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3rd Home’s a Charm
By Scott Kauffman
Over the years, Kansas City residents Laura Welch and husband, Lantz Welch, have always loved visiting the Hawaiian Islands, regularly spending as much as six weeks at a time in Maui’s Kihei area. The avid travelers equally enjoy going to Costa Rica.
So when it came time for the couple to decide on a vacation home, they were “very torn,” Welch recalls.
“We almost bought one in Costa Rica,” Welch adds, “but we were staying in Hawaii quite a bit so we were really torn about where to purchase.”
As it turned out, Laura and Lantz, active outdoorsmen, landed in Aspen – drawn, instead, to the majestic Colorado Rockies and the wonderful mountain lifestyle it provides. That was 1990. Ten years later, the couple acquired an even larger 6,200-square-foot Aspen vacation home – a luxurious $10 million property on Red Mountain.
Simply put, proximity to their main Kansas City residence was the deciding factor in purchasing their first Aspen home, Laura Welch says, versus buying a dream vacation home in balmier Costa Rica and Hawaii.
“What specifically led us to the (Aspen) mountains, is it’s three hours from our primary home so it was very easy for us to get there,” Welch points out. “We do love to ski and hike, and I love to climb mountains.”
Yet Welch, who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year and is about to visit Kashmir this year, always has a soft spot for sandy beaches. Laura even concedes she came close to purchasing a third vacation home in Costa Rica several years ago but decided against it due to the time-consuming burdens associated with maintaining and managing rarely used vacation homes.
Now, Laura and others faced with similar vacation home dilemmas never have to make these difficult decisions ever again. That’s because Laura Welch has a veritable vacation home in Costa Rica, Hawaii and Brazil without the costs of owning them - thanks to a new travel/vacation home club called 3rd Home. And these were just three of the places Laura and Lantz visited in the previous 12 months alone.
If more people like Laura and Lantz Welch latch onto 3rd Home, this upstart Internet-based company has the potential to revolutionize how people view vacation homes in the future. Basically, for a mere $495 membership fee, 3rd Home allows vacation-home owners to trade their luxurious homes in exchange for visiting other multi-million vacation homes all around the world for a weekly rental fee of just $495.
After launching its business less than three years ago, 3rd Home now numbers 932 vacation homes in 57 countries, according to company founder/chairman Wade Shealy. The average price of the network’s homes is approximately $2.2 million. The homes range in value from $500,000 to more than $25 million, featuring everything from a penthouse villa in the French Riviera, to an exquisite 43,000-square-foot oceanfront mansion in Costa Rica and a fabulous 7,000-square-foot coastal home in Florianapolis, Brazil that hosted actors George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., and most recently, the Welches this January.
“It’s just a great way to vacation,” says Welch, a business development/strategic planning consultant focused on social change. “You’re spending all this money on vacations anyway, why not trade (in 3rd Home). I love the fact 3rd Home’s global, very easy to use and flexible, and the staff and service is unbelievable. We’ve not had one person who I’m exchanging info with not say, ‘we will take great care of your home.’”
That wasn’t always the case when Laura began renting out her Aspen home prior to joining 3rd Home a couple years ago.
“Now we’ve got a better chance of having a good (rental) outcome,” says Welch. “It’s a win-win. You have these incredible opportunities to travel and stay at these wonderful homes around the world and know the fact someone is going to be taking care of your home at the same time. What 3rd Home has really given us is that beach home we always wanted. And I’m sure people who have beach homes feel the same way. In the summer they might say, ‘You know what, let’s go to the mountains,” or they might want to go skiing for a week. Whether you want to be in the mountains or whether you want to be at the beach, 3rd Home gives you the option of having it all.”
Not the least of which are a lot fewer vacation home ownership headaches.
“Most people today consider the ownership of a second home as the most underutilized asset that they own,” says Shealy, who’s nearing 30 years as resort real estate specialist. “What we want to do is change people’s attitudes where people start to consider ownership of a second home as a very valuable asset they own because it allows them to travel to other places with their families as well.
“We really want to change the way people see owning a second home. I really think 10 years from now, nobody would even consider purchasing a second home without a service or component like 3rd Home or something like 3rd home that they can tie into. Just like nobody today would consider buying a timeshare without an exchange component available to them as well.”
To be sure, 3rd Home isn’t the only group servicing the country’s 7.9 million seasonal or year-round vacation homeowners. However, most of the competitors operate as “direct, yours-for-mine exchange services.” Of the estimated 50,000 families throughout the world that trade mostly primary residences every year, many of them find this process of finding not just the right place but also the right time to be very labor-intensive and time-consuming – even with the help of a third party.
The beauty of 3rd Home, according to Laura Welch, is it’s an indirect transaction, meaning members of the network aren’t limited to staying at vacation homes of only those people who happen to find the member’s place desirable. Thus, 3rd Home is extremely flexible.
The way 3rd Home works is members “deposit” into the network however many weeks they’d like to make available in their home. Then, depending on the value of their home, members receive a “key” they can use to “buy” weeks elsewhere.
If a house is worth $1 million or less, the owner gets one key. A residence worth $1 million to $2 million receives two keys; $2 million to $3 million homes warrant three keys, and so on up to five keys maximum for every $4 million-plus property.
Once keys are received, they can be used instantly in any combination of homes in the 3rd Home network. Owners don’t have to wait until another member reserves their vacation home to use keys, and there’s even a “Watch This Property” feature that alerts members when weeks have been deposited into the network at highly coveted destinations.
One of the more attractive aspects of 3rd Home, Welch says, is the endless amount of vacation choices. For example, she points out that maybe just her and her husband are going to Buenos Aries for a quick trip so they don’t need a lot of space. Yet, they still want something really nice to stay in.”
“We might use a little place that’s either an apartment or condo but it’s only two keys so we don’t use up all of our keys,” adds Welch, who has a trip planned for Hawaii next year. “Or maybe we want to take some family or we’re going with friends to Costa Rica and we can stay in a 5-key pad with 10 bedrooms.”
Regardless of size and style of accommodation, Welch wants to know wherever she stays in a 3rd Home it’s a “good place and being taken care of.” It’s this latter element that is paramount for affluent property owners like Laura and Lantz Welch.
Perhaps 3rd Home’s following company goal sums it up best: “The major criteria for us is service,” Shealy says, when asked about his company’s future growth. “We really want to give unbelievable service to every single one of our members and deliver more than they ever dreamed possible as far as the vacation experience.”
In the end, regardless of how big they get, 3rd Home wants to be the finest luxury second home exchange program in the world - with the highest standards in the industry. So far, if you ask Laura Welch, the company’s already achieving their goal.
“Here’s a company that’s managing quality of homes and the people that are going to be accessing them so I trust and know beyond a shadow of doubt that 3rd Home is going to take care of me,” Welch says. “You’re being well managed because you know when I show up at that beach home I know that beach home is going to be at the quality of what I want to stay and any questions I have there’s a great staff I can go to help me. And I know while I’m gone, if somebody is staying at my home, it’s going to be well taken care of. To me, that’s why I say it’s a win-win.”
In many respects, for Laura Welch and her husband, Lantz, the third time really is a charm when it comes to vacation homes.