Wealthy clamor for luxury condo-hotel properties

Cities including Miami, New York and Los Angeles see renewed demand for properties with amenities comparable to full-service hotels.

Jul 2, 2014 @ 3:24 pm EST

Rainer Viete, who visits Florida from Venezuela about once a month, said he's buying an apartment at the Hyde Resort & Residences hotel-condo project near Miami so he can order a meal or rent out his apartment when he wants.

“I love the amenities the building will have — a restaurant that can provide room service, a concierge, maintenance, a person that can clean your place, valet parking,” said Mr. Viete, 25, who works for his family's real estate company in Caracas. The $250 million project, scheduled to break ground in August, is already 85% sold.

Developers across the U.S. are reviving a concept that collapsed with the real estate crash in 2008: combining condominiums and hotels. In cities including Miami, New York and Los Angeles, a rebounding hospitality market is joining with rising demand for luxury homes, spurring developers to construct new full-service hotels and ask premium prices for residential units associated with a high-end brand.

“One plus one makes three,” said hotelier Ian Schrager, who is developing Miami Beach's Edition, a luxury lodging-and-residential tower with Marriott International Inc., and a similar project on Manhattan's Lower East Side with Witkoff Group. “When you add condos to a hotel, the sum of the parts is more than the value of each individual component alone. They complement each other.”

In March of last year, an undisclosed U.S. buyer agreed to pay $34 million for the two unfinished penthouses at Mr. Schrager's Miami Beach Edition, scheduled to open later this year.


Also in Miami, Richard LeFrak, the billionaire chief executive officer of New York-based LeFrak Organization Inc., is developing 1Hotel & Homes South Beach with investor Barry Sternlicht. Demand has been so strong that Mr. LeFrak is considering another hotel with condos in Los Angeles, he said in an interview.

In nearby Beverly Hills, developer Beny Alagem is planning two Waldorf Astoria condo towers, to be built after a luxury hotel is constructed adjacent to the Beverly Hilton. In Santa Monica, the city is evaluating a redevelopment plan under which a 16-story residential tower would be added to the existing Fairmont Miramar Hotel.

“You are seeing more and more condos that are associated with a hotel brand,” said Mr. LeFrak. Residents need only “make one phone call. 'Change the linens, put food in my fridge, get my car ready.' They don't have to bother with organizing a lot of things. It's a big draw.”


Steve Nagelberg, a 60-year-old orthopedic surgeon, said such amenities and a high-end brand name attracted him to the Ritz-Carlton Residences in downtown Los Angeles. He and his wife bought a 4,100-square-foot (380-square-meter) three-bedroom unit with panoramic views in early 2012. The project was conceived before the current development wave as part of Anschutz Entertainment Group's 4 million-square-foot L.A. Live entertainment complex.

“No matter how wealthy you are, you are always considering where to park your cash,” Mr. Nagelberg said in a telephone interview. “But when I saw the Ritz-Carlton name, I thought, you can depend on this. I knew this type of company would be here not just a year from now, but 20 years from now.”

For developers, adding condos to a hotel project can attract financing that may not otherwise be available, said Bruce Ford, senior vice president and director of business development at Lodging Econometrics Inc., a Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based consulting firm.

“Whenever you do mixed use, different developers are awarded different phases with different time horizons,” Mr. Ford said in a telephone interview. “That provides for different types of income with different returns. That can help attract different types of investors, while it also diversifies your revenue stream.”


The U.S. hotel industry has recovered since the financial and property-market meltdown. Room rates in the first five months of this year reached a record, according to Jan Freitag, senior vice president at research firm STR Inc. Through May, the average price for a hotel stay nationwide jumped to $113.58 a night, up 4.1% from a year earlier, according to the Hendersonville, Tenn.-based company.

Even with rising demand, few new hotels — particularly full-service ones with restaurants, bars and other amenities — have been built because construction financing has been difficult to obtain, Mr. Ford said. In the two highest lodging segments, 45 hotels were under construction as of December, compared with 130 at the end of 2007, according to STR.


“It's still hard to finance a pure hotel play,” Mr. Ford said. In big cities, “it's just very expensive to build. So until the hotel is completed and returns money, you can sell condos and finance the hospitality component. The hotel component in turn will provide you with long-term cash flow.”

Condo developments with a hotel can be structured in several ways. In some cases, residences may be connected to the lodging segment only so that owners can take advantage of the hotel's amenities and benefit from the brand's prestige. That tends to put a premium on unit prices.

In other developments, known as condo-hotels, a portion of the condos are made available to the hotel when owners aren't using them, producing revenue for residents.

During the last recession, some buyers of condo-hotel projects incorrectly assumed unlimited property-value appreciation and lodging demand that would supply lucrative returns. During the financial-market meltdown, many projects faltered, said Jim Butler, chairman of the global hospitality group at Los Angeles-based law firm Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP.


Casualties included SB Hotel Associates' Trump International Hotel & Tower in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The project stalled, and some residential buyers sued after Donald Trump pulled out in 2009. In Chicago, the Shangri-La hotel-condo development came to a halt in 2008 after reaching the 28th floor, and the property's skeleton was unfinished until New York-based Related Cos. resumed construction in 2012.

“Residential and hotel are two very different and separate businesses,” said Neil Shah, president of Hersha Hospitality Trust, a real estate investment trust that owns hotels including the Rittenhouse in Philadelphia. “The differences require extra caution and expertise. In great times you can leverage them together, but the risk is not just financial but also operationally very significant.”

While financing of condo purchases in hotel projects may be less risky than during the last housing boom, other risks remain, including the potential for overbuilding, according to Mr. Butler, the hospitality attorney.


“Developers will build whenever they can,” he said. “If construction financing comes in within months, there will be an explosion of new projects. That is what we've done for 100 years. The only discipline to be had is from the financing side. Developers won't show any restraint.”

In Miami, Related Group of Florida has four projects under way that include a condo-hotel component, which will make some of the units available for hotel use when vacant. Much of the buyer demand is coming from South American investors, according to CEO Jorge Perez.

Mr. Perez, who had to restructure more than $1.5 billion in debt on mostly vacant Florida condos in 2010, is looking to protect himself from potential future downturns by requiring at least 50% equity from buyers.


The $150 million Beachwalk hotel-residential project in Hallandale Beach, Fla., which Mr. Perez expects to be completed in 2015, has 300 residential units. Eighty-four of them are purely for condo use, and the rest will be made available to the hotel when residents aren't occupying them. The units sold out in two months, with an average price of $500,000, according to Mr. Perez.

“The money that is coming in from buyers from Latin America and Europe is unprecedented today,” he said in a telephone interview. “When we talked to some of these potential buyers, a lot of them said they were investors. But they also wanted to be able to enjoy their condos and at the same time maximize their income. That's why we are creating a hybrid product.”

Mr. Viete, the Venezuelan buyer at the Hyde Resort — a Related development with Miami-based Fortune International Group — said the ease of renting out his condo was another reason he was attracted to the project. He also liked the property's Hyde brand, by luxury entertainment company SBE.

“With that kind of name on top of a great project, you will have many interested people in the future if you want to sell,” he said.

That type of thinking is what makes condo and hotel properties so attractive for real estate investors, Mr. LeFrak said.

“If there is a high-end hotel brand associated with the condos, then people's expectations about the quality of service and reliability are elevated,” he said. “The brand has some clout. And that in turn creates a premium and additional value for the developer.”

(Bloomberg News)

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