We had the good fortune of connecting with Elaine Fitzgerald and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elaine, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
If anyone told me years ago that I would become a small hotelier, I would have thought they were crazy. I never had a lot of money, and knew nothing about real estate or hotels other than going on vacation myself. But I managed to parlay $60K into a business with several boutique lodgings worth millions, that are mostly paid for today. Many people say they could “kick themselves” for letting a great opportunity get away. But not everyone can afford to take risks, like families with children that may need to go for the “sure thing” of a stable job. I wasn’t in that category, so I put faith in myself and went for it.
What should our readers know about your business?
I own and operate Beach Vacation Rentals’ group of extended stay lodgings in Pompano Beach, Florida. We offer top-rated historic and vintage apartments and cottages in the heart of the newly renovated beach area. They are quiet retreats for an authentic Florida experience. In 2019, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber awarded us Small Business of the Year for Tourism and Hospitality.
I started this business 20 years ago when I also operated a South Florida public relations firm. Prior to that, I had a 15-year career as a news reporter and anchor at major TV and radio stations across the country. I enjoyed reinventing myself over the years. I learned that there was nothing better than working for myself. I found that hard work and challenges helped make life spicy and rewarding! But not all of my reinventing was intentional. Sometimes it was necessary. And it often required being able to make quick decisions and taking educated risks.
In my 40s, after I had paid off a divorce settlement, I was left with $60K to my name. I had no other savings, no 401K, no property – nothing. At that same time, my public relations firm would make good money one year and then almost no money the next, continuously flip-flopping with whatever the state of the economy was at the time. I did not feel secure relying on this for the rest of my life, and I was not the type to look for a sugar-daddy in South Florida. So I decided to invest in real estate while continuing to operate my PR firm. With $60K, I had the money for down payments on two older condos on the Intracoastal. It took everything I had. I lived in one and rented the other seasonally, as was allowed in that building, and it stayed busy all the time. The location I chose meant everything: on the water, and being able to walk to the beach, shops and restaurants.
It was the early 2000s, and real estate values immediately started rising. This led to a rapid chain of opportunities and a lot of gambling on myself and my abilities. While I knew nothing about real estate or the hotel business, I knew how to ask questions. My two condos were suddenly worth more than I had paid, so I was able to get $100K lines of equity for each of the two condos. With a good part of that, I put a down payment on what is now Cottages by the Ocean, a complex of six historic structures less than two blocks to the beach. By anyone’s standards, it was a very run-down property with very rough tenants. But I pictured it as it is today. After rebuilding and marketing it, it became one of my most successful tourist properties. With a lot of creative financing, hard work and keeping to very tight budgets, I was able to buy, rebuild and open one property every year after that until I had four multi-unit properties, all in the central beach area. These were small apartment buildings just blocks apart in neighborhoods zoned for transient rentals. I added heavy landscaping and lighting and converted them to attractive extended stay properties for tourists and business travelers from around the world.
At that time, it was nearly impossible for visitors to find furnished apartments to rent by the beach for short-term, so this was something new and in demand. This effort helped kick-start revitalization in each neighborhood where we located. In addition, I was appointed to Pompano’s Economic Development Council where I continue to help plan and encourage quality improvements throughout the city.
When I started Beach Vacation Rentals, there was so much to do and figure out, mostly at night while I operated my PR firm during the day. Legal. Financial. Personnel. Setting up my own unique systems to operate more effectively and efficiently than traditional hotels. Twenty years ago, I was among the first to utilize keyless apartment entries, VoIP phones, and work-at-home reservationists. These systems and more made all of the difference in time and money. I simplified and streamlined everywhere I could, and added redundant systems to prevent problems if anything went wrong. I ran my properties as if they were one hotel, with each property being a different floor of the hotel, using the same staff and operations. And so came Bahama Beach Club, Sunny Place, Pineapple Place – all multiple White Glove Award winners by the Superior Small Lodging Association. My mother moved down and bought the fifth property, Pelican Place, to rebuild and add to the mix. My mission was to create charming, comfortable places that I would like to stay at myself. I treated my guests as I would expect to be treated at the finest hotels. I sought and trained staff that felt the same; and couldn’t do it today without them.
Eventually, I retired from my PR firm and became a full-time hotelier. Beach Vacation Rentals offers studios, 1/1s and 2/2s for about the same rate as a hotel room. Discounts are offered for longer seasonal or corporate stays. Guests enjoy free wi-fi and parking, full kitchens, king beds, guest laundry, BBQ areas, beach gear, books, family games and swimming pools at most properties. We allow small, well behaved dogs for a pet fee.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Our Beach Vacation Rentals guests have the great outdoors as well as history and cultural activities at their fingertips. We recommend a short walk to the city’s spectacular new beachfront park promenade, new fishing pier, dozens of great local restaurants including iconic oceanfront restaurants like Oceanic, Beach House Pompano and Lucky Fish Beach Bar and Grill. Nearby are shops, boat rentals, snorkel and dive boats, party and charter fishing boats and Pompano Water Taxi stops. We’re only a five-minute drive to Pompano CitiCentre open air shopping mall, movie theaters, tennis and aquatics complex, dog park, historic Pompano Air Park for private planes, helicopter rides and the Goodyear Blimp base, 36-hole city golf facility with Greg Norman signature course and driving range, Old Pompano historic district with Baily Contemporary Arts Center, Saturday Green market, fishing fleet and historic Hillsboro lighthouse, The Amp outdoor concert venue, and the impressive new Pompano Cultural Arts Center. Shipwreck Park artificial reef system is just one mile offshore with 17 wrecks and sunken artworks. It’s a 15-minute drive the smoke-free ISLE Casino and Pompano Harness Track. I-95 is a 10-minute drive for easy access to all South Florida business centers, shopping and attractions. Best bets if you’re only here for a week include Butterfly World, Billie Swamp Safari and Jungle Queen tours.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
This is dedicated to my ace staff at Beach Vacation Rentals who work tirelessly to provide safe and memorable stays for our guests.