with building codes, zoning, tax and business licenses. Or, he said, there could be no problem. He refers questions to code enforcement. The city press office didn't respond to an inquiry from Style Weekly.
Any potential issues aside, residents who provide lodging are planning for the bike-race rush. The Carytown resident says she plans to rent out her house and stay with family for the week. A 57-year-old manager at a local manufacturing company who rents out a room in his downtown apartment plans to list the whole place and double his normal rate.
"I'm hoping that I can temporarily jack up my price," says a graphic designer in the Fan who typically rents out her house on the weekends for $150 a night.
The market opportunity seems ripe: Visitors are projected to spend $236 per day on food, accommodations and other expenses, according to a study reported in Style by Chmura Economics & Analytics. It figured that 55 percent of the 452,580 race spectators — a higher number than currently projected — will stay an average of six nights.
But money aside, all of the short-term rental providers say that if you're an outgoing person who likes meeting new people, the interactions that the transactions foster are rewarding on a different level. It's also an opportunity to roll out the welcome mat for visitors from other countries and give them a personalized perspective of Richmond, which is part of the appeal for Arrington as he considers opening up his home.
"People are coming from every corner of the earth," he says, "and this will really immerse them in what's going on here."