Lots of folks who can easily afford to own vacation homes, yachts and planes are finding it makes much more sense to rent than to buy. The Tyranny of Possessions By Toddi Guntner Block Forbes Four Hundred member Leonard Stern spent roughly $1 mil- lion to buy a vacation home in Aspen's smart Starwood section. He now wishes he hadn't. It's not that the purchase made much of a dent in his $825 million fortune. It just wasn't worth the hassle.
"I fantasized about the two months a year I'd spend there," says the 56-year-old chairman of Hartz Mountain Corp. But two months turned out to be less than three weeks. "You use money to make the incidence of ownership easy, but then the aggravation of owning a home and spending $200,000 a year for 21 days starts to set in," he grouses. For that $10,000 a day-not even counting opportunity cost- Stern now figures he can do much better. Then there were the maintenance problems-a burglar alarm that ac- cidentally tripped in the middle of the night, a malfunctioning freez- er, a consistently dead battery in the Jeep Cherokee. "The burden took away from the quality of the vacation," recalls Stern, who sold his Aspen home two years ago. He now stays at The Little Nell when in Aspen-at a cost of at least $375 per night.
"It's crazy to own when you realize that you can rent for a fraction of your aftertax cost and without tying up any capital," Stern has con-cluded.
Stern is not the only rich American who knows that the burden of possessions can outweigh their pleasures.
A commodities trader and fellow Forbes Four Hundred member and client of Overseas Connection, has come to a similar conclusion. In late 1993, when he took most of a year off to visit Europe with his family, he rented instead of buying. Not only was he spared the headaches of ownership, but he also gained flexibility, staying in three places instead of one.
In London the family spent ten weeks on Tite Street in Chelsea, staying at a six-bedroom home with two reception rooms and extensive gardens. Cost $24,000 a week.
Next it was seven weeks in Paris in a three-bedroom apartment on the Place Adenauer, offering glorious views of Avenue Foch and the Bois de Boulogne. Cost $16,000 a week.
For two months in Rome the family stayed at a four-bedroom apart- ment at the Passegiata della Ripetta, complete with a private heated pool and views out to the Tiber. Cost: $18,000 a week.
When finished, the family had spent about $500,000 on lodging but avoided time-consuming, capital-depleting buying and selling.
Many of the very best things in life can be rented. And sometimes the renters are other rich folks who want or need to spread their own cost of ownership.
Estates in Europe, for example. Jane Seymour, the British actress, has just the place for you in England, St. Catherine's Court a 15th-century manor, a few minutes outside Bath. This large gray stone house was once a Benedictine monastery, then one of three manors Henry VIII gave to his illegitimate daughter, Etheldreda, around 1540. Sur- rounded by 14 acres of rolling hills, the house has 11 bedrooms, two kitchens, four dining areas, a grand ballroom, music room, orangery, tennis courts and stables-even its own original church.
Rent it for $12,000 a week-services and staff included-and Seymour will arrange for you and your guests to join the Beaufort Hunt or Prince Charles' Cirencester Polo Club during your stay. "It's the ulti- mate place if you want the English experience," says Seymour. It is available through Overseas Connection, a Real Estate & travel agency in Sag Harbor,N.Y. tel. (516) 725-9308
But perhaps the oft drear English weather turns you off. Maybe you'd prefer an island in the sun. Necker Island is available by the day. The 74 acre private island, near Virgin Gorda in the British Vir-gin Islands, is owned by Richard Branson, 44, the English billionaire who also owns Virgin Atlantic Airways and 50% of Virgin Mega- stores. It can be yours for $9,900 to $11,900 per day, depending on the number of guests (up to 22) and the season. Branson himself spends a month or so a year at Necker, and rents it out the rest of the year. Branson is often a renter himself when he wants a change of scenery in places like Barbados, Bali and Malaysia.
Necker was perfect for James O'Neill when he wanted to celebrate his 60th birthday last winter with his family and a few friends. "There was no other place that could give us the space and the pri- vacy that we wanted," says O'Neill, chairman of Sky Chefs, Inc. Necker comes complete with a ten bedroom Balinese villa overlook- ing Virgin Gorda, and a staff of 19, including an on-site social director to arrange scuba diving, sailing, tennis, fishing, parties, etc. A fleet of boats-power and sail-is also at your disposal. For reservations con- tact Overseas Connection (516) 725-9308).
A bit to the west, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, there's Little St. James, a 72-acre private islet 2 miles off St. Thomas. It has a fully serviced, four-bedroom estate, complete with all the resort amenities. Edgar Bronfman Jr. chose it for his honeymoon getaway in February 1994, and John McCaw of the McCaw Cellular family called it home for two weeks in June 1993. Cost: $2,500 to $5,000 per day, depending on the number in your party (the estate can accomodate eight).
Boating? "There is no way to justify the cost of operating a large yacht," deadpans Joseph Vittoria, the 59-year-old chairman of Avis, Inc. "I'm not one of the smart ones who charter," he admits. But you can be.
Vittoria's custom-built Mirabella is a 131-foot sloop with a crew of seven. It is available about 11 months a year. Usually moored in Antigua in winter and Newport in summer, it's yours for $50,000 per week, including gas. Gratuities for the crew, fancy wines and phones, etc. typically run another $20,000. It can easily accommo- date ten. Steep, but compare that with owning: well over $500,000 a year.
If the Mirabella is tied up, you'll have no trouble finding a substi- tute. Superyachts, which charter for $21,000 to $315,000 per week, can be found all around the globe.
Tired of baggage lines and being crushed while getting off commer- cial airlines? A few months ago Robert Griffith, an Austin, Tex. vet- erinarian, and his wife, Valerie, decided at the last minute to attend the Germany versus South Korea World Cup soccer match, in Dallas. Rather than drive for 3 1/2 hours, they simply chartered a plane and were sitting in the grandstands within the hour. Cost: $1,750.
The Griffiths charter aircraft about eight times a year, often to the Colorado ski slopes. "It is so convenient to set your own flight sched- ule," says Valerie Griffith. Especially to resorts that involve plane changes on commercial airlies.
What does it cost to charter a six passenger Learjet from, say, Teter- boro, N.J. to Aspen, Colo., leaving early Friday, returning Sunday? About $15,000-$2,500 each for six travelers. First-class seats on a commercial airline will run about $2,000 per person, and you can't set your own schedule.
Charter prices depend on the charter operator, type of aircraft and distance flown. Almost all chartering is round-trip. Customers pay for overnight stays for the crew, as well as airport landing fees and taxes.
If you air-charter frequently, you might consider time-sharing. The initial payment for an eighth-share of a Cessna Citation S/II is $330, 000 or $745,000 for the newest model, the Citation V Ultra, available from Executive Jet Aviation in Montvale, N.J. That share allows you to fly about 100 hours a year. You also pay a monthly maintenance fee of $5,765 and a flight fee of $1,090 an hour (the same for both models). The service includes pilots, insurance, fuel, airport and navigation fees. The company guarantees that you will be picked up on four hours' notice. With time-sharing you don't have to pay to re- turn the craft to its' home base, so time-sharing could be cheaper than leasing for the frequent flier.
Tyler Cain, a Chicago-area investor, corralled three buddies and bought a quarter-share of a Cessna Citation S/II seven years ago. Most of the men were former airplane owners. "Owning a plane is a colossal pain in the neck," says Cain, who uses his 50 hours a year to reach poorly served vacation spots. "You don't have to deal with pilots complaining they aren't paid enough," Cain adds.
Perhaps your tastes are a bit more modest, but you are tired of the standard rental cars when you travel. Luxury and classic cars are available, provided you reserve well ahead. Typical daily rates: In the New York City area, $200 (BMW 325i convertible) to $350 (Fer- rari 308 GTSi); in Miami, $100 (BMW 3181C convertible) to $1,207 (Ferrari 348 TS); in Beverly Hills, $90 (four-wheel-drive Nissan Path- finder) to $450 (Rolls). Add about 30 cents to 50 cents a mile.
Renting does have its' drawbacks. You can't just pick up, fly to Aspen, say, and find your toothbrush waiting, champagne in the cooler. When Leonard Stern called for a suite at The Little Nell a couple of weeks before Christmas last year, he was too late. He end- ed up at the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley, outside Park City, Utah-no hardship but something of a compromise. Stern learned his lesson-when it comes to renting, you do need to plan ahead.
Here are a few tips for renting real estate: Make sure that your agent has seen the house or has recent comprehensive photos of the property. Also, check to see that assistance is available just in case you need home repairs or restaurant recommendations.
And just put the money you would have to invest in the home into tax-exempt bonds. The income will rent you lots of luxury and you won't be tied down to one place.