So much romance goes into the decision to buy mountain real estate that it's all too easy to overlook the dark side. When you're about to sign on the dotted line, the visions you have are of ski lifts outside your door and oak logs burning in the fireplace. The drudgery of maintaining this cozy hideaway rarely enters the picture, but by the time you've applied the fourth coat of sealer to the deck, fixed a frozen water pipe and shelled out for roof repairs, you may wonder if you've become a slave to your second home.
Is there a solution? Perhaps it's time to consider a private residence club, where you can sit back and let someone else do the worrying-and the painting. Also known in the trade as "high-end fractionals," these upscale new properties combine the conveniences of a home-like setting with the amenities and services of a four- or five-star hotel. And here's the best part: If you can afford even an entry-level mountain home or condo, chances are you can afford a residence club-and at a resort that would normally be well beyond your price range.
It didn't take long for Richard Liebler, a 55-year-old automobile dealer from Tewksbury, N.J., to do the math. Passionate about Snowmass, Colo., the Liebler clan, with four kids, had been looking at property there for some time. But as they prowled through Seventies-era condominiums, where sellers were demanding up to $1.8 million for three-bedroom units, they were less than inspired. Then they saw a model for The Timbers Club, a new complex of 36 three-bedroom residences that is now under construction at the base of the Assay Hill lift. It was love at first sight.
For $330,000, the Lieblers bought a one-eighth, undivided interest, which gives them a guaranteed six weeks a year at the club. But their membership comes with a lot more value than that. They and the other owners have the right to use any of the 36 units whenever they can and as often as they wish during additional "space-available weeks," as long as they make advance reservations and cover maid's fees. They can send unaccompanied guests to the club during four "priority" weeks (typically two in winter and two in summer) or bring friends with them during their bonus weeks.
There's only one major prohibition: No rentals. That's just fine with the Lieblers, who would prefer to do without the indifference of renters. "We're talking about 21st- century styling, about first-class furnishings and finish work, about something that's brand new," says Liebler. "The only downside is that we have to be flexible with our time, which can mean pulling our kids out of school for a week."
Arguably the hottest new category of second-home real estate, "fractionals" may well redefine the timeshare industry. At last count, according to a study by Ragatz Associates of Eugene, Ore., 62 fractional projects in various stages are located throughout the country. Of that number, two-thirds are at ski resorts and a third are in Colorado.
Defining the category is not easy, since there are so many variables among clubs. Typically, shares range from two weeks to three months, are sold as deeded ownerships and cost an average of $23,000 to $35,000 per week for two-bedroom units. They can be townhouses, hotel-style suites or even cabins, such as at the Roaring Fork Club in Aspen, Colo. They come with fully furnished designer interiors and a level of finish work that is several pegs above the run-of-the-mill timeshare. In addition to the requisite "great room," there is usually an on-site staff that includes concierge, valet and housekeeping. Annual dues of $4,000 to $10,000 pay for employees, taxes and upkeep.
In creating an image for high-end fractionals, developers take great pains to avoid using the "timeshare" label, which has become such a pejorative term that even the hint of a timeshare project, with its perception of arm-twisting salesmen, is enough to turn off potential buyers. In truth, residence clubs and other interval--ownership projects have some similarities, among them a deeded interest that can be willed or transferred. But, apart from the much higher level of amenities and finish work, the residence clubs differ in the way they handle exchanges and rentals, if they allow them at all. Generally, you are restricted to trading only with owners in the same family of clubs, such as with The Owners Club in Telluride, which is part of the Club Corp network. In order to assure exclusivity, the high-end clubs shun the well-known exchange organizations such as RCI and Interval International.
While residence clubs are not, strictly speaking, entirely new in concept-the forerunners include Deer Valley Club in Park City and Franz Klammer Lodge in Telluride-the recent entry of hotel companies such as Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons has kicked things up a notch. The Ritz-Carlton Club, a new division of the company, opened its first project last March at Aspen Highlands, where it is the anchor of an emerging village. Another club is under construction in Bachelor Gulch at Beaver Creek, alongside a new 238-room Ritz-Carlton hotel.
In Aspen, two-bedroom residences-looking much like a suite in the hotel-are being sold in one-twelfth (four-week) interests, starting at around $180,000. The resemblance is not accidental; the company prefers to piggy-back residence clubs with its full-service hotels, creating common amenities for guests and owners as well as efficiencies in management, according to Bob Phillips, vice president of business development for the Ritz-Carlton Club.
Representing the moderate-price category, Marriott last summer announced a new brand-Marriott Grand Residence Club-that will be positioned between the Ritz-Carlton Club (which it owns) and the well-established Marriott Vacation Club, which sells one-week increments. The first project is at South Lake Tahoe, where the company bought rights to what was originally conceived as American Skiing Company's Grand Summit Resort. While Marriott was obliged to inherit the quarter-share arrangement because of extensive pre-sales, Ed Kinney, senior director of brand and public relations, says future projects may vary in the duration of fractions offered.
Apart from the heavyweight hotel groups, ski-area developers are also ramping up their investment in high-end fractionals. At the Snowmass Club, which was built by Aspen Skiing Company, plans are being devised for a second phase that will take a bold step-building much larger units in four- and five-bedroom configurations. East West Partners, which built the successful Hyatt Vacation Club in Beaver Creek, has another fractional Hyatt project underway in Breckenridge. And it recently announced a 600-acre, 270-unit development in Truckee, Calif., near Lake Tahoe's North Shore ski areas, called Old Greenwood.
Industry observers see robust growth in the residential club concept, largely because buyers are more interested in convenience, luxury and quality of services than in any future appreciation in value. Though the category is too new to have much of a track record on resales, a study by Hobson Ferrarini Associates of Portland, Ore, noted that the Deer Valley Club, the oldest of the genre, has had a small annual turnover rate of 5 percent. And its average appreciation of 16 percent a year is more than respectable for a fractional project. "If this example is indicative of normal appreciation," says the study, "the future of fractionals is assured."