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December 17, 2018

A Camden inn offers second career — and a return to Maine

Courtesy / Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
Courtesy / Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
Camden's Belmont Inn, 6 Belmont Ave., has a new owner after being on the market for two years.

The Belmont Inn is considered to be in a great location that's in a quiet residential neighborhood a block from Camden's busy U.S. Route 1 — yet close enough to leverage the town's busy visitor base.

Kim Caffe purchased the inn, at 6 Belmont Ave., from Belmont Inn LLC for $845,000. Kimberly Swan and Erica Brooks of the Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty brokered the deal, which closed Nov. 6.

"You're in a beautiful residential area, but it's also close to downtown," said Swan.

The inn was on the market for two years. There was a lot of interest — as there always is in inns under $1 million, Swan said — and several offers. But it took that long to sell, she said, likely because there's a tradeoff between a small inn — this one has six guest rooms — and return on investment.

"The bottom line isn't as strong as something with more rooms," she said.

Lifestyle property

Courtesy / Kim Caffe
Courtesy / Kim Caffe
Mother-and-daughter team Kim and Lauren Caffe will run Camden's Belmont Inn together.

As a smaller lodging, the Belmont is considered a "lifestyle" property. A lifestyle property is one to which many buyers come as a semi-retirement opportunity and doesn't necessarily constitute an owner's sole means of income, she said.

"In the 1980s, there were a lot of people who were looking for this lifestyle," she said. Innkeepers might not have necessarily taken salaries. "The inn paid for itself and they were happy with that," she explained.

A shift began in the 2000s, with potential buyers viewing small lodgings more through the business lens, she said.

"More and more lifestyle property buyers are looking for a decent return on their money," she said.

Buyers increasingly look for ways to boost revenue, through means like raising room rates or extending their season, she said.

"I think Kim saw the potential very clearly, early on," Swan said. "I think she's going to be able to increase the business significantly, very quickly."

Over the past few years, for example, the inn wasn't open year-round, despite customer opportunities that Camden offers through the winter, like the Camden Snow Bowl's U.S. National Toboggan Championships, held in February. Year-round trade will help boost revenue, said Swan.

Summers in Maine

"When I walked in, I fell in love with it," Caffe said. "It has a quiet elegance. You have the sense of serenity."

Caffe came to innkeeping from a career in rehabilitation counseling. Her parents are originally from Brewer, but she grew up in Connecticut. She became familiar with Maine as a child, when her family spent summers at a camp on Phillips Lake in Dedham.

For the past 12 years, she and her husband have lived in Illinois. But they had been thinking about making the shift back east for a while, and Caffe had been thinking about a semi-retirement innkeeping career for a while.

Why innkeeping?

"I had worked at a restaurant for six years through high school and college for Judy Moody Beck [part of the family that owns Moody's Diner in Waldoboro] before pursuing a career in rehabilitation counseling," she said. "The opportunity to return to hospitality and continue to interact with people is what sparked my interest in innkeeping."

She had stayed in Camden a few times and enjoyed both summers and winters there.

"A few years ago, I stayed there in the winter, just to see how it was," she said. "I felt there was a good life in Camden, in terms of the dynamics" of the year-round population and wintertime activities like the Snow Bowl. "They have an active winter scene," she added.

So that's where she mostly looked for a small lodging to buy. She had noticed the Belmont during her stay.

"I didn't have to look at many other inns," she said.

'Elegant' feel, great location

According to its website, the Belmont was built as a family home in 1891 and became a lodging in the 1920s.

The Queen Anne Victorian has wraparound porches, wood-burning fireplaces in the first floor living room and dining room, and large perennial gardens. The inn has six guest rooms. The previous owner, Anita Zeno, also came to the Belmont from out of state. She bought the inn in 2008 after living in California for 34 years.

Caffe said that, in addition to the inn's "elegant" feel, she liked its location, away from summer traffic, yet still an easy walk to Camden's downtown and harbor. Then there were attractive details like the wrap-around porch, classic multi-paned windows, white picket fence and well-tended perennial gardens. It also has its own parking, a boon in the residential neighborhood.

And, she said, "It has great innkeepers quarters on third floor. So that was a big selling point for me."

Caffe is freshening up the inn with new paint. "But basically it will stay the same," she said.

She'll maintain the inn's seasonal schedule the first year, opening May 1. Then she'll see how it goes after that. Her daughter, Lauren Caffe, will join her in running the inn.

"It's a nice community and we're really looking forward to it," she said.

Swan said she also recently put under contract the 1802 House Bed and Breakfast, at 15 Locke St. in Kennebunkport.

The inn is another lifestyle property of six guest rooms plus owner's quarters, that was also on the market for two years. Roger and Teri Walker are the sellers. As it turns out, Teri Walker will be going to work for Swan as a broker.

"The best brokers are people who know the business," said Swan.

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