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There is a new (rich) sucker born every minute...

For those fortunate few out there who travel to London regularly, I envy you. What I don’t envy are the hotel rates you pay, which are averaging over $600 a night in the city. We have seen hotel rates go up a great deal in the U.S., as well, over the last few years. New York is a particular example of that phenomenon.

The hotel companies have finally run out of the excess capacity they had from 2000 until 2005. Occupancy rates are high and room rates are even higher. Just the time to invest in new hotel rooms. That is, it’s the right time if you are a hotel company and want to keep your regular customers satisfied and coming back because you always have a room for them.

It is an awful time to invest if you happen to be an individual who thinks he can make a killing in London real estate. In London, as in parts of the U.S., there is a fad for what’s called buy-to-let hotels. This phenomenon sells individual hotel rooms to investors who hope to make a good return on investment by letting out these hotel rooms. Bad idea, at least today. Room prices are above replacement costs. Room rates are extraordinarily high because prices have to be high enough to discourage demand, not because the cost of replacing those hotel rooms is anywhere near the $600 they are commanding today. These poor investors are buying at the top of the market when they have no business requirement to keep customers satisfied. If this investment were such a great deal, do you think it is likely that the current hotel owners would be willing to part with their precious ownership? Not likely.

This is a capital intensive industry where there has been, and will be again, overbuilding. It is a regular cycle in hotels, even luxury hotels. These are likely to be very poor investments for these individuals who are buying at the peak of a market. They should have been buying in 2001, when prices were depressed. Then they had a chance to make a decent return.

Posted 3/21/08

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