Inn Vogue

Running a bed & breakfast is a tough business, but one that can succeed with the right plan

to be the perfect way to combine a number of Greenwood’s hobbies. She had already bought several rental properties in Brooklyn. She liked decorating as well as entertaining, and her interests in antiques and architectural design dovetailed nicely with her new job. Finally, penning the book Having What Matters: The Black Woman’s Guide to Creating the Life You Really Want (Amistad; $12.95), helped Greenwood make up her mind. She says that an assessment of her dreams was the step she needed.

Her first opportunity was an Italian-styled villa, which sat on a lot that could accomodate six brownstones. “All of it was located in the heart of Brooklyn. The kids in the neighborhood called it ‘the haunted house,’ but I thought it was my dream come true,” she remembers. Greenwood rang the bell and went so far as to post notes once or twice a month on the front door to clue the owner in on her interest in buying the property. Finally, after two years of coveting the house, she spied a man standing on the front porch. She talked up her interest, made an offer, and won over the owners, closing on the property for $225,000.

That was the beginning. The structure was weather-beaten, and a fire a few years earlier had caused cosmetic damage. Moreover, the house’s plumbing and electrical wiring were in need of upgrading. A new oil heating system had to be installed. A new roof was fitted and the yard landscaped. The 18 rooms had to be repainted and furnished. Each room needed a private bath installed; in addition, Greenwood added Jacuzzis to the guest rooms. The front porch needed to be lifted six inches. Greenwood brought in a group of architects and contractors and spent more than $75,000 in the first year alone.

Typical bed and breakfast expenses include:

  • Renovations (electrical, plumbing, kitchen, landscaping, fixtures, security system, etc.)
  • Interior decoration (painting, wallpapering, furniture, lighting, etc.)
  • Linens and towels
  • Dishes and utensils
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and other emergency equipment
  • Promotion and advertising
  • Permits and licenses
  • Insurance (liability, medical, property, workers compensation, etc.)
  • Telephone and answering service/machine
  • Office equipment and supplies (front desk, computer, copier, fax machine, etc.)
  • Reservation service(s)

But easily the biggest up-front cost for running a bed and breakfast is property. “That is the biggest chunk of overhead–maybe 80% to 90% of it,” says Michael Pinkston, who keeps track of members of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, a Haddonfield, New Jersey-based trade association for innkeepers. “After you pay for the property and get it going, there isn’t much else.”

A nationwide real estate boom has boosted prices across the country, and Pinkston says that owners looking to set up shop on the coasts will experience increased home prices immediately. “There are some pockets of the country where real estate hasn’t gone up that much, but those places tend not to be the best travel locations,” he says.

Greenwood’s New Jersey oceanfront property, an 1850s Victorian structure that consists of three guest rooms and three suites with kitchens, cost her $500,000. Her most recent

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