The New Timeshares

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2007

Is partial ownership by any other name still a timeshare? It’s more than a riddle—the latest trend in real estate is fractional ownership: owning a sliver of a piece of property rather than just the annual rights to using it.

With the real estate market in the doldrums across the country, fractional ownership is one of the few bright spots.

According to a recent New York Times article, fractional real estate sales were $1.65 billion last year, up about 30 percent over 2005. Unlike their “downscale” cousin the timeshare, which had about six times the sales, fractional developers stress luxury accommodations with personalized amenities such as a stocked fridge and concierge services. Fractional owners have a property deed and share ownership and maintenance costs for million-dollar residences with typically about four to 12 owners, who have the rights to three weeks or more a year of use.

Fractionals have become common at Caribbean resorts and expensive vacation locales such as Vail and Jackson Hole, but they’re fairly new to Florida. And it’s the real estate market that’s put them into the spotlight.

“It’s very difficult to find buyers for upper-end units now,” says Jack McCabe, a Deerfield Beach real estate analyst. “Speculators are gone; people can’t sell their own homes up north, preventing them from moving to Florida. Developers are looking at fractional to get some sales.”

In Southwest Florida, fractionals began making an appearance last fall with projects such as the DeSoto Grande on Anna Maria Island and the Hibiscus Inn on Stickney Point Road in Sarasota.

Now there are a handful more in the works, including the Tidemark Resorts Beach and Marina Residence Club on Anna Maria and the Hyatt Residence Beach Club at Siesta Key.

“We’re selling an alternative lifestyle for people who can afford a $1 million to $2 million home, but don’t want the hassles,” says Doug Macarthur, director of sales for Tidemark. “When residents come, we’ll have a boat at their disposal with other high-end amenities” such as a stocked fridge with favorite wines and gourmet foods.

The Tidemark developers partnered with Beach Bistro restaurant owner Sean Murphy, who shuttered his Beach Inn in the spring to convert it to 15 luxury condos. Last year, Murphy had planned to go with a condo-hotel concept with units selling for about $900,000 but then opted to build fractionals when the real estate market stagnated. Developers are hoping Murphy’s beachfront location and Zagat-rated restaurant will bring a built-in customer base.

"Our initial marketing is going to be regional; people within a two-hour drive," says McNeill. "Then in about two months, we'll hit the Midwest and Northeast and then the foreign markets."

The Tidemark will have two locations, one on the beach with 15 residences and less than a mile away,  30 residences on a marina.

Tidemark fractional residences begin at $155,000 and will have as many as eight owners who will have four to six weeks of use. Owners can swap out locations but otherwise, they won’t be open to the public, Macarthur says.

On Siesta Key, Triton Companies is partnering with Hyatt to develop the $100 million Hyatt Residence Beach Club as a fractional. Triton intends to demolish the 50 existing Sea Castle rental units and develop 45 high-end homes. Fractional owners will pay about $250,000 plus fees for a 2,000-square-foot unit they can use for about four weeks a year.

“We had to think outside the box with the real estate market being what it is today,” says Brent Virkus, president of Triton, a development company with offices in Sarasota, Detroit and New York City.

“Although many fractional buyers can afford a $3 million beachfront home, with fractionals they get an ultra-luxurious retreat that is fully staffed to take care of both the residence when they are not there and their personal on-site needs when they are,” says Virkus.

Triton closed on the property in June and plans to demolish the Sea Castle and begin building early next year. Virkus says he’s already secured financing from the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm.

It’s too soon to tell whether these fractional projects will stick and overcome buyers’ reluctance to plunk down money on Florida real estate, but developers are promoting it as a new kind of upscale home ownership. Some lenders are even writing mortgages for fractionals. Affluent buyers are already used to the concept of fractional ownership when it comes to corporate jets and yachts, so fractional home ownership isn’t such a leap. Minus the deed, however, they sound a lot like upscale timeshares. Some fractional developments are partnering with companies that specialize in arranging exchanges for properties at other destinations.

“The jury is out on fractionals,” says McCabe. “Are these things going to appreciate? It’s too soon to tell. There’s not enough to track history. But you’re going to see a bunch more of them pop up.”


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