Airbnb's Houston Listings Swell as Super Bowl LI Approaches
Nancy Sarnoff and Alyson Ward | Houston Chronicle | January 6, 2017 1:00am
Jan. 06--When Beyonce flew to the Bay Area for last year's Super Bowl, she didn't stay in a palatial suite in one of San Francisco's five-star hotels. She skipped the hotel scene altogether.
Instead, the superstar rented an entire house in Los Altos Hills, a town not far from Levi's Stadium, where she made a halftime appearance alongside Coldplay and Bruno Mars. The five-bedroom contemporary home overlooking Silicon Valley was listed on Airbnb and Beyonce paid its owner $10,000 a night to stay there.
With the Super Bowl heading to Houston next month, locals are starting to see dollar signs as well, hoping to cash in on visitors' willingness to pay thousands to rent their homes or apartments during the biggest football game of the year.
While Beyonce isn't likely to hit up Airbnb this year -- she's hails from Houston, after all -- plenty of other celebrities will need places to stay. So will countless corporate executives with sky-high lodging budgets, and, of course, all the others simply unable to get a hotel room in town.
Exactly how many takers, and how much they're willing to spend, will become clearer after the participating teams have been determined. In the meantime, a couple of thousand hopeful Houstonians already are checking their emails waiting for the alert that shows their place has been booked during the game.
"My hope is the market is going to get really tight for premium properties," said Michael Salinas, a CPA who's listing his three-bedroom townhouse in Montrose for $3,699 a night during Super Bowl LI.
Local listings on the popular Airbnb rental website have increased 40 percent in just the last two months, the company said.
The city expects about 140,000 out of town guests and there are roughly 84,000 hotel rooms in the metro area, according to A.J. Mistretta, a spokesman for the city's tourism bureau.
"We believe most properties will be full but there are a lot of factors that play in, including who ends up in the game and how far their fans will travel for the experience," Mistretta said in an email.
Chris Bisel is listing his four-bedroom Meyerland home for $5,500 per night. With that, Bisel is offering free chauffeur service in his GMC Yukon XL Denali. He hasn't had any takers yet.
"Frankly, we put it up there at sort of a crazy price just to see what would happen. If we rent the place out for five or six nights, we clear 25 or 30 grand," he said, enough to pay for the first year of college for his daughter, a high school senior.
Ed Pettitt, who has listed rooms of his renovated 1930s house in the Third Ward on Airbnb for nearly a year, has boosted his asking price from as little as $18 a night for a converted sunroom to as much as $200 for a room during the Super Bowl. He worries some people are being unrealistic about their potential windfall.
"I have a feeling those at the higher end are pricing themselves out of the market, which happened to a lot of Airbnb hosts during the Super Bowl in San Francisco," he said in an email. "That being said, there are still a few more games to go, and I anticipate that more folks will be scrambling to find accommodation once they know which teams are heading to the conference championship games, and the Super Bowl itself."
Other websites like VRBO, HomeAway and even Craig's List are among the sites filling with new listings by homeowners hoping to cash in.
"NO NEED TO CALL UBER, TRANSPORTATION INCLUDED!!!!" reads one listing targeting Super Bowl visitors for a four-bedroom home in northeast Houston priced at $5,000 per night.
Another offers "Family & LGBTQ-friendly" lodging in a six-bedroom "estate" in the Heights. The price: $2,875 per night.
As of Jan. 1, Houston had about 5,700 listings on Airbnb, according to the company's most recent data, up from about 4,100 listings at the beginning of November.
During Super Bowl weekend last year, Airbnb guests stayed in more than 4,000 listings in the Bay Area, said Laura Spanjian, public policy director for the San Francisco-based company. The average rate was $225 per night.
"There are some very expensive listings, but there are also some very affordable ones," Spanjian said.
Emily Ammons McGovern and her husband, Esteban Estrada, have listed part of their Fresno home in Fort Bend County for Super Bowl week.
For two bedrooms and a bathroom plus access to the common areas at "Casa Estrada Royale," they're asking $1,100 per night.
McGovern arrived at that asking price by looking at similar listings in the area, then considering what she herself would be willing to pay.
"It really comes down to $550 a night per room," she said.
They, too, are throwing in a personal ride to and from the big game.
"I have been caught in some of the Uber surges around stadiums," McGovern said. She knows that a free ride will likely save her guests well more than $100.
The couple set a three-night minimum for their listing, so if they're successful, they could bring in more than $3,000.
With short-term rentals still a relatively new practice, oversight has been patchy.
Many cities, including Houston, don't regulate short-term rentals. Those that do are dense, tourist-friendly places like Chicago and New Orleans. Austin, the largest market in Texas for Airbnb, is the only city in the state with regulations.
Like hotels short-term rentals like Airbnbs in Houston are subject to a 17 percent hotel occupancy tax. A limited number of hosts, however, pay the tax voluntarily.
Houston First, the local entity that collects hotel occupancy taxes, has been in discussions with Airbnb about tax collection but no agreement has been reached, Mistretta said.
Spanjian said Airbnb guests generate millions in economic activity and rentals are a way to bring more housing options to areas visitors tend to gravitate toward.
"The Super Bowl is a great opportunity to showcase Houston," said Jonathan Brinsden of Midway, the real estate company that owns GreenStreet and CityCentre, which has the upscale Hotel Sorella. Every room there has been booked "for a long time," Brinsden said.
Despite the absence of city regulations, consumers who rent their properties for short stays can be subject to other rules.
Residents of apartment complex La Maison River Oaks recently received notifications reminding them that their leases do not allow subletting and the community does not allow residents to list their units on sites such as Airbnb.
Homeowners are also facing more scrutiny.
Late last year, a San Antonio appeals court ruled in favor of a homeowners association that argued a resident was violating deed restrictions by renting out his house for short-term stays. The court said such short-term rentals violated a restriction that said properties must be used for a residential use.
Houston was one of a dozen large U.S. cities included in a study funded by the American Hotel & Lodging Association study released a year ago by Pennsylvania State University's School of Hospitality Management.
The report claimed some Airbnb hosts function illegally and operate essentially as full-time hotels.
Pettitt, the Third Ward resident, says being a good host takes practice. The first time he got a response to his listing, he said, "I had to make a rush trip to Wal-Mart to get towels and air mattresses."
In each room, he now leaves a basket of gifts that promote small local businesses -- a cookie from a nearby bakery, fresh fruit from the neighborhood co-op and a list of restaurant and entertainment recommendations.
Dozens of people have viewed Salinas' Montrose townhouse online, but he hasn't gotten any takers yet.
He's dropped his price and is offering a 30 percent discount if someone rents for a week.
"I'm starting to believe there's a higher probability that prospective buyers won't commit until the two Super Bowl teams are determined," he said. "That means I won't see much action on the property until the middle of January."
Salinas and his wife moved into the three-story townhouse about a year ago, after raising kids in the suburbs.
They've enjoyed the restaurants and wine bars the inner-loop has to offer, and Salinas said the idea of putting their home on Airbnb had been brewing in his mind for a while. He had some free time one day and decided to go for it.
"My wife kind of freaked out," he said.
For protection, he's asking for a $1,200 security deposit and a $150 cleaning fee. If the townhouse does rent, the couple plans to use the money to help with bills and maybe spruce up the place a bit.
"It could be a disaster," Salinas shared with a nervous laugh. "But it could be a big success."