Club for wealthy to offer luxury vacation rentals

Destinations to include Ocean City, Rehoboth

July 31, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Entrepreneur Chad Stevens thinks he's found a way to help the well-heeled enjoy a footloose retirement.

Stevens launched the Signature Destinations Club to give members access to luxury vacation homes around the world.

"Many baby boomers won't be content to find that perfect retirement place and settle down for the rest of their lives - they'll want to be on the go," he said.

The private residence club, which is based in Kirkland, Wash., is opening the first of nine regional hubs of homes in the Pacific Northwest in August.

It plans to start a Mid-Atlantic hub by early 2006, with properties in Ocean City, Rehoboth Beach, Del., and Deep Creek Lake among other destinations.

Members will be able to use well-appointed homes within driving distance of their primary residences and at popular resorts.

Signature Destinations' members pay a $125,000 deposit, 80 percent of which will be refunded if they withdraw. Annual dues are $8,500.

In return, members are entitled to 56 days of reservations each year and an unlimited number of days on a space-available basis at each home.

The homes are valued at about $750,000 and average 2,500 square feet, the company said. Each has a big-screen television, DVD player and luxury bedding.

The club is open to all ages, though Stevens says many of the several dozen initial memberships were sold to boomers and retirees.

"We're going after what I call the `mass affluent,' " he said.

Retirement experts agree that the club's members will be limited to the well-to-do.

E. Thomas Wetzel, president of the Retirement Living Information Center, says the business is aimed at a "pretty narrow demographic."

"Still, there's money out there," he said. "It may well appeal to high-end travelers and retirees who want to indulge themselves."

Stuart Funke, 55, of Lake Oswego, Ore., says he joined because he didn't want "the hassles of a second home - the taxes, the utilities and the repairs."

The financial planner says he found the club's cost reasonable.

"I'll be able to use many homes for a fraction of what I'd spend for one vacation house," he explained.

Funke plans to stay at an 1887 farmhouse on the San Juan Islands in Washington state, a luxury home in Bend, Ore., and a condo at a British Columbia ski resort.

The Pacific Northwest hub of homes will also include in-town residences in Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, and homes in the Cascades, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and Seaside, Ore.

Eventually, members in each of Signature Destinations' nine hub markets will be able to choose from homes nationwide and in other countries, Stevens said. To ensure access, the club intends to have a home for every six members.

Residence clubs are popping up to serve affluent travelers who can afford luxury accommodations at resorts.

Richard L. Ragatz, president of Ragatz Associates, a market-research firm specializing in resorts, says Signature Destinations' regional hubs make sense.

"They'll fill a void," he said. "Other clubs' properties are spread across the country and around the world - this one's clusters will have more convenient access."

The company's Web site is www.signaturedestinationsclub.com.

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