The Joy of Renting a Super-Expensive Villa


Butlers, concierges, helipads, and yacht moorings are only part of what you get when you pay thousands of dollars a night for a luxury villa

Christian Jagodzinski had been promised he would have a working Internet connection when he arrived at the villa he was renting for €50,000 a month in St. Tropez five years ago. Instead, what he found on the desk was a modem still in the box and a dead line. It was the last straw. So the German entrepreneur decided to take matters into his own hands—he founded Villazzo, a villa rental business that offered all the services and amenities of a luxury hotel.

"I started this company because I was a villa renter and I had experienced on a number of occasions that I was expecting so much more for what I was paying for. When you go to a hotel, you take things for granted such as room service, but when you go into the villa market you have none of that," says Jagodzinski.

"There was the housekeeper who never showed up, the staff that doesn't speak the same language, mustard left by the owners a year ago, all there would be was old butter in the fridge, and there were mismatched dishes from which you couldn't even make a formal dinner."

A Hotel of Your Own

Before founding Villazzo, Jagodzinski had been a founder of Internet book retailer Telebooks, which he and partner Michael Gleissner sold to Amazon.com (AMZN) in 1998 for an undisclosed amount. After working briefly as Amazon's director of European business development, he sold off his shares of Amazon stock, estimated at around $55 million, and traveled in style, looking for his next business idea.

That is when Jagodzinski realized the only way to create a great villa rental experience was to look at it as if it were a hotel rather than real estate. People looking to rent a luxury villa, which can cost thousands of dollars a day, are looking for a vacation experience, he explains. But how do you make a rental service seem more like a hotel service without the staff living and working full time on the perimeters of the villa? … Much more simply that it might first appear.

"We thought, let's build a destination, with a high number of high-end properties, with high-end clients, at high-end spots. We set up the central office like a hotel and we hire specialized people who run every element of a hotel—maintenance, maid service, room service, concierge service—and they operate a virtual hotel," he says, adding, "Instead of taking the elevator, they take the car."

It's Been Taken Care Of

But Jagodzinski makes it clear that Villazzo is not a concierge service. It pre-arranges most things before you even arrive—giving you more choices and not forcing you to make any hard decisions. Villazzo has everything ready from the moment you land on the ground. Transportation from airport to villa is already arranged and, unlike other villa services, included in the price of your stay. Villazzo recently acquired a helicopter in Nice, France, to take clients to their St. Tropez retreats, avoiding the drive that can get backed up during the summer months.

When you arrive at the door, a porter is waiting to take your luggage, a maid is there to iron any wrinkled clothes, strawberries and champagne are set out, and other snacks are available. Villazzo also provides an unpacking service, Bulgari bath products, fresh fruit and flowers, security alarms, and two different pillow thicknesses, to name a few of the 35 pre-arranged services.

"Wherever we go, we stay at the best hotels, and whatever they are doing—we do. Recently, we stayed at the Four Seasons and we saw that they now included a tea humidor and dry tea leaves. And we are now offering the same service," says Jagodzinski.

Some Men Are an Island

Villazzo's six destinations—Miami, Aspen, St. Tropez, Marbella, Paris, Courchevel—each have between one and seven villa properties, and Jagodzinski's goal is to have a portfolio of about 10 for each. The priciest property goes for $11,900 per day during the peak season, April to October, and the least expensive for about $2,500 per day during the same season.

Villazzo works directly with the villa owners to create the most appropriate price for property. "We go to the owners and give them a price that makes sense based on the area. Our goal is to maximize the income over the whole year and not for one rental who won't come back."

While Villazzo seems to be leading the way in this new villa hotel market, there are a number of other services out there that provide something along the same lines. One such group is Wimco, which also lists a large number of villas. But its services differ by villa and, most often, transportation is not pre-arranged.

And if a villa is too modest for you, check out Caribbean Way. They list a number of private islands in the Caribbean that guests can rent exclusively for their own parties.

See BusinessWeek.com's slide show of some of the world's most expensive rental villas.

Flanagan is an intern in BusinessWeek's Paris bureau.

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