• Buy-to-let goes bust

New ownership structures had been all the rage during the boom, mostly all variants on the timeshare model.

Now that trading has turned, some of these models are looking dangerously exposed. In particular, the buy-to-let hotel room concept has now had its second collapse in the UK alone.

Owner Hotels was put into administration last week after "incurring significant trading losses", according to administrator Ernst & Young.

The company had two properties, one in York and one in Hull, of 27 and 22 rooms respectively. Its website (now offline) had promised that "you literally make money while you sleep".

This tagline is uncannily similar to that used by GuestInvest, the concept that collapsed last year.

Also like GuestInvest, Owner Hotels sold its rooms on 999-year leases, offered 52 nights a year free of charge and pocketed 50% of any revenue the room earned when let to others.

Buyers of the rooms paid between £70,000 and £110,000 and were offered a "guaranteed" return of up to 15%. Since early in the year, however, many room owners had stopped receiving money.

This type of condo hotel model is more common in North America but in the US such properties are not allowed to be sold as investments unless there is Securities Exchange Commission regulation. No developer has bothered, instead relying on sales staff to employ a nod and a wink when it comes to investment returns.

The broader timeshare market has been devastated by the current downturn. Last week Consolidate Resorts, a Las Vegas developer, filed for chapter 7 liquidation in the US.

Hotel operators with extensive timeshare operations have felt considerable pain, notably Wyndham, Starwood and Marriott. Hilton too has an extensive timeshare operation.

At Marriott, for example, timeshare sales were down 37% in the second quarter. The company expects its timeshare operation "to be cash flow positive in 2009" – not exactly a ringing endorsement of the non-cyclical profitability that was being touted prior to the current economic malaise.

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