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Housing Frenzy in Denver

August 21, 2008

Washington DC – Forget New York City, London and Tokyo. The world’s most bustling and expensive housing market is Denver, Colorado. Or at least it will be so during next week. With the Democratic National Convention coming to town, 50,000 extra residents are expected to flock the “mile high city” from August 25th through the 28th. Among them 5,000 delegates, over 15,000 members of a ballooning press corps (which includes, this year, new media and bloggers), activists, curious visitors and the ever growing crowd of Barack Obama’s personal fans.

“The Democratic Party alone reserved 17,000 hotel rooms,” Communications Director for the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau Richard Grant told me on the phone. Unfortunately, downtown Denver only offers 8,000. “These were sold out almost immediately,” Mr. Grant says. “But we are not fully booked yet. There are some rooms still available, although you have to look at the mileage of those hotels from Denver.” In fact, the other 34,000 rooms listed on travel websites are scattered all across the metropolitan area, a region that is as big as Connecticut. As a result, people will end up staying as far as Boulder, approximately 30 miles from the city. Some venues have resorted to creating a system of waiting lists to accommodate late-comers in case of last minute cancellations.

In the meanwhile, of course, prices for the five-day stay have spiraled out of control. As of Monday evening, a double-room at one of the Super 8 Motels around town — Super 8 is one of the cheapest and least fancy motel chains in the US — costs $175 a night during the convention, plus taxes. The same room during the rest of the year is $69 per night. Note that the hotel is nowhere near the Pepsi Center where the convention will be held. Not even the Olympic Games cause this much clamor.

As a consequence, and with demand for short-term sublets that doesn’t seem to recede despite the spike in prices, home-owners jumped on the Dem Convention bandwagon and started renting out their own places to the desperate outsiders. Craigslist.com, a popular website for free classified advertisements, is listing over 200 new properties for lease each day. In the midst of an economic recession and during one the worst housing crisis in the nation’s history, having a piece of real-estate in Denver next week, even just a couch, is an incredibly lucrative asset and residents are trying their utmost to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

On the cheap end of things, one can find a room in a one-bedroom apartment for $70 per night. Relax and enjoy lakeside suburb style and still be a short drive to downtown, the online ad says. As a minor side-detail, the owner notes; I will be using my couch in the living room still. In an egregious public relations spin, this translates into; dinner at least and sometimes breakfast is included every day. For the lovers of Victorian-style houses, Burt is advertising a property that sits on 5 city-lots, 8 minutes from downtown, and closed behind 6’ gates. The cost is a mere $20,000 for the week. If one would rather go for minimalism, Rachel listed a beautiful downtown loft for $200 per night. The only drawback, looking at the attached photos, is that the minimalist in the post’s heading really means completely unfurnished. Finally, for those who would like to discover Colorado’s wilderness in their off-hours between midnight and 8am, one can stay at a horse boarding facility 40 minutes away from Denver and at 8500 feet above sea-level. $200/night gets you a room for 2 with a king sized log bed and feather mattress, your own bathroom, free Wireless internet, full use of the kitchen and I’ll let you help me shovel manure out of the barn (haha), the ad says.

In between extremes and exotic oddities, there are hundreds of regular people that are subletting their studios, 1 or 2 bedroom apartments to strangers, for an average price of between $1,000 and $3,500 for the week. Robert decided to offer the centrally located one bedroom apartment he bought last February for $2,000 for the week. “I normally travel during work days and I’ll be gone next week as well.” So far he has received only one response, from someone who was interested in the apartment for two nights at $700 total. “I don’t think it’s worth my time. Because I have to prepare the apartment for it and doing that for only two nights is not worth it,” Robert told me on the phone.

For those traveling on a budget, such as many of the younger bloggers, the only affordable alternatives are the floors of former college friends or renting a room in a house faraway from the city. Unless a stroke of luck happens, such as calling an inexpensive accommodation downtown a minute after a cancellation has been made. Sometimes it happens and, personally, I will be staying at the Hostel of the Rockies for a miraculous $41 per night.

Originally reported and written for Washington Prism

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