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Hotel or Residence? A Checklist for Condo-Hotel Developers

By Anthony DiGuiseppe Founder and President DiGuiseppe Architecture and Interior Design

Condo-hotels are “hot.” That said, they are complex instruments, part hotel and part residence.

Therefore, it’s important that developers consider a well-prepared checklist of items as they embark upon the designing and building of what they hope will be a successful condo-hotel property.

Item #1 – Focus on the End User.

A condo-hotel should be built with a specific kind of guest or unit owner in mind. The customer profile shapes the fundamentals of the project – the site selection and location of the hotel, nearby attractions, and the physical room features and amenities that will satisfy a particular kind of customer.

For example, is the project located in a resort area that serves primarily a young affluent crowd looking for a weekend getaway – or is it in the midst of an area that caters to families or “empty-nesters” who stay for longer periods of time?

If your target is the former – the young, moneyed “weekender” – then elaborate kitchens or state- of-the-art laundry facilities might not be as important in your condo hotel as they would be for a vacationing family.

At the same time, perhaps the “views are everything,” meaning larger windows and dramatic vistas will help sell units. On the other hand, selling to older couples who will live at the property full time may mean that common space for recreation or handicapped-accessible bathrooms are critical.

As in any business decision, the architecture and design of a profitable condo-hotel begins with the target customer.

Item # 2 – What Amenities Will it Require?

Here the question turns on style as well as d├ęcor.

To return to the previous example, if you are developing for a young, urban crowd, then clear lines, open spaces and a look akin to those found in boutique hotels may be called for. That will determine the kind of furniture a condo-hotel owner procures, and how much the designer spends on items such as lighting or curtain fabrics.

FF & E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) costs are always likely to be higher at a condo-hotel than for other hotel projects, because condo-hotels need to exude a “residential” feel above all else, and there is just more furniture and accessories. And spending on FF & E is a major factor in determining what your upfront budget looks like – and how soon, and significantly, you are likely to recoup your investment.

Item # 3 – What About the Back of the House?

While developers focus on the needs of the guest and on creating a “residential feel,” they cannot lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day, the structure they are building is still a hotel.

That means it must have structural features essential to hotel properties in any location – executive and administrative offices, common laundry and housekeeping facilities, freight elevators located with access to guest rooms and frequently, a pool and exercise room.

A common mistake in the initial planning of a condo-hotel is to focus on the “condo” elements but overlook the features necessary to operate a profitable lodging facility. This can be a costly mistake, as it can require rethinking much of a development project, and making new plans and resource allocations once project planning is already well underway. The building must “act like a condo,” but it must be built to function as a hotel.

Item #4 – Never Forget the Lender

It is no exaggeration to say that the architecture/design of a condo-hotel and the financing requirements are two sides of the same coin.

For example, most lenders won’t finance a condo-hotel project unless it has at least a kitchenette in every unit. The units must also meet certain minimum size requirements, usually around 600 square feet. The key is that the units must appear to the underwriters as condominiums in features and size.

Of course lenders look most favorably upon projects that promise the quickest return on invested capital – if possible, the potential to sell all or most of the condo units before the property ever opens its doors. Keep in mind that the speed at which sales take place is often directly related to having the kind of physical attributes and amenities that appeal to your target market.

For these reasons, not thinking through the “lens” of the financing arm can be a critical mistake when planning the development of a condo-hotel project.

Bringing it all Together

Without a doubt, the condo-hotel boom is in full swing – and there are no signs of a let up. That makes it all the more important for developers to choose their projects wisely, and assemble the best team they can in putting the plans together at the outset. Integrating the elements of architecture and design into the early stages of planning, can save time and money, in essence helping to accelerate and enhance condo-hotel profitability.

About DiGuiseppe Architecture and Interior Design

DiGuiseppe is a full service international design company with studios in New York City, Boca Raton and Upstate New York. Established in 1996, the company provides architectural, interior design and procurement services for the hotel, resort and residential industry. A portfolio of work of its work can be seen on its website at www.diguiseppe.com.

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