Buyers Are Converting B&Bs Into Family Homes
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Buyers Are Converting B&Bs Into Family Homes

Buyers get the space they crave when Covid-weary bed-and-breakfast owners call it quits.

By E.B. Solomont
Tue, Sep 7, 2021 11:55amGrey Clock 5 min

From the minute Julia and Randall Hesse closed on a rambling Victorian house in suburban Boston last year, their real-estate agent, architect and handyman all issued a warning—change the locks.

For 17 years, their home in Jamaica Plain, Mass., was part of the Taylor House, a popular bed-and-breakfast, the keys to which the former guests and staff could still have. The Hesses heeded the advice, just one of many fixes they are making to convert the roughly 325sqm house into their family home.

Covid-19 dealt a blow to the hospitality industry, forcing some small inns to close for good. But in a tight housing market, some buyers are snagging spacious properties by renovating B&Bs. Often, that means looking beyond kitschy décor and reconfiguring spaces that previously catered to overnight guests.

The Hesses search for a house with character in and around Boston led them to the former Taylor House bed-and-breakfast. “It was beautiful but you couldn’t picture moving into it as it was,” said Mr. Hesse, a 52-year-old former boarding-school teacher. He said the house had six bedrooms, none of which had closets, and six bathrooms. “You had to get out a piece of paper and pencil and start sketching how you would move things to make it work.”

The couple closed in November 2020, paying US$1.85 million. They plan to move in this fall after a roughly $500,000 renovation to add central air and redo the kitchen, among other things. The Hesses said they combined several bedrooms to create a primary bedroom suite with closets. (They will end up with four bedrooms.) They kept five wood-burning fireplaces and a professional-grade water heater, but said they removed a shower in a first-floor bathroom that felt out of place.

“It was right there, right off the dining room, just in case you want to go out from Christmas dinner and take a shower,” said Ms. Hesse, a 48-year-old corporate healthcare lawyer.

Monica Hsu and her husband made a similar decision at their roughly 3,700-square-foot California craftsman house in Sonoma, Calif. The couple paid $3.35 million for the former B&B in March, according to property records. Ms. Hsu, who works in the tech industry, said they redid the floors downstairs and painted the inside of the house. They also closed off a door between the kitchen and master bedroom. “We didn’t need that,” she said.

Ms. Hsu, 37, said they were drawn to the bustling, often-touristy neighbourhood in California wine country. The house is larger than their prior home in the Bay Area, and came with a chef’s kitchen that appealed to her husband, who loves to cook. The kitchen has a Wolf range with six burners and a griddle, a large hood and an extra dishwasher that comes in handy for wine glasses.

The back porch has creature comforts including a fan, space heater and bottle opener on the wall. The former owner “thought of these conveniences for people on vacation, so we’re reaping the benefits,” Ms. Hsu said.

For some current innkeepers, the hot housing market can seem like a golden ticket after a roller coaster of a year in 2020.

In the U.S., B&B revenue plunged 43.7% to roughly US$1.3 billion in 2020, compared with 2019, according to IBISWorld, a research firm. The total number of B&Bs also dropped by around 1,400 to roughly 7,340.

Although travel has rebounded, Covid-19 forced some proprietors to rethink their business, said hospitality consultant Christine Gustafson. “It caused all of us to just pause and think about what we’re doing with our lives,” she said.

That is the case with Rick and Suzanne Weichert, who bought the Jabberwock Inn in Monterey, Calif., for $2.38 million in 2014, property records show. After being forced to close for 4½ months last year, they listed the roughly 445sqm home for $4.95 million, according to Zillow. The property is being marketed as a single-family home.

“It was an insanely difficult year,” said Mrs. Weichert, 56. Although business has rebounded, she said the future remains uncertain. The couple’s roughly half-acre property is one of the largest in the area, and she said they think they may attract a buyer from the Bay Area who can now work remotely and wants more space.

Selena Einwechter, who owns the Bed & Breakfast on Tiffany Hill, an inn near Asheville, N.C., is also enticed by the idea of cashing out in a strong housing market. “You don’t work this hard at doing a B&B all these years…to let the real-estate value diminish in front of your eyes,” she said. Ms. Einwechter, 66, said her brother died due to complications of Covid, and that also served as a “wake-up call,” prompting her to re-evaluate her priorities.

Ms. Einwechter purchased her roughly 6-acre property for $200,000 in 2008 and spent around $2.2 million over the years to build a roughly 4,700-square-foot house with five guest suites, and a carriage house with two guest suites. She also built a roughly 2,200-square-foot owner’s residence on the property that she lives in. The main residence and carriage house are listed for $3.45 million, according to Zillow. Her home is not listed.

Ms. Einwechter said she’s marketing the main house as a single-family property because she’s not comfortable with the idea of selling a brand she worked hard to build. “When you sell a B&B, you are selling your guest list, your business…[and] your reputation,” along with every fork and knife in the place, she said.

Dave Elliott co-owned the two properties that made up the Taylor House B&B in Jamaica Plain, one of which was purchased by the Hesses. He said running a B&B was never a moneymaker, even before Covid hit.

The inn had 11 guest suites in two adjacent properties, purchased separately for $310,000 in 1995 and $800,000 in 2003. Mr. Elliott, 66, and his co-owner, Daryl Bichel, 71, sold the properties in November, the first for roughly $2.6 million and the second to the Hesses for $1.85 million. Mr. Elliott said he is debt free for the first time in 25 years. “Fortunately, the properties went up in value,” he said. “The only profit we got from the business was when we sold it.”

When they owned the properties, the co-owners obtained easements to create a shared driveway for the business. As part of the sale, Mr. Elliott said the buyers asked them to cancel the easements and re-establish a property line separating the homes.

In Newport, R.I., that is the kind of outcome Anne Ramsey Cuvelier is hoping she gets if she sells her roughly 706sqm inn. The B&B, known as the Sanford-Covell Villa Marina, is listed for $6.9 million. Built-in 1870, the Victorian home has eight bedrooms, a 3-metre entrance hall and wraparound front porch.

Ms. Cuvelier, 87, said she paid around $60,000 for the property in 1980 and ran a successful business for 41 years, but during the pandemic “it was just a little bit too hard to hang on.” She said she borrowed against her credit card, racking up $50,000 to $60,000 in debt.

Paul Leys of Gustave White Sotheby’s International Realty is marketing the property. He said Ms. Cuvelier’s house is “worth more money on the open market as a residence” since it has both a pool and dock access. He said the small, galley kitchen needs considerable work and the house lacks central air.

In Jamaica Plain, Ms. Hesse said she assumes other buyers had trouble envisioning what the house would look like when renovated, or it is possible they were turned off by the prospect of renovating, something she and her husband relished. “The bones of the house were so good,” she said. “We were definitely motivated.”

In Sonoma, the Hsus had few reservations about buying a former B&B because the property checked so many other boxes, including being close to town. Ms. Hsu said before they bought the property, they looked it up on Tripadvisor. The reviews were good.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: 1 September, 2021.


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But as house prices increase across the country, the conversation has started to shift from size for the sake of it towards more flexible, well-designed spaces better suited to contemporary living.

For the owners of this 1920s weatherboard workers’ cottage in Fremantle, the emphasis was less on having an abundance of room and more about creating cohesive environments that could still maintain their own distinct moods. Key to achieving this was manipulating the floorplan in such a way that it could draw in light, giving the impression at least of a larger footprint. 

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Positioned on a site that fell three metres from street level, the humble four-room residence had been added to over the years. First order of business for local architect Philip Stejskal was to strip the house back to its original state.

“In this case, they were not quality additions,” Stejskal says. “Sometimes it is important to make sure later additions are not lean-tos.”

The decision to demolish was not taken lightly. 

“Sometimes they can be as historically significant as the original building and need to be considered — I wouldn’t want people to demolish our addition in 50 years’ time.”

Northern light hits the site diagonally, so the design solution was to open up the side of the house via a spacious courtyard to maximise opportunities to draw natural light in. However, this had a knock-on effect.

A central courtyard captures northern light. Image: Bo Wong

“We had to make space in the middle of the site to get light in,” Stejskal says. “That was one of the first moves, but that created another issue because we would be looking onto the back of the neighbouring building at less appealing things, like their aircon unit.”

To draw attention away from the undesirable view, Stejskal designed a modern-day ‘folly’.

“It’s a chimney and lookout and it was created to give us something nice to look at in the living space and in the kitchen,” Stejskal says. 

“With a growing family, the idea was to create a space where people could find a bit of solitude. It does have views to the wider locality but you can also see the port and you can connect to the street as well.”

A garden tap has also been installed to allow for a herb garden at the top of the steps.

“That’s the plan anyway,”  he says. 

A modern day ‘folly’ provides an unexpected breakout space with room for a rooftop herb garden. Image: Bo Wong

Conjuring up space has been at the core of this project, from the basement-style garaging to the use of the central courtyard to create a pavilion-like addition.

The original cottage now consists of two bedrooms, with a central hallway leading onto a spacious reception and living area. Here, the large kitchen and dining spaces wrap around the courtyard, offering easy access to outdoor spaces via large sliding doors.

Moments of solitude and privacy have been secreted throughout the floorplan, with clever placement of built-in window seats and the crow’s nest lookout on the roof, ideal for morning coffee and sunset drinks.

The house has three bedrooms, including a spacious master suite with walk-in robe and ensuite overlooking the back garden. Adjustable blades on the bedroom windows allow for the control of light, as well as privacy. Although the house was designed pre COVID, it offers the sensibility so many sought through that time — sanctuary, comfort and retreat.

Adjustable blades allow the owners to control light on the upper floor. Image: Bo Wong

“When the clients came to us, they wanted a house that was flexible enough to cater for the unknown and changes in the family into the future,” Stejskal says. “We gave the owners a series of spaces and a certain variety or moods, regardless of the occasion. We wanted it to be a space that would support that.”

Mood has also been manipulated through the choice of materials. Stejskal has used common materials such as timber and brick, but in unexpected ways to create spaces that are at once sumptuous but also in keeping with the origins of the existing building.

Externally, the brickwork has been finished in beaded pointing, a style of bricklaying that has a softening effect on the varied colours of bricks. For the flooring, crazy paving in the courtyard contrasts with the controlled lines of tiles laid in a stack bond pattern. Close attention has also been paid to the use of veneer on select joinery in the house, championing the beauty of Australian timbers with a lustrous finish. 

“The joinery is finished in spotted gum veneer that has been rotary cut,” says Stejskal. “It is peeled off the log like you peel an apple to give you this different grain.”

Rotary cut timber reveals the beauty of the natural grain in the kitchen joinery. Image: Bo Wong

Even the laundry has been carefully considered.

“The laundry is like a zen space with bare stone,” he says. “We wanted these different moods and the landscape of rooms. We wanted to create a rich tapestry in this house.”

The owners now each experience the house differently, highlighting separate aspects of the building as their favourite parts. It’s quite an achievement when the site is not enormous. Maybe it’s not size that matters so much after all.

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