Two choices for new inkeepers

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My wife and I are thinking about buying a house that would be suitable for a bed and breakfast in my hometown, which is an antebellum cotton town which reached its apex in 1860. Housing prices are cheap, so our upfront costs will be relatively low. There are no decent hotels or motels in town, so there is a market for a decent place to stay for what little business traffic does pass through, in addition to tourist traffic. Several people who have B&Bs do quite well.

Right now we are thinking about a couple of options, with others standing in the wings. One option is two antebellum homes that stand side-by-side. They have been vacant for a while and are in need of a good bit of repair. Our thinking is that we would live in one home and rent rooms in the home next door, and also the "servants" quarter of the home we would live in (which would need to be substantially upgraded). Two of the rooms in the antebellum home would not have an ensuite bathroom (although each bathroom would be dedicated to a room), and the one or two servants quarter rooms would be fairly spartan. Big downsides: Lack of ensuite bathrooms in every bedroom; possible lack of banquet facilities. Upside: Pride of ownership, as these are beautiful homes, once they are fixed up, and there is a definite historical feel to the properties.

Option Two is a very small and plain antebellum home onto which a 6,000 sq. ft. addition was added in the late 1960s. This addition was specifically designed to house business guests, so there are two bedrooms with baths, and an office that could easily be converted into a third bedroom with bath. This wing also has an exercise room and a large den. This house had what was a large "play" room when I was a kid, but in fact it could be a medium-sized banquet room or conference room that could seat 40-60 people. All total I think you could have a dinner for 80. I'm not sure I want to go into that business, but it would be nice to have that option. I should note that there is not an "antebellum" feel to the new part of this house, but at the same time, the rooms either are or can easily be made to be nice and modern, like a nice hotel room. I know that if traveling on business this is where I would want to stay, rather than somewhere that I would have to leave my room to use the bathroom. I should note that even though these rooms have the feel of a "hotel" room, I would still plan to serve coffee and breakfast in the main part of the house.

I will say my wife prefers Option One; I do, too insofar as living arrangements, but for a business model, I think i might prefer Option Two.

 

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02/22/2017

Well, I want to apologize for asking this question and not returning. We tried to buy option one and the bank isn't budging. They apparently are willing to let the houses deteriorate into dust, which is really sad.

I'm now looking at Option Two house. I'm pretty sure we can get commercial zoning based on my talks with city officials. The best things about this house are that the rooms are already built like hotel rooms, with ensuite bathrooms. And three of the four rentable rooms are in the back addition, so we can have our privacy in the front part of the house while guests enjoy the back. I don't need any help with our "choice" any more, as Option One is off the table.

OnTheShore's picture
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EarlVanDorn wrote:
I'm pretty sure we can get commercial zoning based on my talks with city officials.

As the saying goes, "get it in writing!"

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We will definitely get it in writing, as in the commercial zoning will have to be in place before we close. Right now we have a lot of reservations: the property is beyond perfect for a B&B that would have the comfort of a nice hotel plus lots of meeting and event space. And our living quarters would be completely separate from the guest quarters (with the exception of one bedroom that would be the "fifth" bedroom that we would rent last. Downside is that the antebellum portion of the house where we would live is nice but not all that comfortable. Not enough windows, and we're used to having a really nice bathroom.

And so we're stuck in thinking mode.

TheBeachHouse's picture
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best of luck!  

When we moved from a house we had mostly built ourselves to a B&B with a small apartment for us, the thing we missed the most was our nice, big, well planned bathroom.  We updated the bathroom a year after moving in and are happy we did.   It's still small, but it's pretty!   Your own comfort does count.

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Lee2014's picture
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OnTheShore wrote:

EarlVanDorn wrote:
I'm pretty sure we can get commercial zoning based on my talks with city officials.

As the saying goes, "get it in writing!"

  yes  I second that!  

    Glad to hear from you again.  Keep us posted.

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JimBoone's picture
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Is it possible to connet the two houses, hallway or room between them, that would allow movement without going outside, that would be a plus to me as an operator. I agree with other, I'd want  private bath. Now if you advertised the "maids quarters" as a simpler less expensive option it would likely suit simple folks like me.

A banquet hall or event center sounds like a good idea if those services are not being met presently, but are you ready to tackle all of this now and if not which activity is your first choice, consider both the investment of funds and your time, which will be the most fun, practical or profitable.

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happykeeper's picture
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Reread the description on the second option and my nose scrunched a bit when I pictured a small plain house with an addition larger than our entire inn. Can you bring something like that up to the "destination" standard you suggest? Are the two side by side houses more grand? Ah the mind does run wild! enlightened

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seashanty's picture
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Hi and welcome. 

So much good advice here. Many of us have been faced with such challenges like zoning and permitting and unhappy neighbors. Thinking we were all set, being reassured by realtors and one part of the local government only to be sidelined by another. So it is important to review all suggestions carefully.

I just want to add something about the bathrooms. On the subject of a bathroom for each room but not within the room ... since you mention everything needs work, I would reconfigure each so that a hallway entrance to the bath becomes a wall and allow for entry from the guestroom. Otherwise you will continually fight 'detached bath syndrome'. I am doing this to a home right now so that a bathroom becomes an en suite and it did not add much to the budget.

As JBloggs says ... You wouldn't believe the stuff that goes on ... guests with their OWN en suite bathroom will go out into the hallway and use the 'extra' bathroom however it's labeled because they don't want to wait for their spouse to finish or they don't want to 'dirty' their own bathroom or whatever.  A bathroom labeled as a guest room just to keep the other guests out gets entered and used. Guests whose bathroom the detached one is don't want to have to carry a key with them to get in ... so.  

It's absolutely incredible what happens. 

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TheBeachHouse's picture
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Income potential counts.

But being comfortable in your own home counts A LOT.  

Make sure you have privacy.  A place to sit without having to be 'on.'  It really is important.

Our kitchen is private and I like it that way.  Not everyone does that, but it's something to take into consideration.   If the kitchen is accessible to guests, you can't get a cup of coffee in your robe, you need to be ready to go.   And what about making dinner for yourself at night?  Can you stand being interrupted?

Echo the others, the more bathrooms attached, the better, but the most important thing is that no one SHARES a bathroom with another room.

Lee2014's picture
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   Welcome!  Glad to have you here.  You came to the right place.

   First read Empty Nest's post!  If you don't have those answers don't do anything yet.

  Second En Suite baths are a must for most people.  All our rooms have their own bath inside.  We have pictures showing the room with the bath doorway showing, etc…  And we still get people asking about those baths if they are in the hall, do they have to share with others, do the baths have deadbolts….

  Third, It's your choice since you will be living with the house(s).  My choice would be the one with the most bathrooms and the biggest closets to turn into bathrooms.  At least one extra closet for the maids' closet.  Living next door is fine until someone needs you in the middle of the night and its pouring rain….so can you get from one house to the other without going outside? If not, can you cut a door way to get through?  Also are the two bedrooms without ensuite baths next to each other so you can make one of them into a bath for the other room along with a sitting room.  It could be better value and money than two rooms without ensuite baths.  

  Fourth, location! location! location!  What's is there to lure people to your area?  The further from a tourist trap you are the more you have to advertise and go up and beyond what they can get in the middle of the tourist trap and the less money you get from the rooms. 

  Fifth, my grandma always says, "Always pick a place that has at least one college in town to help you in off season."  

Morticia's picture
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05/22/2008

It's often helpful to think like a guest. It's more helpful to be a guest. So, look around at places that are nearby so this doesn't cost a fortune and start staying overnight. Select places with a similar layout to what you are considering.

Stay when the places are busy. Book the rooms with detached baths. What worked, what didn't? Did you feel comfortable showering in the hallway with other guests walking by rattling the door knob? How was it trying to find the bathroom at night, in the dark, half asleep? Could you unlock the door? Did it make enough noise to wake the dead?

We have one room with a detached bath. 13 years ago, when we had the property inspected prior to purchase the inspector rated the room with the detached bath as 'functionally obsolete'. It hasn't gotten better in 13 years.

Guests invariably look stupid when they see the bathroom across the hall. Then they want to know if the other rooms are occupied. Then they want a free upgrade. Then they write reviews saying you have shared bathrooms. (Even guests who have an en suite will say you have shared bathrooms when they realize the door in the hall goes to a bathroom and not a closet.)

Then you waste precious time asking why don't people read, why don't they mind their own business, why didn't we just let them leave when they first started sputtering about the location of the bathroom? And you waste more time trying to figure out how to make it clearer on your website, on the phone, in email. Then you wonder why you didn't do it differently before you opened.

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gillumhouse's picture
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05/22/2008

#1 - does the town currently HAVE a banquet facility?

#2 - antebellum can be created with decor up to a point. Catered events may bring more than the rooms would. AND you could still have the rooms.

#3 - I would nix the idea of ANY spartan rooms in an elegant B & B - guests will be bery inhappy. Storage rooms will be much more important than any revenue from rooms that are "spartan". I would give my eyeteeth for storage space.

#4 - I have 2 rooms that share a bathroom and definitely of it were possible I WOULD have ensuite for all. I created a bathroom for the third guestroom. It is booked more often than the budget room even though it is $35 more.

I am in my 21st year as an innkeeper (from scratch) in a small City. My City desperately needs and want a Community Center or banquet facility

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10/07/2008

Welcome to the forum!

If you don't provide private baths (ensuite) going forward then expect to struggle.

It is that simple. Yes people will say I have a shared bath, I do this I do that and it is all fine. They would really admit that they wish they had ensuites for all their rooms, but each has to work with what they have.

The biggest issues we had with guests was due to a private bath - dedicated bath - outside the room. Literally stories I can tell you where we lost revenue, dealt with angry people. We had on the room name "price is lower due to detached bath" and every other wording to describe it.

If you are in location location location then you can airbnb it and put a rug out on the lawn and people will stay with you. But don't go to so much hard work to have people ungrateful for it. It will take its toll on you both. Pick your battles, start out on the right foot.

Not the question you asked, but just because other B&B's seem profitable it may not be what it seems. Do they have high occupancy 7 days a week? Are they going to welcome someone coming in to take gravy off their table? 
 

You know if there is anything that is needed today it would be a feasibility study for prospective new inns. What you see, and what really goes on are two different things.

My background: 13 years in the trenches owning and operating and living in a beautiful 6 guestroom B&B.

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05/22/2008

NUMBER 1!! Does zoning permit either of your options?  If you don't know, don't go any further until you find out. 

NUMBER 2 Do you have the money to do this? Most banks will not loan you money for a commercial project these days unless you have big bucks to put down...and then money to pay for all the remodeling.

NUMBER 3 Every room needs their own ENSUITE bathroom! This day and age is a non starter for folks even if they have a private bath across the hall. Private ensuite must happen IMPHO

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tricky one = Id go for the 2 houses as that's me I like a challenge.  Also is there any land for me always looking for additional potential - love the idea of those tiny houses on the grounds like shepherds huts.

happykeeper's picture
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12/11/2008

Aloha Earl

I am sure there are dozens of important questions that would need to be asked to begin to understand the pros and cons of the two choices. 

In the briefest of terms, this is not a question of business models (although that is important) as much as it is a question of how far can you reach before beginning to build your business. We built a physical footprint that could take us where we wanted to go and grow. Our rates have nearly tripled in eleven years as we continually upgraded the inn. If we had underdeveloped the structure at the beginning, we could not have done this. Now we have a landmark structure that provides us a great life and still has room for growth. Whichever you decide, make sure to think as big out of the box as your capital can carry you if you can successfully develop the market you seek. How can you be a big fish in a small pond? 

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