A real estate developer who surveyed consumers who did not buy his luxury vacation condos believes well-to-do vacationers are coming to the opinion that it's better to "rent their fun" than own it.

Rob McGrath, head of New York-based Private Retreats, says the second home and vacation home markets may be softening - primarily because consumers don't want to have to go to the same place year after year.

McGrath said he started noticing several years ago that the average second home would go back on the market every two or three years. A developer of million-dollar condos in Vail, CO., McGrath also began surveying qualified buyers who did not purchase condos and discovered what he feels is a shift in the market.

"The answers we got started making us think that owning a second home wasn't what it was cracked up to be," he said.

"We found that a lot of people were interest buying second homes with the idea of putting them into a rental pool. What we found, though, was that people weren't getting as much rent as they thought they would, and that it would rent-up whenever they wanted to use it themselves."

He also said his survey of some 2,000 non-buyers suggested maintenance was a problem.

"Even when they have a property manager who handles the big things, we found people didn't like haven't to deal with the knickknacks. They were ending up spending the first two days of their vacations working on the property and usually the last two days, too," he said.

"And then, every December, they were dealing with a six-inch stack of tax paperwork."

"But the biggest single reason we found was that the kids don't want to go anymore. They've been skiing in Vail for the past two years. This year they want to go to Steamboat Springs. So you end up spending $1,000 a night to rent someplace in Steamboat while your place in Vail sits empty."

In a response to what he sees as market demand, McGrath has launched Private Retreats.

The company considers itself a vacation club for the very upscale, with some 60 homes in 12 resort areas spread around the country.

Unlike other clubs that attempt to get as many members as possible, McGrath said Private Retreats is restricting membership to just 400.

"If you think of it like a golf country club, that's a little bit what we're like. A country club limits its membership just a few hundred people. So, if you go out to the golf course during the week, the place is empty. But you need to restrict it so that when members come out and want to play on Saturday morning nobody has a problem getting a tee time.

"We restrict membership so that everybody who wants to go someplace, say, during the holidays, will be pretty much assured of reserving the house they want."

Membership isn't cheap. The buy-in price is $100,000, plus $2,500 per year in dues, plus $150 per house per night.

"That's actually not as much as what it sounds like," says McGrath. "When you consider that condos in top resort locations go for $1,000 per night, when you pro-rate it out its fairly economical."

For your money you stay in a private home owned and maintained by the club. The club already has things like country club memberships, so tee-times are not a hassle. Homes also are staffed by personal butlers and maid services to cater to the whim of the guests.

"We're not an easy box to fit into," McGrath said. "We're not a timeshare. We're not a fractional ownership club. But we are beginning to get a lot of attention from people who are seeing their 'fun' turn into work."

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