Welcome to the Tuesday Slot, this week Irene Parker looks at “Special Assessments”, in this case the Americano Beach Resort, this extra charge is something that we are familiar with on Inside Timeshare.
Over the years many owners / members have been handed these “extra bills” for various reasons, we even saw this with Diversified Resorts a couple of years back. That was because they had a huge tax bill owing, even those members that did not own with them at the time the tax should have been paid were given a bill. If they did not pay it within 30 days their membership would be suspended, blackmail or what!
Now for today’s article.
Americano Beach Resort
A Timeshare Resort in Dispute Hoping for a Dialog
By Irene Parker
June 19, 2018
Americano owners have been the recipient of a ‘special assessments’ to repair the Americano, which according to ABR/ARC is to the tune of around $15 MILLION!
Hurricane season just launched, so as we brace for what is predicted to be a robust hurricane season, we look back to damage from which some resorts have still not recovered. When disaster strikes, dialog is important to restore not just the building, but the relationship between members and the developer. At the end of the article, I’ve included Tom Tubbs’ article about special assessments. Tom is with Island Consulting Realty and has 33 years industry experience. Tom is a member of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association.
Americano Beach Resort, a/k/a The Suites at Americano Beach, now managed by ARC Resorts, LLC, has been shut down since a few days before Hurricane Irma hit Florida in September 2017. The reconstruction of the Americano Beach Resort is a complicated timeshare issue, and one that will take a series of articles to understand, given the complexity of the problems and the concerns of those who have owned at this timeshare for a couple of decades. Six Americano timeshare members have reached out to Inside Timeshare, expressing their frustration.
As reported in Perspective Magazine, the plan before hurricane Matthew hit:
In February (2016), ARC Resorts (ARC) acquired the rights to The Americano Beach Lodge Resort Condominium Association Inc. to uniformly redevelop and manage the 198 timeshare units located in Daytona Beach, Florida. Their objective is to redevelop and revitalize the property without burdening the timeshare unit owners with special assessments.
At The Suites at Americano Beach, the (hurricane Matthew) storm surge overwhelmed the Beachside Tiki Bar and the surrounding maintenance area beneath the pool deck. A large portion of the Sea Wall was washed away. The CAT 3 Wind forced significant water intrusion in the units, and compromised the window systems. The wind also compromised all the roofing systems. The resort ran on partial power for several days, which affected several major systems, such as the elevators and the cooling tower.
Prior to the natural disaster however, ARC assessed the newly attained property in a thorough Insurance Review. They were able to upgrade the insurance coverage while lowering annual premiums. One feature in the upgrade was Business Interruption as a line item of additional hazard insurance coverage. This due diligence established security for ARC as an investor and shielded timeshare owners from excessive assessments.
I reached out to R. Scott MacGregor, ARC President, and a 30-year resort industry veteran with executive experience in project planning, development, marketing, management, and finance. Scott understands the frustration long time owners feel.
Like many resorts in the US, the Association had chronically underfunded reserves to keep assessments down, and had allowed a majority of the intervals to fall into default. Most boards of volunteer owners just aren’t prepared to deal with those issues, especially when a 60-year-old building requires the level of re-investment that the Americano does.
Americano members are asking for answers they feel have not been forthcoming in informational updates and meetings. Below are the questions Americano members would like answered. Scott MacGregor’s comments and answers to questions are in italics.
ARC had already agreed to post answers to many of the same questions that were presented at the May board meeting on the website, and we will do that and include some of the other questions provided below. Official information will be posted on the Association website only.
Questions owners posed. Scott MacGregor’s answers are in italics.
⦁ How much damage was claimed from Matthew?
⦁ How much has the insurance paid on these claims?
⦁ How was the money spent?
⦁ Owners state that there are lawsuits against insurers of the Americano. What is the basis of these suits? I can’t comment publicly on the ongoing insurance litigation, only to say the basis for the lawsuits, for which the Association is the plaintiff, are over differences on the amounts claimed and the amounts paid by the insurers. Inaccurate comments about the litigation or the resort will be detrimental to the Association.
⦁ What work has been done on the Americano to date?
⦁ Why has it taken so long to get the Americano back open for business?
⦁ How much damage has been claimed from Irma?
⦁ How many special assessments are Owners expected to receive and what amounts?
⦁ The remodeling plan exceeds costs of $15 million. It was stated that ARC anticipates gathering $10 million from investors. What is the time frame for that?
⦁ Is it reasonable to expect owners to supplement $5 million, especially since it was stated 60% of owners are no longer paying annual maintenance fees?
⦁ If 60% of owners are no longer paying regular maintenance fees, how can the remaining 40% supplement the 60% who are not paying? If the 60% is accurate, it will be too costly for anyone to continue as an owner.
⦁ What do you estimate the building will be worth after all the renovations are complete? Property records show the building valued at approximately $14.5 million now. The building was appraised and insured for $22 million, with additional coverage for contents, etc. (One of the members thought Volusia County had the building valued at or near $15 million.)
⦁ What kind of ‘exit’ plan do you have for owners who can no longer afford or wish to be part of the timeshare program, particularly long-time owners who are now senior citizens on fixed incomes?
⦁ Who owns ARC?
⦁ If the damage is more than 60%, should the building be declared totaled?
⦁ What compensation has been offered to owners who have not only been unable to use their weeks, or bank the weeks for exchange, but have paid maintenance and/or assessment fees for several years with nothing to show for it?
Irene’s answer: Whether it is a timeshare condo or your personal residence, if a hurricane destroys property to the extent you can’t inhabit the property, it’s never easy. Property taxes and other expenses continue and alternative living arrangements need to be made. The real question the owners are asking – Is the reason the resort is still not open valid? It may be. The developer has every reason to see a closed resort open. If your home is 60% destroyed, it would be hard to find a buyer and more difficult to walk away from.
Unrelated to the hurricane damage, owners claim that ARC has made significant changes to the way owners have always been able to book/use their timeshare weeks. Some say they have had their weeks changed from prime to non-prime; some have lost the weeks they had always booked for races and Bike Week; some were told they had to buy into a more expensive points system; some were told they had to change from Interval to RCI for exchanges, etc. We will reach out to these owners in a future article.
As was discussed at the May board meeting we can amend the Declaration to change the definition of a week from beginning on a Saturday only to being what suits the owner better. Race Week owners could stay Monday to Monday, for example, so they could enjoy the pre-race activities and stay over the night after the race without having to rent additional time. Bike week owners might prefer to come Sunday to Sunday, and be assured they could come for that event regardless of when the City scheduled it.
Owners reaching out to Inside Timeshare feel they may have been scammed, particularly as some owners paid thousands (as recently as 2017) to buy into a points system as they were told they had to in order to be able to continue to use their timeshare. No owner should have to give up a deed. Before doing so, the deed holder needs to make sure if the reasons a sales agent gives for giving up a deed (at any timeshare) is warranted.
At an Americano Board meeting May 21, 2018 a member reported:
Owners say they received a survey PRIOR to an owners’ meeting in March 2018, giving owners a chance to vote for:
(a) Continuing the timeshare program as is,
(b) Reducing the timeshare program to a few floors while redesigning and selling the rest as private condos, or
(c) Terminating the timeshare program altogether.
From what owners say they were told at the meeting, over 60% voted to terminate the timeshare program.
Chris Crawford is an Americano owner and admin of a member sponsored Facebook page consisting of 200 owners. Chris did not attend the meeting, but feels the vote was hearsay. He said members who did attend reported no actual numbers were presented. Owners say they are frantic as they believe that they will lose their timeshare that they have put thousands into, many well over 20 years, and get nothing back.
Many want to deed their timeshare back to Americano. According to members, resellers will not even talk to owners about trying to sell as they are saying there is a lawsuit pending, but owners say they are receiving no information about a lawsuit (unrelated to the insurance litigation).
Chris says complaints have been filed with various State of Florida agencies, certified letters sent to Americano Board of Directors and ARC requesting specific documents as proof of damages claimed, but owners say they have received no responses from Americano or the state agencies.
Scott MacGregor said there have been updates and information posted to members reporting the status.
I hope the members of the member sponsored Americano Facebook group will heed the advice given to them by the State regulators and timeshare attorney Finn of Finn Law Group: present evidence of malfeasance to the State Regulators or to a court of competent jurisdiction to be adjudicated, and/or present a plan for consideration by the Association which is better than the one ARC has presented.
Our plan is pretty simple: we have been consistent from our engagement with the Americano that it will take about $15mm of capital to restore the facility to a current and compliant property after suffering years of under-investment in the reserves required to update all of the common elements when they reached the end of their useful lives. Initially, we intended to do that by generating $40 – 50 million in sales over 5 to 7 years and attributing about 25% of the sales volume (which is standard “product cost” in many US timeshare developments) toward that reconstruction. Unfortunately, August of 2017 was the first month we attained break-even sales volume at the resort, only to have it shut down by Irma in early September. So, now our plan is to raise through ARC debt or equity $10 – 12mm as rapidly as possible to renovate the entire facility; to reduce the timeshare program to the number of units needed to support the remaining timeshare owners, and modify the use plan to make it more flexible for those owners.
Financially, the costs of ownership should decrease as the significant bad debt burden the owners have increasingly borne over the past 10 – 15 years would be eliminated, and the facility would be significantly upgraded, thereby eliminating the historic underfunded reserve problem the resort has had for the same time. A facility of that size should have roughly $6 – 8 million in reserves. In the years prior to our involvement, its reserve balance as reported in its audits was closer to $500 – 600 k, less than a tenth of what was required. This is a common problem with too many timeshare resorts, done to keep the maintenance fees artificially low. 2016 was the first year in many that the Association had more than a million dollars in its reserve at year-end. I’ll also point out that 2017 will have been the first year the Association ever (as far as I can tell from past tax returns) the Association received net rental proceeds from the Developer, netting more than $120,000 through the first 8 months of the year. The remaining units will be restructured as whole-ownership vacation rental units or held for rental, hopefully generating a return of and on the capital ARC is seeking to raise for its reconstruction.
It is the intent to raise capital externally, and not to require any additional assessments of the owners. Were the remaining owners (including ARC which owns and pays assessments on approximately 1,450 intervals) to be assessed the amount necessary to complete the renovations, because more than 60% of them have stopped paying assessments over the years, the additional bill to each owner would have easily exceeded $5,000 per interval, which is not tenable. The capital needed to be raises for a project like this isn’t easy; the units are small and don’t have external balconies, so the margins on redevelopment are slim. The funding will come from private investors; most likely those with a present stake in the Daytona market, from some of the specialized US timeshare lenders, or perhaps from a smaller Private Equity firm. It’s what I spend most of my time working on.
Scott answer my questions highlighted in red: Since Inside Timeshare is published in Spain, we are interested in a statement made that ARC has ties to the EU. What are those connections?
When we started putting ARC together in 2015, one of the aspects we sought was ties to European (and South American) companies that we could leverage to send owners on trips abroad, especially to countries of their heritage. Silverpoint and RCI Europe both expressed an interest in helping to do that, though we have no formal or financial ties to either. We do have a contact with the Holiday Plus discounted European hotel program, to which our ARC Freedom 365 members have access through the “Heritage” program on our website. We will do an occasional “inventory swap” with Silverpoint, as we do with dozens of other companies. This helps us to place owners in locations they may not be able to get through direct exchange programs like RCI or II. Also, much of the programing staff for our technology partner TimeshareSoft International is based in Bulgaria. We may also try to market some of the Americano condominiums in the EU and Asian markets through established broker networks in those regions, though we have not yet entered into any agreements to do so. There are no contractual or financial ties between ARC and Silverpoint. If there were, we’d leverage their destinations for marketing purposes on our websites.
Are hedge funds involved in the raising of funds?
Hedge funds tend to make large, long-term investments in companies and real estate projects, but something as small (from their perspective) as ARC and the Americano redevelopment are not in their wheelhouse. We will raise the development capital from individual investors as noted above, and or from US specialty lenders in the timeshare space, and possibly from smaller Private Equity or VC firms. Due to the risk profile and complexity of the Americano, it will most likely be individual investors with interests in Daytona or other Florida beach markets and/or the US timeshare lenders.
My view is the solution is not to try to take the whole industry down, but to work on making parts of it better with community-based approaches to supporting the stronger, more sustainable resorts and helping those that are failing to do so in a controlled manner preserving as much value as possible and avoiding complete collapse of the Associations. I gave a similar presentation to the Timeshare Board Members Association in Orlando in May.
I don’t think anyone wants to take the whole industry down, but given several lawsuits and Attorneys General settlements, we believe timeshare could improve, especially in the sales and marketing department. Inside Timeshare has heard from 473 angry timeshare members and owners to date. We hope constructive dialog can improve customer relationships. If President Trump and Kim Jong-un can sit down and have a friendly chat, we should too.
Chris said the Canadian Teacher Association originally owned the Americano, developed as a place for teachers to vacation. According to Chris, the single largest shareholder (the old owner) sold it to ARC.
Proprietors behind Americano are ARC American Resort Collection
Special Assessment: What Is It? Why Is It?
Island Consulting Realty
It can happen. You open the mail from your timeshare resort and here’s a letter of explanation of why they are asking you to send them more money. First you have to understand what it is and is not. A special assessment is just that, special. Normally your maintenance fee is covering everything; upkeep of the unit and common area, housekeeping, taxes, utilities, insurance and also reserves. Let’s look at reserves. That’s the part that they collect and set aside for when the big things happen that we all know about; repave the roads and parking lot, new roofs, etc. It’s also called a sinking fund. But sometimes things occur that no one could have planned on and there’s no money in the budget to handle it.
Think of it this way. Every few years you paint your home (reserves). You know it’s coming. You clean the house regularly (housekeeping). You pay your taxes and insurance. But one day you’re outside and notice a crack in your foundation. You didn’t plan on it and didn’t budget for it but guess what, it’s there! You have to pay to get it fixed. That’s the same sort of thing that can happen with any homeowner’s association whether it’s your own neighborhood or vacation condo you own. Same with a timeshare. If it’s something that could not have been predicted, it simply has to be taken care of. The alternative is not making the repair and having the quality of the resort go downhill. That’s worse.
But here’s what you do have to watch out for. If it should ever happen to you, you need to know the real reason for the assessment. Was it something like described above and simply could not have been predicted? If so that’s understandable. BUT, what if they tell you it’s for “refurbishment” or something similar. That’s a red flag and it needs to be looked at. Since any competent management company or homeowner’s association knows that refurbishment is an ongoing expense, it’s normally a part of the reserves. Most resorts refurbish their units about every 5 years or so. It’s planned for.
So if your letter states the special assessment is for refurbishing, you have to ask yourself, “What happened to the money I’ve been paying them all these years in maintenance fees?” Where is it? Is the Board of the homeowner’s association incompetent or maybe something worse? This is YOUR money they’re working with and they’re supposed to be able to handle it and account for it. If they’re not competent, it’s time to replace the Board of Directors of the homeowner’s association. And if there’s suspicion of theft, it’s time for a lawyer to get involved with a forensic accountant to go over the books.
So if it does happen, how much money should you be paying out? Well obviously that depends on what the problem is. But, again, this is where the beauty of timeshares come into play where you have a lot of people chipping in so no one in particular is going to get really hurt. Look at it this way. Let’s say you have a resort with 200 units. 200 units times 52 weeks per unit is 10,400 owners for the entire resort. If everyone were hit with a $200 special assessment, that’s over $2,000,000 coming in. It would have to be one unreal problem to cost that much money. So if you ever do get hit with an assessment, do a little quick math and make sure it looks like it adds up.
Thank you Irene, it really makes you wonder what the annual maintenance charges are actually used for?
That’s it for today, the next article will not be published now until Thursday, Inside Timeshare is travelling.