Wealthy Palm Beachers forced into long-term-stay hotels

This winter, Upper East Side art advisor Terri Kahan decided it was finally time to trade in her black turtlenecks for poolside caftans.

“It felt a bit decadent, but so many of my clients had gone to Palm Beach that I thought it was necessary for me to be there,’’ said Kahan.
But she soon realized that moving to the South Florida Shangri-la isn’t what it used to be.

“I finally found [a condo] that I loved, but as soon as I made an offer, someone else came in over $200,000 above asking,’’ she said. Kahan then put a bid on another home, but found out that the owner was a flipper: The home had recently sold, received more of a zhuzh than a renovation and he was now asking double what he initially paid.

She backed out within 24 hours.

“The owner wasn’t upset because someone picked it up immediately for even more than I was going to pay,” Kahan lamented.

Kahan said that with so few options to buy or rent in the area, she was left with just one choice: moving into a hotel for two and a half months.

She started at the Colony Hotel, a chic socialite seat just steps away from the ritzy Worth Avenue shopping district. She loved working from a chaise by the pool and wanted to extend her stay, but was forced to move because the hotel was sold out for her last month. So she hopped off island to the Ben, a Marriott product on the Intracoastal in West Palm Beach.

Exterior shot of the pool at the Ben Hotel.
Go poolside at the Ben for, on average, $600 a night in high season.
Shannon Paku/The Ben

There, she was able to secure a room with a terrace and water view (the high-season average rate is $600 per night, with a discount of 15% for those staying 30 days).

“It’s very easy to live in a hotel,” said Kahan, who held meetings at the hotels’ restaurants and was even able to keep up with her favorite New York exercise classes in an outdoor setting — as fitness star Isaac Boots was teaching classes on the Colony’s lawn, and Soul Cycle was holding al fresco sessions just a stroll over the bridge from the Ben.

“I was able to get a marginal discount for the long-term stays,” she said. “But it was difficult to negotiate because there is such demand that the room rates have gone way up since last year.”

Kahan wound up actually liking the lifestyle.

External of the Colony Hotel.
The Colony Hotel is a hop, skip and a jump from the ritzy Worth Avenue shopping district.
Elizabeth Burks/Getty Images

“In a hotel, everything is at your fingertips. It’s more expensive, but you don’t have to buy furniture, hire a housekeeper or sign any contracts,” she said, adding that even her miniature short-haired dachshund, Baron, also loved it. “The Colony and Ben are very dog-friendly, but it’s a little challenging because he runs into other people’s rooms and eats off the food trays left in the hall.”

But she admits that with “so little closet space” it can be hard to stay organized.
“I’m constantly searching for things,’’ she sighed.

Since neither hotel has a washer or dryer, she found a service called Sudshare that picks up her dirty duds and delivers them back clean the same day at the front desk.

Kahan isn’t the only one living the suite life long-term.

Seeking fresh air and low taxes, the superrich said enough is enough in 2020 and gobbled up the island’s sprawling Mediterranean estates. Even more modest condos and rentals vanished.

In fact, residential sales in Palm Beach broke the $4 billion mark for the first time last year — and nearly doubled the high watermark for 2020, which itself set a record at $2.4 billion, according to a fourth quarter report from Corcoran.

Exterior of 535 North County Road in Palm Beach.
Last year, this Palm Beach spec mansion sold for a record-shattering $122.7 million. These monster deals are pushing wealthy would-be buyers out of the housing market and into hotels.
Cliff Finley (Picture It Sold)

In February 2021, a spec house on 2 acres at 535 N. County Road sold to Scott Shleifer, a partner at private equity firm Tiger Global Management, for a record smashing $122.7 million — but sources told the Palm Beach Daily News that the real amount was closer to $133 million. Other estates went for $106 million, $85 million and $42 million of late.

“We have more buyers than sellers and I don’t see that changing anytime soon with all the financial firms moving their offices here,’’ said Alison Newton, a broker at Douglas Elliman in Palm Beach. “We had up to 200 home listings for sale at any given time pre-pandemic, and presently have only 25% of that number.”

For those with means, cramming into an efficiency-sized space might feel like a compromise, but Brenda Hamilton and her husband Haden, a financial adviser who dresses in colorful suits, cravats and straw hats, were so happy that they’ve already booked for next year.

Side by side of Brenda and Haden Hamilton and a room at the Brazilian Court.
Brenda and Haden Hamilton (both above) got creative, adapting their room at the Brazilian Court.
Jeffery Salter; Brazilian Court Hotel

The couple normally resides in a spacious 3,000-square-foot oceanfront condo in Myrtle Beach, SC, and started visiting Palm Beach eight years ago for a combination of work and pleasure — this year calling a one-bedroom unit at the tony Brazilian Court home from mid-January through early March. Rooms there start at around $1,400 per night, but long term guests receive up to a 15% discount.

They found the transition to hotel life amongst the manors easy — with a bit of MacGyver-esque moxie.

The Hamiltons scored a first-floor unit that opens onto the hotel’s lush grounds and picturesque courtyard, which became an extended backyard for them. They read and relaxed on the outdoor lounges, then enjoyed cocktails every evening on property at Cafe Boulud.

“It’s not like we were really living in one room because there are gardens and lots of seating outside,’’ she said. “We have met so many fascinating people.’’

But that doesn’t mean that there was no trouble in paradise.

“In a hotel, everything is at your fingertips. It’s more expensive, but you don’t have to buy furniture, hire a housekeeper or sign any contracts.”

Terri Kahan

“It’s $6 to launder a T-shirt here, and quite frankly I’d rather spend that on a glass of wine, so I used the room’s Jacuzzi to wash my clothes,’’ she laughed.

The couple also converted their breakfast table into a vanity since they only had one bathroom, and set up a home gym in another area using a large mirror as a cornerstone, surrounded by weights, TRX bands and a tripod with a camera for Zoom classes with their trainer. The kitchen is simply a wine cooler and fridge.

“I’m usually a neat freak, but here I can be more casual and clutter a bit,’’ she said.
Once a sleepy, less costly hideaway from the bling of Palm Beach Island, the county’s Delray Beach, 20 minutes south, is now attracting the Palm Beach overflow.

Marion Weiss, a retired speech pathologist, and Jan Sherman, a retired dentist — who have been dating for two years — set their sights on that area. They both live in large Long Island homes most of the year but soon realized that their $9,000 to $12,000 combined budget could not rent an available spread, so they locked in a one-bedroom suite in Delray’s Residence Inn.

Their room had a kitchen, but they only used it to store snacks as the hotel is within walking distance of restaurants, and serves a complimentary breakfast.

“Not cooking and cleaning made it feel more like a vacation,’’ said Weiss, who would swim every day and golf with Sherman. “We love going down and enjoying breakfast by the pool, which was large enough to do laps in.’’

But weeks spent sharing a one-bedroom and bath took some organization.

“The first thing I did was go to Target and pick up towel hooks, then ordered bathrobes from Amazon,” she said. “We really needed a shower caddy.’’

Likewise, Joe and Beverly Gordon ditched Palm Beach Island altogether and settled into a one-room with an alcove and a large balcony in Delray’s luxe Seagate Hotel, where rates for a standard king start around $750 per night.

To make it work, the couple, who have a two-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side and a six-bedroom home in East Hampton, requested a refrigerator and a clothing rack.

“I also use the chair for clothing,’’ she admitted.

“We didn’t have a kitchen and I did miss being able to cook, but there was a coffee maker and a microwave, and anything we asked for they took care of. The staff here is so wonderful.”

One of the things that delighted most new long-term hotel dwellers was the benefit of having onsite staff.

“I am at Publix now buying special butter for a guest,’’ said Philip Brice, manager of the Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa’s club lounge, who looks after many long-term guests.

He unpacks their luggage, arranges for their cars to be shipped down and sets up framed pictures of their family and dogs so they feel at home. He requests extra furniture, drawers and shoe racks.

“When someone’s child wanted potato chips, we had the kitchen make them from scratch,’’ he said.

Brenda Hamilton, for one, is forever sold on the Bible salesmen-approach to Florida holidays.

“The staff at the Brazilian Court was like one big family. And why do I want to cook and clean?’’ she asks. “Here, I have room service and the valet even packs our car when we leave.”

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