Visitors want to pay hundreds of dollars to stay with you for the Indianapolis 500
Over 300,000 people come to Indianapolis, and they would love to crash at your place.
Record ticket sales for the 100th race of the Indianapolis 500 suggest the May 29 race will draw the biggest crowd in decades. Over 200,000 grandstand tickets reserved have soldand the infield could attract an additional 100,000 people, many of whom are out-of-town visitors.
Demand for lodging has overwhelmed the Indianapolis market’s 33,000 hotel rooms, leaving people desperate to stay where they can — an apartment, a guest room, or even a spare couch in your living room. And they are willing to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars for this privilege.
The popularity of this year’s Indianapolis 500 has provided a rare opportunity for anyone who lives near downtown or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to reap significant profits by listing their homes for rent on Airbnb. The online listing service allows users or hosts to rent their entire home or any additional space within it.
“If you want to earn $500, $600 a night for your accommodation, go ahead and list it,” said Ian McHenry, the president of Beyond the pricesa San Francisco company that works with its customers to set Airbnb prices.
Between 88% and 95% of Airbnb listings in Indianapolis have already been booked on race weekend, McHenry said, creating a rare level of scarcity for any event in any city. Competition for places to stay is more intense than it was in the San Francisco area for the Super Bowl in February and is comparable to the annual South by Southwest festivals and conferences in Austin, Texas, McHenry said.
“There’s nothing available downtown. It’s pretty amazing,” McHenry said. “When hotels sell out, that’s when people start to panic and look elsewhere. And that apparently happened almost eight weeks ago for many hotels. So once it happens, that’s when they start looking at Airbnb and other alternative combinations.”
No room for hostels
Indianapolis-area hotels were nearly sold out on March 15, according to Visit Indy, the city’s tourism agency.
Full occupancy is not unheard of in Indianapolis. That usually happens at bigger events, such as the Final Fours and the 2014 National Rifle Association annual meetings, said Chris Gahl, vice president of marketing for Visit Indy. But people are settling for options much further out of town than usual as the big race approaches.
The request “caused compression all the way to Muncie, Bloomington, Fort Wayne, even South Bend,” Gahl said. “The desire to score a room is so high that we’re getting calls and placing people as far away as South Bend.”
Those unwilling to compromise on location face escalating rates. As cancellations have cropped up in recent days, Gahl said rooms are being rebooked for between $900 and $1,000. It’s “approaching Super Bowl level,” Gahl said.
Hotels earn on average 20% more per room than a year ago. Visit Indy could not provide specific fare figures.
“It’s supply and demand at their best,” Gahl said. “If someone wants to make the trip to see the 100th race and they can stay in downtown Indianapolis or Bloomington, chances are they’ll be well off enough to pick the hotel room. downtown.”
“Money While Sleeping”
But not everyone is willing to spend $1,000 on a hotel room – or stay 2.5 hours away from the race
Joseph Lese, a 39-year-old architect, began renting his one-bedroom condo north of downtown in March.
Lese normally charges $100 a night but posted her condo on Airbnb for $250 a night the weekend of the race. He booked within weeks, he said.
“It makes me money while I sleep,” he said. “It’s nice to have the option of being somewhere else during the times I’ve rented it. It’s a great solution.”
Airbnb charges a 3% fee, which Lese called “very minimal.” He uses Airbnb money as extra pocket money.
“I don’t do it often, because I like being at home,” he said. “But during times when I’m busy or away, it’s kind of a win-win to make some extra money.”
Airbnb isn’t the only way people can rent out their homes. Some people use Craigslist or other online SEO services such as HomeAway. But Airbnb has become the most popular option. Airbnb, for example, has more than 1,200 listings in the Indianapolis area — up from about 500 a year ago — while HomeAway has about 60, according to Beyond Pricing.
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Austin Huntington said he decided over the past two weeks to make some extra money with the Indianapolis 500. He listed his one-bedroom apartment near Monument Circle on Airbnb.
“I considered Craigslist, but Airbnb seemed much safer and more secure,” Huntington wrote in an email.
Huntington has listed his home for $200 a night — a bargain considering most similar listings rent for at least $400 to $600. He booked within three hours.
“I didn’t even intend to list it initially, so I wasn’t too greedy,” Huntington said.
A $400 couch
A few people take a different approach. One listing, for example, advertises a couch near Lucas Oil Stadium — for $400 a night.
But unrealistic rosters seem to be the exception, said McHenry, who analyzed local rates for IndyStar. McHenry estimates that a one-bedroom apartment or condo in downtown Indianapolis should generally fetch around $150 a night. The Indianapolis 500 allows Airbnb users to attract prices four times higher than normal, he said.
“It looks like there are only 200 Airbnbs listed right now,” McHenry said. “And 120 of them seem to be over $500 a night. I think anything out there will probably be booked.”
Airbnb hosts take several approaches to setting prices. Airbnb offers users the option of using flexible pricing, which automatically changes the price based on demand. Jeff and Lindsay Carl have set flexible prices for their home in Fountain Square. An extra bedroom in their home typically rents for $80 to $90 a night.
Still, users need to remember to manually raise the price before major events – a lesson Jeff learned with the 2015 Final Four.
“That one took me by surprise,” he said. “I hadn’t adjusted my rates, so they got a really good deal.”
The Carls have set their nightly rate at over $300 for this year’s Indianapolis 500 weekend. It’s been booked for almost a year.
Some users who are new to Airbnb have undervalued their listing. Indiana University students Laura Green and Evan Rouse at Purdue University in Indianapolis began listing their Old Northside studio in November. They usually list the apartment for $75, but quickly increased the price for the Indianapolis 500 weekend – down to just $90 a night. It was quickly rented out to customers who will be traveling from Chile.
“We kick our ass for this because we totally could have charged more,” Green said. “We had no idea because we just started. We were just grateful to have a reservation.”
Now that they figured it out, though, Green said they made so much money renting out their apartment on the weekends that Airbnb covered their monthly rent. They hope to make next year’s Indianapolis 500 more profitable.
“We’ll be fair, but I think we’ll list it a bit more,” Green said.
Still, McHenry said, it’s better to underestimate your home’s value than to overestimate it, especially with only a few days left until the race.
“Good luck to the guy with the $400 couch,” McHenry said, “but he might want to lower that.”
Call IndyStar reporter James Briggs at (317) 444-6307. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesEBriggs.