To do, or not to do? The arguments around second homes are well rehearsed. On the plus side, there is the familiarity of being in the same place, your own things around you, with no need to book in advance; somewhere to invite friends and a place for childhood memories to take root.
And then there are the minuses. A second home means you hardly ever holiday anywhere else. The place sits empty for much of the year, bills add up to more than an exotic trip would cost you, the responsibility is cumbersome and instead of idling by the pool reading a book, there are chores to be done.
We have been debating it for years – ever since we sold a property that we had needed for work. It was a pied-de-terre to avoid the awful commute from our family home; but when we came to sell it, it was worth a lot more than we had paid for it, so we had a sum to play with. We thought of buying a bastide in Provence, or perhaps a seafront bungalow in Sri Lanka. Mauritius had always appealed, or maybe a city made more sense? We love Venice, New York and Kolkata. The only consistency as we criss-crossed the globe, metaphorically, in our search, was our indecision.
Someone suggested timeshare. But why commit to staying in the same place for the same week every year? It seemed like the worst of all worlds – it would not be ours and we would still be tied down with it.
My friends were members of a club called Hideaways, a company with which (for a small fortune) you can buy shares that allow you to stay in fabulous homes across the world, available only to the company’s clients. We had stayed at a couple and they were fabulous, but it still cost a lot to book each time. And I could not bear the idea of handing over a large sum and not getting any bricks and mortar in return.
Then, out of the blue, another friend told me about the next generation of property share schemes. A company called Third Home, which, on the face of it, offered the perfect solution. I could have my own holiday home, but also use it as an asset to enjoy holidays around the world. While the notion of home exchange is not new, this is a different way of looking at it. Instead of a peer-to-peer direct exchange, my second home would go into a pool of high-end second abodes, all of which have been thoroughly vetted.
The thinking reflects a new trend for borrowing luxury items. If you can borrow clothes, cars, boats and artworks, why not houses? With Third Home, property owners join an exclusive club where they decide which weeks of the year they will not be using their second abode. Third Home will look at the location, the time of year, the type of dwelling and give you a certain number of “keys”, which remain yours even if no one takes up the offer of your space. The more valuable the second home, the more keys are assigned. Similarly, the more desirable the weeks that you deposit, the more keys you earn. These keys can then be used to secure a stay in other suitably opulent properties across the world.
The idea was the brainchild of Wade Shealy, a US property developer and realtor whose clients were regularly asking him to resell real estate he had originally sold them. On further research, he found that his clients were not really looking to sell, but they wanted to be able to experience other properties, countries and cultures. Hence the idea for a club where owners of these homes could share their properties with others was born.
It may be that the owner of a grandiose mansion might want to let their place for just two weeks a year, while the owner of a small luxury city apartment might make it available for 20 weeks. Each will get the broadest of holiday choices with only a small administration fee to pay.
It was exactly what I had been looking for, without knowing it. So a couple of months ago I bought a spanking new two-bedroom riverside apartment in the Georgian city of Bath, in the United Kingdom. It has the advantage of being the development’s show home, so although smaller than most of the Third Home properties, it is smart enough to make the cut. Everything from the wallpaper to the sofa to the fake artichokes on the perfectly laid table had been selected by a professional designer. There are no tired old sofas passed down from a great aunt, and nothing from Ikea. It is a super smart flat in one of the most enduringly popular cities in the world. And so I have been allowed into the Third Home club.
Soon after launching, Shealy partnered up with Giles Adams who had launched a similar club based in the UK. A tech company Adams was with sold a few weeks before Lehman Brothers collapsed and the financial world shifted on its axis. He knew several people who wanted to sell their second homes but the market had collapsed. Sitting around a table discussing how they could make their assets work better, they came up with the idea of a club for those with a second home. By joining forces, the acquisition gave Shealy and Adams a good foothold on which to build and growth has been considerable and dramatic. A couple of months ago, they signed up their 10,000th property. Some are tie-ins with large developers – buyers investing in second homes in large holiday developments get affiliate membership thrown in.
Flicking through the glossy brochure is thrilling. Take, for example, the one, two and three-bedroom apartments in the Cloister Ocean Residences on Sea Island, Georgia, a gated oceanfront community set on five miles of pristine beach, and the only resort in the world to receive four Forbes five-star awards for six consecutive years. Or there is the chateau in Chambris, France with six bedrooms on a 923-square-metre estate; a 13-bedroom villa in Mykonos; and a seaside house for four in Koh Samui, Thailand.
Once again I am mentally travelling the world, but this time the choices are so much easier to make.