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Summer wind: fed up with the trouble of owning second homes, luxury travelers join residence clubs to live in style worldwide.

For some, buying a second home is not always what it's cracked up to be. Properties have to be maintained. They cost a lot of money. Family members will often invite themselves over to use them--especially when you're not there. All vacations are spent at the same place, and only the weather changes. Gone, too, are the days of hopping on a plane to visit some exotic corner of the globe.

For retiring millionaires, though, there's a variation on the old time-share scheme, one that puts private equity and luxury living hand-in-hand. That's the case at Crescendo, which manages high-end homes for its members. The model is straightforward. Invest US$300,000 in a fund that will develop 36 homes valued around $3 million each. Currently, the portfolio operates six homes, two in Mexico and four in the United States, although expansion plans include Central America and the Caribbean.

Investors may spend up to 17 nights at any location per year. All investors must be accredited, meaning they have $1 million in assets or they have earned $200,000 a year for the past two years. Fueling demand for this type of travel is the growing number of retiring baby boomers, the giant demographic group of U.S. citizens born in the late 1940s and 1950s. Those retiring baby boomers will be willing to spend big bucks traveling, says Chris Soderquist, the company's chief operating officer.

"Instead of buying one second home or cramming the family in a hotel room, why not own a portfolio of high-end luxury homes," says Soderquist, who has money invested in the company. The properties so far include 790 square meters of space in Punta Mita, Mexico as well as a spacious Manhattan residence overlooking Central Park. All interior designers are local to the areas of the development. "They are extraordinary but not over the top," Soderquist says.

Not all such businesses catering to high-end tourists require members to be accredited investors. Some charge an initial deposit and yearly fees. Participants don't own the properties but are part of an exclusive club that manages properties. Dream Catcher Retreats is one. The company owns 19 homes in the United States, Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean. For a $325,000 deposit and yearly fees for $18,150, Dream Catcher members spend time in homes and enjoy full concierge service. Some properties cater to ski enthusiasts while others are for golfers. Most often, people who buy and own second homes spend just 28 days a year there, says Lisa Weltz, vice president for marketing at Dream Catcher. That leaves well over 300 days for the owner to worry about the house. Taxes on a second home can be fairly high, too, a cost that a club member can sidestep. All Dream Catcher homes are luxury homes that tend be 500 square meters and have values of around $3 million.

"We take away the maintenance, the hassle and the property tax," says Weltz. According to the company, annual costs of owning a luxury home--taxes, insurance, utilities, cleaning and maintenance--can be more than triple the company's yearly fee. Plus members can get a portion of their deposit back if they resign after a minimum of two years of membership. Membership will cap at 400 people. Currently there are just shy of 100 members.

Even for those who travel every once in a while, buying a membership in a residence club is cheaper than renting, says Andy Thorns, vice president of business development at BelleHavens, an equity destination club. For a couple or a family that travels frequently, the per-night cost goes down by purchasing membership in a destinations club.

While renting a house can cost a traveler thousands of dollars per day, BelleHavens members pay the equivalent of $400 a night for a property in the Colorado Rockies. BelleHavens currently sells general memberships for $200,000, although that figure could rise should demand pick up. The member gets an equity stake in the club, which currently owns 12 properties with full concierge service. The investment is debt free, and membership will pick up, says Thoms. For every 10 new members, BelleHavens will add another luxury property.

"You get usage of that portfolio for a fraction of the cost of owning those homes," says Thoms.

FORREST JONES * MIAMI
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Title Annotation:real estate
Author:Jones, Forrest
Publication:Latin Trade
Geographic Code:0LATI
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:717
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