Royal wedding bonanza for London homeowners

By The Associated Press

LONDON — They may not get chocolate on the pillow — but at least they’ll have a pillow.

Tourists eager to soak up the pomp of this spring’s royal wedding will be hard pressed to find a hotel room, as an estimated half-million others will be here with the same idea. But for those willing to pay a premium (and do without amenities) there’s a solution: their very own London flat.

“Hotels are going to be very full,” says Jane Ingram, head of Savills Plc’s rentals unit. “People are going to need to look at private apartments as an alternative.”

London’s roughly 120,000 hotel rooms are nowhere near enough to accommodate the hordes of royalty buffs expected for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. That means many Londoners plan to do what they always do whenever a big event hits town — rent out their homes for a huge profit.

Homeowners have been known to rake in up to 50 percent more than normal rental rates during big ticket occasions such as Wimbledon, but around the April 29 wedding date, apartments are expected to go for three to four times normal.

But that won’t put off die-hard royal watchers eager to hear wedding bells chime.

“It’s not every day that a royal gets married,” says Kim Bourke, who booked her ticket from Melbourne, Australia as soon as the wedding date was announced.

She opted for a “guerrilla approach” to accommodation hunting by posting an ad on the UK’s Gumtree website in hopes of finding a nice, cozy apartment to rent to witness the latest chapter of a “real life fairytale.”

What she found was a sobering reality — offers from homeowners asking sky-high rents. “I don’t want to pay for someone’s holiday,” she complains. Still, after surveying the market, she’s resigned to having to pay a royal wedding premium.

“It’s a special occasion,” Bourke says. “I have to be realistic because it’s going to cost a little bit more.”

Some property websites are specifically geared to connecting homeowners with people looking for housing during major London events. Matthew Parker’s londonrentmyhouse.com started as such a matchmaker for the London 2012 Olympics, but expanded once inquiries about the wedding streamed in from owners looking to cash in.

“People love the royal family,” said Parker. “So a lot of people are willing to pay top dollar to actually be near them.”

After seeing friends pocket sizable sums for renting their apartments during Wimbledon, Jonathan Thornton decided to try his luck for April.

“Its a way of getting a bit of extra cash,” says Thornton, a 27-year-old bass-guitarist. The spare room in his apartment near London’s Tower Bridge normally rents for about 150 pounds a week ($237) but Thornton has put it on Gumtree at 500 pounds ($792) a week for the royal wedding.

He’s hoping that staying in an apartment will appeal to travelers looking for a home away from home. The rental boasts a double-room with a TV, wardrobe, chest of drawers, private bathroom, free subway card and the city smarts of Thornton, who has lived in London for six years.

That will help — as Tower Bridge is several miles (kilometers) away from the likely wedding route.

One rental website, HomeAway.co.uk, has already had 300 inquiries about holiday rentals in the Westminster area — two or three times its typical volume for this time of year. That’s the neighborhood where William and Kate will exchange vows — a prime location for royal watchers looking to bask in the wedding hubbub.

To some Londoners like Andrew Shillam, getting out of town is as appealing as some extra income. The 52-year-old property developer is hoping to rent out his four-bedroom home right “in the thick of it” near Westminster Abbey.

“It doesn’t interest me whatsoever,” he says.

Ed Thornton, no relation to Jonathan Thornton, and his wife already had a holiday booked when the prince and Middleton set a date. They had paid about 1,500 pounds for two roundtrip tickets to attend a friend’s wedding in Australia and hope that they can break even on the trip by renting out their Victorian home.

Thornton had no qualms about leaving Britain during the historic moment.

“We’d much rather be at the wedding of a close friend,” he says, “than at a wedding of people we don’t know.”