Affordable Ways to Own a Slice of the Good Life

Leisure Luxury Without the HassleAffordable ways to own a slice of the good lifeBy B.J. Terhune


Share and play nice. It’s a reminder given to countless children, eager to show off their new toys.

Now, Matthew V. Condon, president and CEO of Niceville-based Signature Shares, has taken that simple rule to a new playground: Florida’s Gulf Coast waters.

Condon’s “toys” are luxury yachts, and he believes that big boys (and girls) can follow the same childhood principle of sharing. That notion led to the 2008 launch of Signature Shares, which uses the concept of fractional ownership to offer all of the amenities of first-class boating without all the hassles and cost of owning your own yacht.

“We look at taking the inherent cost advantages to sharing and use them to do boating right, to do boating at a higher level,” Condon said.

Fractional ownership of leisure amenities is not new. Timeshares, or vacation-ownership packages, have been around for decades. Florida boasts the nation’s highest annual sales volume of timeshare units ($3.9 billion in 2007), and the state continues to lead the United States with the most resorts, accounting for 23 percent of the nation’s total, according to a study based on 2007 information that was released last June by Ernst & Young.

What’s more, Florida remains a top destination for those interested in buying vacation time. About eight in 10 travelers surveyed during January and February of 2008 by the National Leisure Travel Monitor are interested in visiting the southern United States over the next two years.

In Northwest Florida, one of the newest fractional-ownership resorts is Magnolia Private Residence Club, on 30-A in Seacrest Beach. The property, built by Axiom Capital Group of Destin and DCP International, consists of 17 fully furnished three-bedroom, three-bathroom residences.

A one-eighth share in one of the homes costs $159,000. The purchase price entitles the buyer to use any of the homes at the residence club.

Buyers do not purchase a specific time period, according to Laura Gerard, the residence club’s director of sales. Instead, at the end of the year, they schedule their planned vacations for the upcoming year. Space-available and short-notice vacations also may be reserved throughout the year.

However, today’s economic upheaval may give consumers pause when considering a leisure investment. Jan Freitag, a vice president at Smith Travel Research, a lodging research firm in Hendersonville, Tenn., said timeshares or other fractionally owned properties that already have been purchased will always be used.

“But going out and getting a new one is probably 12 months out, because people’s income will have to recover,” he said.

“People feel poor right now because their house is worth less than it was two to three years ago,” Freitag said. “They aren’t poor, but they feel that way, so they will think twice about additional purchases” such as vacation properties.

Condon, the Signature Shares president and a licensed boat captain, is navigating these rough waters. The company, an affiliate of Galati Yacht Sales, is still in its start-up phase with a small fleet of four boats: a 32-foot Regulator, a 39-foot Tiara, a 50-foot Viking and a 65-foot Marquis motoryacht.

“There’s a great depression on non-essentials,” said Condon, a longtime Galati Yacht Sales employee. “But boaters will find a way to continue their passion, and Signature Shares will be a way for them to realize and achieve that passion.”

The company, which operates out of North Light Yacht Club in Niceville, already has sold four shares on its 32 Regulator. Six shares are available for each boat, with prices ranging from $25,000 for a three-year lease on the smallest boat to $208,000 for the biggest.

Signature sells lease shares, which are considerably less expensive than equity shares and alleviate some of the negatives that accompany boat ownership, including depreciation. Shareholders also divide monthly maintenance fees, but they must pay for all expenses incurred during use of the vessel, including fuel and captain’s fees.

The company uses a “2 & 2” scheduling rule, in which boats are reserved no more than two months and no less than two weeks in advance. A vacation schedule also is available that allows the yacht to be reserved up to a year in advance for a maximum of one week, and shareholders have a 24-hour option that allows next-day use if the boat is available.

“Sharing is not a compromise,” Condon said, citing statistics that show the average boat owner uses his or her boat only 20 days per year. “We have analyzed small boat usage versus a share of a larger boat and found that consumers get 10 times the buying power by leasing a share. For example, if you can afford a $30,000 new boat (such as a 17-foot Boston Whaler), then you can afford the shared use of a $300,000 boat (such as the 32 Regulator),” he said.

Condon has been traveling to boat shows across the Southeast to float the idea of fractional boating, and the company is offering a drawing to give away a three-year lease share on the 32 Regulator.

“We’re not going to be for everybody,” he said. “You’ve only got one life. Enjoy it, but do it smart.”

Hook, Line and Sinker

wanna%20go%20fishing%20show%20shot1.jpgSignature Shares is taking its big boats to the small screen. In early October, the Niceville-based fractional-boating company hosted the crew of ESPN2’s “Wanna Go Fishing?” for the filming of an episode slated to air in April, when the program’s fourth season begins.

Matt Eastman, host of the reality-based television show, which uses a surprise attack to select its contestants, targeted a Marine Corps lieutenant during a governmental conference in Reno, Nev., and asked him the show’s signature question: “Do you wanna go fishing?” Lt. John Robison was given five minutes and two phone calls to make a decision.

After agreeing to go, Robison — who was dressed in his military uniform — was given a change of clothes and whisked off to Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin for two days of fishing aboard two of Signature Shares’ luxury yachts.

Matthew V. Condon, president and CEO of Signature Shares, captained the boats during the weekend trip. On the first day, he took Robison and the filming crew out on the company’s 39-foot Tiara to a shipwreck called the Ozark about 30 miles south of Destin. The men reeled in plenty of amberjack from the deep-blue Gulf water.

“It was just perfect,” Condon said. “(Robison) was one of the best fishermen on the boat.”

On the second day, Condon took out Signature Shares’ 32-foot Regulator, but poor conditions forced the boat closer to shore. Despite the weather, the fish were still biting, and the men caught their limit of red snapper.

At the close of the fishing expedition, Condon took Robison and the ESPN2 crew to the Marlin Grill in Sandestin’s Village of Baytowne Wharf, where Chef Mike McAnulla prepared a gourmet meal with the day’s catch.

Signature Shares, which donates 10 percent of the time on all its boats to charitable events, is aiming to reel in luxury boating aficionados with its first-class boating and fishing experiences.

“For me, the best part was seeing people who’ve fished around the world coming to the same conclusion that we all have for those of us who live here: that Destin and the waters of the Gulf Coast are truly a sportsman’s paradise,” Condon said.

“Wanna Go Fishing?” airs 7:30 a.m. Sundays on ESPN2. – B.J. Terhune