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Home owners are making extra coin by renting out rooms

Julie Ransom suggests you spend a quiet night at her Briarwood Manor home in Lawrenceville.

The Palace Garden or Geranium Room can be had for a mere $54 a night.

"I have the space, and there's definitely a need," said Ransom, 46, who has joined scores of homeowners nationwide advertising room rentals online. "With my flexible schedule, it works out well."

Postings at Airbnb.com , which advertises more than 3,000 rooms in 74 countries, have doubled in the past few months, CEO Brian Chesky said.

The number of unique visitors jumped from about 25,000 in February to more than 40,200 in May, according to Compete, which tracks Web site growth.

"Especially in big cities, we are noticing that the demand had improved dramatically," he said. "As the economy started to get worse, people started using us more and more."

Chesky and two partners launched the site in August to provide travelers with an inexpensive alternative to hotels. The average cost per night at a hotel in Allegheny County was $101.38 in 2008, the latest data available from VisitPittsburgh, which promotes tourism in the region.

Ransom, a writer working as a nonprofit consultant, has two rooms for rent in her three-story, five-bedroom "turn-of-the-century mini-mansion" on 44th Street.

She calls her home "Briarwood Manor — an unofficial bed and breakfast."

"You definitely couldn't make a living out of it," said Ransom, who has rented to 20 people in the past 18 months. "But it's nice pocket money to have."

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue requires the collection of a 6 percent hotel occupancy tax from the rental price, spokeswoman Elizabeth Brassell said.

Ransom said she didn't know she was expected to collect a state tax.

"For most of the people who do this, it's just a way to sort of supplement income. It's not a full-time job," she said. "I would think they would have bigger fish to fry."

Eric Adams of the Pennsylvania Lodging and Tourism Association said the group worries that per diem room rentals might tarnish the reputation of traditional bed-and-breakfasts. But Ed Menzer, owner of the Parador Inn of Pittsburgh in the North Side, isn't concerned.

"I don't consider that competition at all," he said.

Point Breeze empty-nesters Stephanie Sullivan, 58, and her husband remodeled two third-floor bedrooms for visits from their four children and three grandchildren. But that's only three or four weeks a year, so they decided to rent their Garden and Parasol rooms, Sullivan said.

Since April, the Sullivans have rented to five people, each of whom received home-cooked breakfasts, she said.

Tony Vanky, 25, of Ann Arbor, Mich., booked a night with the Sullivans prior to interviewing for graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University. He said the chocolate French toast Sullivan made was delicious.

"The amenities were better than any hotel," he said. "I think for travelers who are concerned with costs, this is a great alternative."

Additional Information:

Places to sleep

Some recent postings on airbnb.com :

A sofa bed in an apartment in Honolulu for $35 a night.

A giant hammock hung within the second-story floorboards of a San Francisco pad for $45 night.

A beachfront condo in Miami for $69 a night.

A loft with a skylight view of the stars over Venice, Calif., for $30 a night.

A queen-sized futon in a tree house in Lincoln, Vt., for $50 a night.

Source: Airbnb.com

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