Finding our Rhythm……

Now that we were officially living in Whitefish, well camping to be more accurate, we needed to find our rhythm.  Camping with two dogs and two young boys is difficult.  But it is especially hard when you are homeless.  Maybe I am exaggerating here a bit.  I mean, we had a tent and all the camping gear necessary for survival, so it wasn’t dire.  What we didn’t have were campsite reservations needed to span over the next two months while we waited to close on the B&B.  We tried renting a house or condo last minute, but that was not going to be possible. Whitefish is one of those towns that you need to reserve your lodging well in advance during the summer season, if you want to have a guarantee.  Glacier National Park is only minutes away, a major destination for people from all over the world.  Everything is booked out from end of June through August, which means all the campsites are booked too.  Before our trip started, we were only successful in booking sites at the KOA and Tally Lake campground for a few nights each.  After that, we had no idea where we were going or how difficult we would find our situation. 

Here is how the first few days at the KOA went:

I’ve mentioned before (in previous blog posts) that KOA’s are an easy way to camp with kids.  The KOA in Whitefish is no different and does not disappoint when it comes to keeping your little ones happy.  They have a petting farm with two donkeys, three ponies, a calf, and two llamas.  They also have a pool, arcade, outdoor games like chess and connect four and even a little golf putt-putt green with 9 holes.  They also had a small pool where you could float on boats with a very small waterfall.  Go cart-style bikes are available for all to use, which were super convenient to take down to the end of the road to feed the animals. 

My kids absolutely loved it here.  We were lucky enough to stay here for a few days while we anxiously waited for our moving truck to arrive.  It was nice to have somewhat of a routine each day.  We would wake up each morning, always way earlier than all the other campers.  Caleb is not the “sleep in” type.  Which meant we would start our “first breakfast” at our campsite and then about an hour later, head down to “second breakfast” that the KOA.  For those of you who do not have children who eat several meals at a time, let me explain.  My children have tape worms the size of Sasquatch and nothing can calm them.  Unless of course, we are sitting down to a full buffet about every other hour from sunrise to about 5pm.  It is not fun, not convenient, but it is my life. 

Although the KOA breakfast is not glamorous, it suited my kids just fine.  After all, there was plenty of syrup and french toast sticks.  In my case (and Ryan’s as well) it was hardly edible.  But it meant that we could hang indoors where it was warm, and the kids liked playing the old ‘80’s style arcade machines.  There were like 30 of them, mostly all working surprisingly.  It allowed my crazy kids to blow off steam while waiting for the other camping families to wake up from a long night’s slumber (uh, so lucky!).    After second breakfast and the games, we would head outside to the playground or putt-putt.  Then we would ride the bikes down to see the animals.  Caleb would usually ask “a cow?”  That’s his way of asking to see the animals.  We would usually spend an hour or more petting them.  It was quite therapeutic.  Dylan’s favorites were the two llamas and Caleb’s favorite was of course, the calf.  She was only three years old and she was so incredibly sweet. 

After visiting with the animals, we would head back to our camp for our first lunch and then Caleb would nap.  After he awoke, we would have second lunch and head out to explore Whitefish for the day.  That was the routine and it seemed to work for the most part.  Ryan could go out for bike rides while we did the two breakfast thing, and sometimes I would get a workout in at the local gym called The Wave.  It was pretty great.

Now I must mention The Wave here.  It is just too cool not to.  We decided to go ahead and purchase the $80 per month family membership.  We did this mainly, so we had a backup plan to use their showers, if we fell on hard times.  But it had so much more than that.  The place is unreal!  It has a humongous gym with every piece of equipment you could imagine.  They have a spin bike room with the surround stereo and pull-down screen with virtual rides you can select at any time of the day.  There are several studios, each with different themes.  One has a virtual group instructor that you can join.  One has this pulley looking equipment in it, and after three months, I still have no idea what you do in there.  This are three pools:  one kiddo pool with a water slide and toddler splash zone, a lap pool and the other is for physical therapy needs or classes. They have a huge physical therapy wing and I’ve heard stories from people who travel hours to get to this place for their therapy sessions or massage.  They just rave about it.  They also have basketball courts, racket ball courts, several types of changing rooms like for small kids and families or just the regular type for men’s and women.  They also have a lounge with WIFI (where I spent many hours conducting business), 2 juice bars and a daycare facility.  Seriously, we feel like we have died and gone to absolute parental heaven.  It was a life-saver! One of the greatest things is that our Bed and Breakfast offers the guests day passes for use.  What a huge perk for our guests!!

And this is pretty much how we spent those days. It was the simple life and we were becoming more familiar with our town. We were however, growing nervous that our moving truck had not yet arrived. Our next phase of adventure was about to start and we were worried that if our truck was late, we didn’t have a back up plan. A year prior we booked flights to Traverse City, Michigan. My family lives there still and we planned a family reunion to see my mom, sister and her family and my brother and his family. We rented a four bedroom house right on Lake Michigan, for the 4th of July weekend.

With no news from our truck, we were getting nervous that it was going to be late and had no idea what we would do if that happened. All we could do was hold our breath and wait patiently.

(to be continued…..)

Welcome to Whitefish, our new home!

After arriving to Whitefish, Montana, the very first thing we did was drive down highway 93. I wanted a chance to take it all in upon arrival. Ryan drove ahead of us and led the way from the south end of town. As we drove through, I noticed several picturesque horse ranches and farms. Of course every time we passed one, I heard, “cow!” coming from the backseat of the car. Caleb was more than obsessed with cows, horses and trains from our journey thus far.

We eventually ended up driving through the charming historic downtown with several breweries, art studios, coffee, gear and gift shops. At the edge of downtown is a train depot with a large rail yard, all right next to the park where the town hosts a weekly farmer’s market. This area is stunning because you also have this great view of the Whitefish Mountains in the background.  

As we drove on, Ryan put his arm out his driver side window indicating to look out our right hand side.  My eyes widened and I was thrilled to see that it was our Bed and Breakfast, Good Medicine Lodge! This was the first time I had ever seen it in real life. It took everything I had not to pull in and be nosy.

I was surprised by how much more charming it was in person.  I thought it was going to be in some sparse country road, but it was actually nestled in this lush tree lined street with bikers riding along a bike path and a hip brewery right next door. Bonsai Brewery Project was hopping and had a yard full of beer enthusiasts. There were several other neighboring businesses that all looked to be converted from old houses.  One of them was a sandwich shop, another was a BBQ joint, and another was an artist’s studio. There was quite a buzz in our quaint little neighborhood. A couple of doors down is the local hockey arena called Stumptown Ice Den.  Ice skating was one of my favorite sports growing up and now here it was only steps away for our boys to enjoy whenever they wanted.  I was very excited to learn that this location was prime! As we drove past our B&B, it felt as though we were entering a tighter woodsier landscape. I could see we were getting closer to the mountain and what a perfect scenic route it was heading towards the resort.  It had started to sprinkle out and there was fog.  So it was easy for me to imagine the snowy scenery.  What a perfect setting for our little rustic business.   I could already picture the roaring lit fire and all the gooey hot chocolate we would serve to our guests.

We made a quick pit stop at the city beach at Whitefish Lake, which to my surprise again was only minutes away. There we saw several deer carefully grazing the tall grass, which the kids were so excited about.  Ryan was anxious to head to the KOI, which was our next destination to set up camp. But I had other plans.  I was not going to spend another minute in Whitefish without heading up to the ski mountain for a closer look.  I knew we were pushing our luck with the two kids in the back seat, who had been in the car for several hours over a three day stretch. However, I just had to see it. We had come all this way and there it was so close. 

So we drove the 15 minutes up the steep windy drive but it was so worth it.  The village is made up of the typical large condo style lodges that you see at a ski resort.  The layout was tastefully done. Some of the lodges have this Bavarian style exterior look to them, which is quite appealing and magical.   For a moment, it almost felt like I was in northern Europe, like Switzerland or some place. I have heard from the locals that skiers hardly have to wait for a chair lift, the lines are short. It is hard to believe that but after seeing only a slight infrastructure at the base, I actually think it might be true.   I was eager to explore more but with my boys in the background antsy and unruly, we quickly hightailed it back towards the KOA just south of town to set up our camp site.

Once we settled in, I started to feel a little more easy knowing that we were finally here in Whitefish. I had just seen the Bed and Breakfast we would be purchasing and the charming little town I would call home. This place felt right. I didn’t need to stress anymore about whether I would like it or not and I could relax knowing that we made the right decision to come here. I am sure Ryan was awaiting anxiously to hear what I thought of the place. I told him my thoughts and basically that I loved everything I had seen so far. It seemed like a really unique mountain town. He seemed relieved and so was I. So to celebrate, we lit a campfire and with a couple of local brews in hand we toasted in honor of our new home.

to be continued………

GOODBYE CALIFORNIA!

The hardest part of our journey out to Montana began towards the end of June 2019.  It was hard to say goodbye to our friends and family, with many tears shed.  We packed up all our belongings and started making our trek from Oakland, CA to Whitefish, MT.  After 17 years living in the Bay Area, we decided to leave our well established careers, our adorable (although undersized) home and head back to where we had both started, in the country.  Ryan (my husband) was raised in Maine and New Hampshire.  I (Sara) was mostly raised in Northern Michigan and Ohio.  Although Montana is going to be quite different in many ways, it will feel more like where we grew up with seasons and especially snow. Although we loved living in San Francisco and Oakland, which is full of amazing restaurants, art, music, culture and etc., we had two young boys to think about and it seemed the Bay Area was becoming too difficult to keep it together.  Although hard, we knew this move was necessary.

~ THE JOURNEY TO MONTANA ~

DAY ONE:  Our 20’ trailer was fully loaded and ready to go.  Our truck driver would be meeting us in Whitefish in about 5-7 days.  All we needed to worry about was our two dogs and two kids who would ride with me in our Subaru Outback and the other “precious cargo” (stereo equipment and bikes) would ride in the Eurovan that Ryan was driving out separately.  We traveled about 5 hours total through Northern California to Mount Shasta, our first stop. 

We stayed at the Lake Shasta KOA.  For those of you who do not know what a KOA is (like me before this trip), it is a super easy way to travel when camping.  You pull into your designated camping spot, which includes potable water and typically a fire pit, a picnic table and room enough for your sleep set up and vehicles.  You can car camp, bring an RV or set up a tent.  For this trip, we are using a large tent that is big enough for the two of us, plus two Siberian Huskies, a 6 year old and a Pack ‘n Play for our two year old.

Other amenities that KOA’s typically include: a bathroom with showers, a laundry facility, a pool, a dog run area, and other fun things like one had a petting farm and a game rooms. Most offer a general store and fun novelty bikes to use.   KOA’s are great for families, it’s like no hassle camping.  They aren’t terribly rustic but each are unique in there own special way and can offer a lot of fun for the kids. 

 The Mt Shasta KOI was set deep into the woods.  Our campsite was down towards the back of the grounds and even when pulling in (way past the kid’s bedtime) we knew this was a special place.  The pine trees were enormous and dense. 

I would like to say we slept like kings but I was super cold.  They were experiencing cold and rainy weather not terribly typical at this time of year, but it meant that I needed a new sleeping bag. I ended up purchasing a new sleeping bag and it was the best investment I could make.  I slept so much better for the rest of our 3 months of camping. 

DAY TWO: We said goodbye to California and hello to beautiful Oregon.  Our goal was to make it to Redmond, OR in about 6 hours.  The kids started to get antsy and thank god for Dylan’s video games.  It distracted him enough to leave Caleb alone enough to nap and enjoy the views.  Without it, they fought like cats and dogs.

I probably heard the words, “COW!” and “CHOO CHOO TRAIN!” about a million times.  Each time cuter than the last.  We made a few stops along the way to ease the tension. Funny thing was Ryan was driving by himself, so he was relaxed and chill when we stopped. Me on the other hand, wanted to murder someone at each stop. It wasn’t easy, but I loved being part of the kids journey even with all the chaos. Eventually we landed at the KOA in Redmond, OR.  I will say this one was quite different than the one back in Shasta.  Our site was very open with not too many trees. There were lot’s of RV’s and a ridiculously loud train that rode past us just feet away with a loud blowing horn that kept us up all night. 

A mother and daughter team camping next to us came by the next morning to chat.  They said they couldn’t stop laughing at how ridiculously loud it was.  It is funny to look back on this moment now, because in the coming weeks the midnight horns coming from this train was nothing compared to what was to come later while on our trip.

DAY THREE: We head out of Oregon, which overall was a beautiful drive. I lived in Corvallis 18 years prior and remembered how stunning the scenery.  But the eastern part of the state was not the part I was familiar with, so it was a feast for my tired eyes.  It was a quick drive through and soon we were entering Washington. I knew we were at least getting close to the border because we were crossing the Columbia River. I don’t have any photos which probably means either my kids were driving me crazy or because the scenery distracted me. Either way, I would recommend seeing this place. It’s GORGEous!!

I remembered visiting Portland, OR many years ago and the familiarity of the high winds, large gorge, kite surfers brought me right back.  The enormous split between the two states is really fun to travel over and this was my favorite part of driving through Washington. 

We drove about 5-6 total hours when we landed in Spokane, WA KOA.  This site was similar to the last.  I don’t know if we would camp here again.  The kids enjoyed the pool after so many days sitting in the car.  But the kid’s playground was full of this charcoal type mulch and it was really hard to keep the kids clean.  Not that I expect them to be clean while camping, but this stuff was on another level.  Luckily there were hot showers and no loud trains keeping us up at night.  I took it as a win! Nothing is more important as a good night’s sleep while camping.

DAY FOUR: We are on our way to Montana.  It was finally setting in that I am about to see Whitefish for the very first time.  This will be my new home and I couldn’t handle the anticipation. We only drove through Idaho briefly, maybe a half hour or something. But I can say it was over the top stunning. I have heard Idaho might be the most beautiful state of them all. I will have to go back and do more exploring to find out. 

As we enter Montana, all of sudden the trees get taller and fuller.  At one point, I am seeing a sea of trees.  I have never seen this many trees in all of my life.  Not in one place.  We were lucky enough to drive through the town of Flathead Lake before entering Whitefish. It reminded me of some towns in the Bay Area like Sausalito or Larkspur.  It was absolutely stunning but without all the people and without so much development. 

As we are driving, all I am thinking is wow, this place is really beautiful.  There are ranches, horses, farms, mountains……we are completely surrounded by mountain peaks.  There are lakes, rivers, and a bazillion trees.  One of the most incredible things about where we drove through was the “big sky.”  They don’t use this term for nothing.  The skies seem to float above our heads for days.  The clouds and sky are huge!! Around 2pm, we finally arrive to Whitefish.  This is the place we hope to call home forever….well, maybe not forever but at least for a while as we master the many skills of inn keeping.  The first thing I see as we pull in is the enormous ski mountain once called “Big Mountain”.   I think many locals are in agreement that the name was fitting and are sad to see it go. The newest owner’s are calling it Whitefish Mountain Resort.

Currently it is end of June, so the mountain is covered in lush greenery.  All I can think is that this mountain looks very serious with several steep runs pointing to the top of what must be the top of Whitefish Mountain.  I am told you can ski all 360 degrees of the terrain.  The only thought that runs through my head is I cannot wait to see it up close and with it covered in snow. At this moment, I am so happy to be calling this my new home.

to be continued…..

To B&B or not to B&B?

After the let down that was Steamboat Springs, CO. (see previous post). I jumped right back to work and life with two wild kids. In my minimal downtime, I decided to keep frantically searching for the next new and improved B&B.  There was no time to waste and even though I was pretty let down about Steamboat, I knew something else would come our way. There were several properties we pondered over. Some were ridiculously expensive or within reason on price, but were not located close to anywhere we wanted to be. 

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Ryan had found one while I was away in Steamboat. It was called Good Medicine Lodge. He sent me the price tag and some details. It seemed like a long shot. So I didn’t really take it seriously at first. The price was way over our budget at $2.1 Million.  It had 9 rooms, three of which were suites, a great room, a cozy dining room, commercial kitchen, ski boot drying room, 6 fireplaces and so much more.  I looked at the listing over and over, not convinced we could ever afford a place like this.   What was odd was that it wasn’t on the typical websites where we found Inns for sale.  (This might have been the only reason we had luck on our side for this one). Also, I didn’t know anything about the area. 

Once I dug into it more, I realized this place was incredible. I learned there was an amazing ski resort just minutes away from the B&B called Whitefish Mountain Resort (aka Big Mountain). There was a ski shuttle that stopped at this particular B&B daily, in fact. I was intrigued! We had been mostly looking at states like Colorado, Oregon, Idaho and Vermont up to this point, so Montana was a bit of a surprise to me.  As far as inventory, there only seemed to be one other B&B for sale in Montana at the time and I wasn’t so sure we could make money there. I realize now how ridiculous that sounds. I just didn’t know anything about Montana. I assumed it was a desolate place like Alaska, very remote and you know, “off the grid?”  But to my surprise, this B&B was situated in a good sized quaint ski town called Whitefish. Apparently, it was sort of a hidden secret hot spot. I saw a lot of online buzz through YouTube videos, moslty of people’s ski trips, but still….this place looked cool and worth checking out. There were articles that popped up describing it as having a well-established food scene, several cool local bars and a lot of lakes, rivers, and activities.  The biggest crowd pleaser of course: Glacier National Park, which is only minutes away. But most of what I researched was the skiing. 

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The information shocked me.  Several videos I watched described the deep snow and the immense terrain that covered over 3000 skiable acres. You could ski 360 degrees around the mountain and they had these things called snow ghosts.  People mistake these snow ghosts for large dense snow covered trees along the ski runs. But they are actually these cloud formations that freeze and form these hauntingly fascinating snow formations. I soon learned that Whitefish Mountain Resort was recently ranked one of the top ten ski resorts in the country by SKI magazine.  I wondered how I had never heard of this place before! 

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After digging into this town a lot more and after receiving additional photos of the B&B, we decided to take the next step and move forward on this place.  It’s owner’s quarters (which is where our family would live), had two bedrooms, two bathrooms and had a living, kitchen and dining area all in open format.  It was still larger than our house back in Oakland, offering around 2000 square feet.  It was quite beautiful with exposed beamed ceilings, huge windows and a lot of hard wood craftsmanship.  At this point, we did not have other properties insight, so this was more of an attempt at throwing something, anything at the wall in hopes that it would stick!  This was all taking place in February or March 2019, but we originally started this search back in November 2018 and perhaps mentally even sooner.  So we were feeling like we needed to push something forward.  The summer was lurking around the corner and once June hit we knew game would be on to find something.  It typically takes 3 months for the overall process, so if we didn’t find something by June chances were our next option would be a much more difficult route. Dylan (our 6 year old) would be starting up school again.  We didn’t want to have to pull him out midyear, if at all possible. 

We spoke with Eben about this property and wanted to determine if we could even afford this place. It was beyond our initial budget but once we understood the typical down payment and reserves needed to have the SBA and bank approve us, it looked as though we had a real shot.  We had what it took in terms of assets and future profitability to make a go at this.  As long as the seller’s would take us up on our lesser offer.  So Eben and Ryan want out to visit and they had a blast.  They loved the lodge and couldn’t stop bragging about how well maintained the facility was.  Every inch of the place looked as though tedious care was taken over the years by the current innkeepers.   Not only that but there was an impressive backyard with edible garden, several private balconies that our guests could enjoy, beautiful local artwork was installed throughout and the rooms were really comfortable. 

Not long after they returned from their trip, we made a solid offer. The seller’s countered, adding $100K and we accepted the deal. I could hardly believe it!! We were one step closer to owning our very own B&B!

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There was one major hurdle during all of this, that is worth mentioning because the moment I realized we had a problem, my heart sank.  The funny part about this story is that I was having my blood pressure tested just moment’s after finding out about this heart dropping issue. It was one of those at-home blood draw tests for a new life insurance policy.  Literally, as the nurse is walking up our driveway, I am talking with my 401K planner when I just learn that my 401K plan is not available to me until January/February of the following year (2020.) This was a huge problem!!! No 401K rollover, meant no B&B or at the very least, we would need to lean on the seller’s for a large loan. It didn’t sound promising.

Ryan had researched this option to finance your Bed & Breakfast with this 401K ROBS program that only specialists in this type of financing really know about.  It was a program rolled out by the government in the seventies. The funds you take from your 401K would be rolled over into a bank account that basically became a profit sharing corporation, that I could invest my 401K monies into. This type of rollover can only happen in rare business ventures, the Bed and Breakfast industry being one of them.  I had already initiated a group called Guidant, who was helping me along with the process. This program has several gray areas, so having a specialist who can keep you out of legal trouble with the IRS, is essential.  The crazy thing was that the senior level rep I was working with at the time, said that he had only heard of this rare case before one time in all his years.  But need not worry. I took a deep breath and the nurse said to me, “your blood pressure is totally normal.” Well, I do work well under pressure, so if there is a will there is a way!!!

Plan B set in, Eben knew just what to do.  He communicated that we would be required to ask for some owner financing regardless of our 401K situation.  Since I couldn’t use about $235K to finance it on my own, the owner’s would now be asked to help.  To say we were nervous about the reply would be a total understatement.  We spent countless hours waiting on pins and needles wondering what would happen next.  Would the seller’s bow out, would they simply just say no, or would they agree?  We had to wait.  But something really great was about to happen and just in the knick of time.  My old employer had caught wind of my 401K situation and decided he would work with his account reps to allow me to pull the total amount of my 401K out of the account, as soon as August 2019.  This was perfect timing for the funds to come through, just before we needed to lock in the financial terms.  I was so relieved!!!  I mean this could’ve potentially been the end of this B&B for us.  And it is key to point out, that at this point of the venture we had already given notices to our employers, committed to put our house on the market and were packing our bags. The stakes were high! Now I would be able to pay the 401K funds towards the loan per original plan and we would only need to ask for the $100K, which seemed a reasonable amount to ask the seller’s to help us with.  So we moved forward with the purchase and it was time to pack up to head out in search of Good Medicine in beautiful northern Montana!!

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Champagne Powder!!

After a couple of months perusing several Bed and Breakfast ads, we found one that really caught our attention.  There were a few that checked off some of the boxes, but ultimately they were either in the middle of nowhere (which meant not great schools for the kids) or they were about one or more hours away from skiing. Not ideal.  The one that we liked was located in Steamboat Springs, CO. 

Originally, the facility had been one of three lodges located very near each other, that housed students.  A few years prior, one of the students left a candle burning in one of the structures and it burnt down.  The second building was sold to a private owner and the third was this newly running Bed and Breakfast. The present owner was mostly renting it out as a vacation rental.  According to Eben (our advisor), this was not an ideal model for running a B&B.  It seemed like a great business model to me.  What’s not to love about making a little less money to rent out the whole place, when you as the inn keeper come in at check out to clean up?  Eben said that in the B&B world, you make a lot more money as an actual Bed & Breakfast. It’s all about those higher rate room prices.

After digging into the property, it seemed like financially we wouldn’t be able to make it work.  The current owner was not seeing the profits that banks would require to lend.  I will try to elaborate on this a little more later.  The property was priced amazingly well for the area.  If you have never been to Steamboat Springs, it’s a really cool town but also very pricey real estate.  It is a stereotypical ski town with several pubs, plenty of adventure stores, hot springs, an incredible ski resort and so much more.  For an outdoor enthusiast, this place has it all.  There is even a nearby airport conveniently located just about twenty minutes from shuttle pick up to first run.

We had met with our CPA who helped us sort through the expenses and income and he didn’t think we could cover our mortgage.  We would need to bring up the business quite a bit and after talking this over with Eben over at Inn Partners, he explained that you need to factor more into the equation than just the straight numbers received back from the seller.  Basically, you want to purchase a B&B that has had good occupancy rates in the last couple of years.  If the business hasn’t been pulling enough profit, then you will need to make sure that the business has room to grow when you take it over. You will need to prove this case to your bank and in our case, the SBA as well.  And proving that is not easy. This business had been run more like a vacation rental for the previous years, so we were hoping there would be a way to convert the room rentals back to typical B&B rates allowing us to increase sales and show more profit.  The current occupancy rates were only 50% overall. However, these were mostly for vacation rentals. We would need to drive that number up to something like 70%.  But would creative marketing and remodeling do it? The location was quite off the beaten path. It was located near Rabbit Ear’s Pass about ten miles from the resort and pretty far from downtown.

We thought it might be a long shot but we didn’t have many options at the moment. We heard that there were several offers and they hadn’t gone through. With such a low price point and our grand plans to build this business into the profit making machine we wanted, we decided to take the leap and go see the lodge in person.

I booked a flight for Eben our advisor, and another flight for myself.  Eben would come with me to assess the property and help us figure this whole thing out. I decided to leave my family behind since Dylan was in school and Caleb was too much for me to handle in this sort of situation.  (There would be serious conversations needing to take place and I knew Caleb would make that nearly impossible.)  During my stay, it had dumped snow!!  And I mean a lot of snow.  I knew that it was the perfect time to be visiting by the excitement and the buzz I could hear among the locals.  Thank god I brought my snowboard gear!  The snow was incredible, there was no doubt about that.  I had heard it referred to as “champagne snow” and I would agree.  Although a local needed to explain it to me first, but the term referred to how the snow would lightly buzz your nose when it flew towards your face, giving you a tingling sensation.  Legend has it that one of the founder’s of the ski resort coined the term. (I do not know if this is true or not, just a local legend.) I would describe it as light and airy cream.  You could smooth over and through it like a denser version of whipped cream.  I was in heaven!

I also loved the parking situation.  For a non-local, I typically anticipate a total nightmare when it comes to parking at a ski resort.  They usually force your car to park miles from the closest lift and getting your equipment (especially for children) is just a total bummer.  It’s a lot of heavy awkward lifting and then there are the usual shuttle lines.  But Steamboat had ample parking, albeit cost $30 for all day for the premium spots.  Otherwise, you could park in a free lot located a short walk away.  There were not too many people there.  It seemed as though maybe everyone traveled by shuttle from their conveniently located condo.  The downside of all this would be the hundred plus condos that bordered the entrance to the resort.  These structures were peppered all along the base of the mountain and it felt crowded, even claustrophobic. It felt strange to pull up to this amazing mountain, navigating through a maze of condominiums.  But once you strap on your skis or board and head up to the beautiful top, you soon forget all about them.

After seeing what Steamboat had to offer with all it’s amazing recreation, natural wonder and good local vibes I fell hard in love.  I couldn’t stop imagining my new life here. We set a time to meet with the seller and asked if we could tour the lodge in and out.  Unfortunately for me, I was so little prepared for what happened next. 

Before we even started the tour, she made a comment about having an offer already and being in contract.  I literally shook my head quickly to shake out whatever could be clogging my ears. There was no way I traveled all the way to Steamboat Springs, only to find out that they were already under contract.   She seemed surprised that I was in shock over this news.  She said to both Eben and I that her realtor told her that he had told us about being in contract before we booked our trip.  We shook our heads in disbelief and said no, definintely not. He totally lied to her and us!!!  Without knowing all of the details over this news, we could only assume that her realtor had played a dirty trick to force her to sign a contract and take a less than desireable offer. He used us as bait to pressure into taking it.  Afterall, we did know that the couple making the offer was also represented by her realtor, so he would “get both sides of the deal.” 

I was heart broken. We finished the tour of the Inn and tried to make the best of the rest of our stay (I still had two days left) to try to enjoy our time and not come across too awkward.  We were staying at the Bed and Breakfast, so I couldn’t really do anything other than pretend to just be on a happy vacation while I still had time left. It was really a huge let down but I made the most of my time and enjoyed the peaceful snow falling and visited several of the local shops.

One thing I can take away from this mistake is that the “champagne powder” is real and totally worthy of checking out. I hope to be back someday.

(to be continued)

A trip to Vermont

I did not have any idea on what to look for in a B&B. I was only thinking that if we could pay most of it off with the proceeds from the sale of our home in Oakland and from our 401K, that we could keep ourselves afloat as inn keepers. My mind went back to that first Bed and Breakfast that I found on Zillow, listing an inexpensive one next to Killington Ski Resort. Looking back, I realize how naive I was.

I decided to book a room at the Inn with the owner’s blessing. They were excited to have me come out to see it in person. Little did I know, it would be quite the four days.

Overall, it was a really fun trip. However, I also found it very exhausting.  I had been working a full time job managing several hospital projects in San Franscisco. I needed to take a couple PTO days to fit this trip into my busy life and work schedule. It wasn’t easy. Dylan was on Christmas break from school so I decided to bring him along with me. Luckily, we had an at home nanny caring for Caleb and Ryan was working full time as well, so this helped him out immensely.  I had to jam pack the long weekend trip with several places to check out including the B&B.  We visited the elementary school (right next to the ski resort) and also checked him into a day of ski school, so he could experience what his new life would be like. We also travelled through several small towns throughout Vermont to experience what daily living would be like.

Woodstock, VT, USA December 12, 2009 Christmas wreathes and lights decorate a country inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Just a few minutes from this Inn was the town of Woodstock. (Not to confuse it with Woodstock, NY.) Woodstock, VT is simply the most adorable town on this planet. I literally had goosebumps pulling into town with the snow covered landscape, rustic barn covered bridges that are typically seen throughout Vermont. It had all the historical charm imaginable in the small village located right on main street. There was a huge, beautiful Inn located right in the center of the town. It was called Woodstock Inn and Resort. I mean seriously, it looked like a smaller version of the White House. Now this was a B&B and I couldn’t imagine how much work there was to run a place like this. It was February and had been snowing, so the decorations and beauty of the front facade stood out perfectly. I really started to envisioning our life there, the quintessential place to own a B&B.

The B&B I was there to visit (and could actually afford), was this really old farm-style Inn.  It had 10 gust rooms, all with their own bathroom, a small owner’s quarters, a nice commerical kitchen and dining room.  The current owner’s were running a restaurant that sold breakfast to the public.  It also had this really great huge old barn, which needed a lot of retrofitting.  The owner even mentioned that the barn was probably worth more torn down and sold for it’s extra long wood beams than it was up. There were obvious huge cracks in the foundation. There went my dream of selling barn-style wedding packages.

This was my first time seeing a B&B in this capacity, so I had a ton of questions.  Looking back, I had quite a lot to learn about the industry and probably should’ve held off on this trip.  Traveling across the country is expensive, especially since I brought Dylan along with me..  I thought it would be a nice way for him to learn about this huge change we were about to commit to.  He really loved being there with me to see it.  In the end, I think the old Inn scared him.  It was in rough shape and we didn’t sleep so well honestly.  The beds were creaky and like with any old place, floors had settled and the structure made some really crazy noises at night.  Suffice it to say, the prospect of buying this Inn didn’t look promising. Upon leaving, Dylan wasn’t thrilled with the idea.

While we were away in Vermont, Ryan had ran across this team called Inn Partners.  They were out of Vermont and specialized in advising prospective inn keepers about the Bed and Breakfast process.   Little did we know at the time, but there is so much to understand about this very specialized industry.  It’s not exactly like buying a business because there is the added feature of it needing to fit your lifestyle and to provide you and your family a home to live in.   It’s not just buying real estate either.  Come to find out, there are not many realtors out there who actually specialize in Bed and Breakfasts.  While they have their commercial license, they don’t typically understand the details required for a prospective buyer to work with the SBA and banks for funding. For a little context, I’d like to provide you with an example. 

We asked several realtors for more information back about the B&B’s for sale that they represented.  Most of them were able to deliver a fairly decent package consisting of the listing, occupancy rates and sales for the past three years, this is pretty typical to provide. If they were really good, they would send additional photos. In many cases, they would ask us right away when we would be out to visit the property like it was expected.  For a typical commercial listing, this would make perfect sense.  But for a couple like us who are specifically looking to purchase a B&B, we could literally spend thousands of dollars just visiting these properties alone not to mention what a waste of our valuable time.  Unlike a regular commercial listing, where a buyer would be looking for a property in that particular area, prospective buyers of Inns may be looking at several locations mainly due to how few B&B’s there are for sale that hit all the criteria.  So it’s not usually the location that the person is really set on, although that helps. 

Additionally, I would think that most B&B buyers are very interested in what the owner’s quarters look, but we found many listings completely missing these photos from the listing altogether.  In some instances, we had to ask for additional photos and even when they were provided, they still lacked a good understanding of what the set up was like.  For a family like us with two kids, the living situation for us is more important than the actual business to be honest.  If we can’t make the living situation work for our family, how in the world would we be successful business owners? 

So Ryan decided to call Inn Partners to discuss what services they could offer. For a reasonable fee, they described many areas of assistance that they could provide us. It was a no brainer. We knew we had to work with them if we were ever going to get anywhere with this. 

When I returned from Vermont, we spoke with our advisor, Eben Viens from Inn Partners.  We gave him some of the tidbits I learned from my visit.  There were a couple of red flags that he pointed out.  One was that the sellers were not thrilled with me working with an inn advising team.  They made a comment that they were not willing to show their books to us if our advisor was going to be brought into the equation.  In inn keeping, this is apparently a very big warning sign that the business is not being financially organized in a manner that would lend itself to running smoothly once it transitioned over to us. The SBA or a bank would definitely not work with us on a loan without the seller’s cooperation to see the books. This would have been a showstopper immediately.  Some of the other red flags included: the restaurant serving breakfast to the public and the physical shape that the B&B was currently in. 

The owners had said to me many times that without the restaurant serving breakfast to the public, they probably wouldn’t be making enough to keep the Inn open.  Ryan and I had no interest in running a restaurant alongside what we knew would be a very busy operation of running a B&B.  I admitted this to them and their response was that it was super easy to run with fast cash left for their pockets.  When I explained this to Inn Partners, Eben stated that restaurants from an Inn typically don’t generate much revenue compared to what the rooms can bring in.  The rooms currently, needed a lot of work and several of the common areas would require facelifts too.

Even though I really liked the owner’s and could see myself up for the challenge of bringing the place up to par, it did seem like it was in our best interest to continue our search. There were probably dozens of other inns out there that might just be a little easier for us to start business from day one in our current price range. Soon however, I would be served a reality check.

(to be continued)

Leaving the San Francisco Bay

www.pachd.com (photo credit)

Sometimes I can be so irrational.  Sometimes that can be a good thing.  I woke my husband up VERY late one night (or perhaps it was even morning already) after I read about the “next big one.”  It was an article describing how experts warned that the next big earthquake would be incredibly damaging to all the thousands of people living in the Bay Area.  The area of concern was most concentrated along the Hayward Fault.  Unfortunately, this was the same fault line that sat directly underneath our house.  We knew it when we bought our house back twelve years ago.  But when you are young and buying something as cool as a house for the first time, it is amazing what you are willing to look past in order to make your dream reality.  The experts had been expecting this for years, but with hardly any seismic activity in recent history, it was inevitable that the next quake could be catastrophic and could take place any minute.  The part that scared me the most was that BART (the Bay Area Rapid Transportation) was heavily relied on by most of the community as they made their commute towards San Francisco.

The article said that BART had only begun their underwater tube retrofitting.  Unfortunately for me, I take the BART train every single morning and evening for work.  It is about a forty-minute ride from Oakland to San Francisco.  I have been working as a Project Manager in hospital construction.  Hospitals are required to be built with earthquake safety in mind, as hospitals are a place of refuge in times of major catastrophe.  So I already had this heightened awareness about seismic retrofitting and safety.  I couldn’t believe that the tube had still not been retrofitted. But most importantly, I knew that if the next big one hit while I was at work, there were few ways that I could travel back to Oakland.  All transportation would be halted.  Even during regular commute times, traffic can be backed up for hours.  Imagine me trying to get back to check on my two boys, my husband, my two dogs and my home.  Or worse yet, I would be stuck in the BART tube under the water when the earthquake struck.  It was unimaginable to me.  I am extremely claustrophobic to the point where I have had several panic attacks on the train rides when they fill up with passengers.  So you can imagine the thoughts that run through me on a daily basis…..yes, I live in constant fear…..like I said, I can be irrational. 

With this latest article and the fact that the recent California wild fires had completely wiped out the city of Paradise, I felt it only right that I crazily wake up my husband up at 1am to explain that we needed to move.  This conversation needed to take place right then or maybe I would never have the courage to bring it up again.  He of course, did not exactly love the idea of discussing in that very instant.  It was dark and even though I couldn’t see the look of frustration on his face, I knew by his tone that he was not thrilled.  Lucky for me, my husband is still sweet to me after all my neurotic episodes over the years.  After talking through my worst fears and recognizing that the Bay Area was becoming more difficult for us to afford with two young kids, he hesitantly agreed that we should consider moving out of California.  For me this meant game on.  Full speed ahead!

Over the next few months, we poured over numerous Zillow house advertisements.   Locations ranged from Vermont, Colorado, Oregon and back to other areas of California.  The one stipulation was that we had to live closer to nature.  For me that meant skiing/snowboarding.  For my husband, that meant mountain biking.  We both grew up in rural areas.  I lived in northern Michigan right next to a couple of the local ski resorts.  I basically lived at the ski hill throughout my youth, skiing three days (Thursdays were called off to take a ski day) and two nights per week religiously.  Ryan, my husband grew up in Maine and New Hampshire where he learned all about his passions: fitness, training and bike racing.  We wanted to raise our two energetic boys in similar landscapes where they could spend countless hours enjoying the great outdoors. 

Oakland offers a ton of nature to explore with several regional parks in our back yard.  That was one of the many reasons we moved there in the first place.  However, with our work commutes, stressful school drop offs and juggling the city life, we were finding it harder to find time to enjoy what we loved even with it’s proximity to our home. 

After researching areas to live, we realized that living near skiing was not going to be so easy.  Most ski towns are incredibly expensive and do not offer many options in way of high paying jobs.  One day, I saw a Zillow post offering a reasonably priced Bed and Breakfast only minutes away from Killington Ski Resort.  It needed quite a bit of work but could potentially be a revenue generating business that Ryan and I could do together.  When I mentioned it to him, I was shocked that he admitted it was my best idea yet.   I thought for sure he would say I was crazy.  Even though he always heard me talking about owning my own business someday.  I talked endlessly about opening a small interior design shop, coffee shop or café since we were first married.  I even once opened an online webstore, which was more of a hobby than anything.  I didn’t actually take it farther than a few sales due to lack of storage space for the retail items or issues calculating the shipping.  After a few months, I closed it but it was a really fun to build up and I couldn’t let the idea of owning a business of my own someday. 

When he agreed to my idea of opening a B&B, the idea of moving became really exciting.  For the first time, I started to think that we might actually have a shot of starting a new life in a dream location while having a chance at owning my very own business. 

Looking for a bed and breakfast to own, is not as easy and glamorous as it seems.  Or maybe everyone else already knows this but it’s funny, I like to jump into crazy ideas and realize they are in fact, ridiculous and much more difficult than I thought to pull off after I have committed deeply into it.  I do not know why I do this, but Ryan sometimes thinks I am crazy.  This was another one of those ideas where I start out full speed ahead.  It is super fun to think about, I tend to obsess over it for a while. I spent hours researching the industry. After several long hours over many days, I realized that there is so much beyond my control to make this happen.  Most normal people would probably stop there, face reality and head back to their normal life.  However, for us turning back was not an easy option.  We lived in a small house and after having a second kid, we really needed another bedroom if it was to fit our growing family.  Buying a larger house was not going to be affordable or would end up landing us an added thirty minutes onto our already long commutes.  Maybe we could “afford it” but we would likely be paying a ridiculously high mortgage until well into our seventies.  That is an option but not one that appealed to me much. The thoughts of living right next to skiing, was the vision I held onto.  

I knew that if we could figure this puzzle out and just keep moving towards this, that it would be all worth it.  The question was, how in the world are we going to find one that fits our budget and our extensive checklist. 

We needed an Inn that was located within twenty minutes of epic skiing.  We preferred not to be at the type of ski resort where the lift lines were long, but somewhere with a local ski town vibe.  The skiing had to have nice long runs, yet difficult enough terrain to keep the us on our toes.  Ryan loves the back country, so any place that had plenty of that would be ideal.  The town needed to have good schools, a sense of community and of course lots of biking.  But how would we ever find a magical place that fit all the checkboxes?

(to be continued)

Hello World! My name is Sara and this is my very first blog.

I cannot believe I am actually doing this. I have never really been into writing. I never kept a journal or performed well in English class. I dreaded those mandatory long research papers we had to do in high school and college. But here we are, only weeks away from purchasing a Bed and Breakfast. The website needs to be revamped and our marketing needs to be strong. I am creating this blog for a few reasons. To add current content to our website and to hopefully find a great network that we can build relationships from. Maybe we meet a few new guests through this or maybe we find other inn keepers who can relate to our crazy stories. But most importantly, I want to look back at this journey and have a beautiful record that I can read over and over again, to remember this amazing part of our lives.

Because I am not an incredible writer, I have chosen to publish short segments of the full story chronologically. It starts from the beginning when we first decided to leave Oakland, CA in search of owning a Bed and Breakfast. We have not yet closed on the purchase of the Inn. We hope to do so in the next few weeks. My plan is to keep the blog going through to the end. I have no idea how long that will take, how many years. But along the way we are sure to have many incredible moments and ridiculous posts to laugh about.

I hope you enjoy riding along this journey with us. Please feel free to send any feedback or critiques my way.

Thank you for reading and hope to see you in the near future at our new Inn. Details to come…..

Sincerely,

Sara Grenier and family