Timeshares WIth A Twist

Fractional ownership makes impossibly upscale vacation homes possible.



Overlooking the 17th green of the lush Norman golf course, this La Quinta, California, residence has four bedrooms, a separate guest house, and a stunning, palm-lined patio with swimming pool and hot tub: a perfect Rat Pack Retreat.

In a perfect world, in addition to my home in Northern Westchester, I’d have a pied-à-terre in Manhattan, a ski lodge out West, a beach villa in the Caribbean, and maybe a country home in the south of France. Or Tuscany. Or both.

Of course, that’s just a fantasy, only for The Donalds of the world…or is it? Fractional ownership (aka destination or private-residence clubs) is becoming increasingly popular, making it—dare we say?—surprisingly affordable.

How does fractional ownership differ from timeshares? The Sherpa Report Guide to Shared Luxury Property describes the private residence club as a Mercedes SL500 and a timeshare as a Dodge Neon. “Both are cars and both will get you from A to B,” the guide explains, “but when you buy a Mercedes, you get a large luxury vehicle with all the latest features and will receive impeccable service at the dealership.”

Enjoy ski-in/ski-out access to the slopes from this deluxe four-to-five bedroom mountain lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with an expansive great room, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, whirlpool spa, and spacious terraces. Close to wilderness hiking, snowshoeing, and snowmobile trails.

It works on a model much like a country club: members buy in with a one-time deposit (mostly refundable if you choose to leave the club), which ranges from $30,000 to more than $1 million, according to Halogen Guides, an online resource for luxury consumers, which has covered the relatively new industry since 2005. The amount of the deposit generally correlates with the average value of the homes, so a $300,000 to $400,000 membership deposit will get you homes valued from $2 to $3 million. Annual fees range from $2,300 to $86,000 and typically include travel planning, concierge, and housekeeping services.

Members choose the number of nights of vacation they would like in any of the club’s destinations, mostly three- and four-bedroom homes in deluxe vacation locations. Since you’re buying deeded ownership, some banks will allow you to finance your fractional purchase. By comparison, if you were to buy just one $3 million vacation property, your 20 percent down payment would set you back $600,000, plus annual maintenance and taxes on the property and the headaches of second-home ownership. And why limit yourself to just one deluxe abode?

Write your own Under the Tuscan Sun script at Terra Toscana in the birthplace of the Renaissance. When not drinking in the views of olive trees and grape vines, take a side trip to Florence to visit Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and other priceless works of art.

According to the latest Halogen Guides, the average cost per night at destination clubs works out to be $1,600 versus $4,500 for a three-bedroom suite at Las Ventanas in Cabo San Lucas or $2,799 for a cabin at The Peaks at Telluride, Colorado.

Curious what kind of digs to expect, I checked out a Quintess penthouse apartment near Times Square in Manhattan. Set in a gorgeous building, the fabulous two-bedroom, two-bath apartment featured a fully appointed kitchen (stocked with my favorite Chardonnay and nibbles), a spacious living room with a flat-screen TV, and knock-your-socks-off city views through floor to ceiling windows. And, man oh man, even a Duxiana bed in the master bedroom. Definitely Mercedes all the way.

But wait, there’s more. Most of the clubs come with personal concierges who will plan your trip, stock the Sub-Zero, and snag tickets to the theater and reservations at restaurants at which you’d otherwise need an agent to get in. Or, perhaps you’d prefer a cozy evening in your home away from home? A personal chef can be called in to cook for you. All you have to do is ask.

Your Times Square home away from home is close to the Theater District, shopping, museums, and restaurants, but the fully (and beautifully) appointed apartment is so appealing you’ll be hard pressed to leave: dramatic floor-to-ceiling views, a rooftop observatory, an entertainment lounge, an exercise center, and more.

 

So, what are the odds that you’ll actually be able to schedule a vacation in a property when you want it, say a ski lodge during Presidents Week or a beach house for spring break? Exclusivity has its benefits: the Solstice Collection has about 80 members sharing 13 homes around the world, plus a 90-foot yacht. With more than 425 members and 70 properties, Quintess is larger, but still has a six-to-one member-to-home ratio. The key is planning, says Kelly Craig, director of member services at Quintess. “We manage our members’ vacation portfolios and help them plan how to maximize their nights and when to book the ski trips or beach stays during holiday periods.”

So at worst, your biggest hardship might just be having to choose between skiing in Aspen or soaking up the sun in Los Cabos. Or sailing in the Caribbean. Or gambling in Vegas. Or all of the above.

 

The Players

Everlands

Everlands is the latest entrant to the ultra-luxury end of the destination-club scene with a $1 million entry fee. Instead of buying up individual homes, Everlands snaps up entire resorts such as an old Rockefeller Great Camp deep in the Adirondacks, Lake Rotoroa Lodge in New Zealand, and Bristol Bay Lodge in Alaska. Members have unlimited use of the properties.

Exclusive Resorts

Launched in 2002, Exclusive Resorts has grown from 100 members to 3,000. The club’s $1 billion portfolio consists of 350 residences in 40 locations (including Africa and Antarctica) with another 125 in development. Each has access to world-class resort amenities, including a concierge staff available around the clock. The deposit, which is 100 percent refundable, ranges from $105,000 to $350,000; annual dues range from $13,900 for 10 nights to $59,900 for 60.

LUSSO Collection

LUSSO Collection offers unlimited use of properties, averaging $4 million each, to its 150 members. When guests arrive at a LUSSO location, a private car brings them to a home stocked with the family’s favorite food, along with car seats, games, golf clubs, bikes, and a car in the driveway. There is also a 24/7 concierge service. A membership deposit of $425,000 is 100 percent refundable; annual dues are $28,000.

One Key World

One Key World is the most economical choice with no deposit required and the option of 15-, 25-, or 45-night packages that start at $34,900 for 15 nights, not including holidays, at any of 300 luxury homes in 30 U.S. and international destinations.

Quintess

Quintess, The Leading Residences of the World, has 70-plus properties with an average value of $4 million. A buy-in of $250,000 gives you 20 nights at any combination of the properties, including one holiday period, with annual dues of $21,000, or about $1,000 a night. There is 24/7 concierge service and on-site hosts in every destination. Membership is 100 percent refundable in the first year; 80 percent in the second year and beyond.

The Solstice Collection

The Solstice Collection requires a membership deposit ranging from $615,000 to $1,950,000 for unlimited nights (the higher rates allow for more advance access nights) with annual dues of $34,000 to $86,000. The deposit is 100 percent refundable after the second year. Each of the 13 properties (and a yacht) is “architecturally significant,” according to the company, averaging $6.5 million. It won the “Best of the Best” award by Robb Report and Business Britain magazines in 2007.

Ultimate Escapes

Ultimate Resort and Private Escapes recently merged to form the second largest player in the destination-club industry. It offers three tiers (homes valued at $1 million, $2 million, or more than $3 million) and five plans. Deposits range from $70,000 to $450,000 and annual fees of $8,000 to $46,000. The club maintains an 80 percent deposit refund.

Nancy L. Claus is a features editor at Westchester Magazine.