At the motels owned by Cassandra Tollens in Carolina Beach, furry and feathered family members are welcome.
Few lodging facilities in the New Hanover County beach town allow pets, but Tollens, a real estate investor who’s dipping her toes into the hospitality industry, said that’s one of the amenities that will set her motels apart from many others.
Tollens is one of a growing number of buyers investing in beach hotels, especially in Carolina Beach where motel sales have been on the rise this year.
Those in the industry say the investments make sense at a time when the rise of working vacations, the availability of outdoor amenities and other factors have made beach towns even more attractive to travelers.
Tollens, who recently moved to the area from Charleston, South Carolina, bought the 12-room Carolina Beach Inn for $1.85 million in May and the 22-room Cole’s Motel & Pool for $2.35 million in September.
Her attraction to the Carolina Beach Inn began with her own family’s beach trips.
“I always saw it and just thought it was the cutest little building,” Tollens said. “It just really stood out to me. And I always told my husband if it ever comes up for sale, I’m gonna grab it, and of course, it came up for sale in May.”
She said she went up against about 25 other potential buyers for the Carolina Beach Inn, located a short walk from the beach at 205 Harper Ave. “But I really connected well with the sellers. They were great people. They had devoted just so much sweat, blood and tears, 12 years of hard work. I think for them, knowing that they were going to sell to somebody who felt and had the same passion was important to them.”
“So we got that and then Cole’s Motel came up for sale, and we [Tollens and her husband] thought, wouldn’t it be fun to have another one and connect the two? Because they’re literally one street apart,” she said.
At first, the couple planned to stay in Charleston and hire someone to run the properties, but Tollens kept spending more time at Carolina Beach.
“I really enjoy sitting on the rockers and talking to my guests and holding everybody’s dog and greeting them … that’s the fun part,” said Tollens, who has five dogs of her own.
Other motel investors have been lured to the area’s beach town motels.
To Rob McCord, owning a Carolina Beach motel represents a wise investment amid ongoing travel trends.
The company he manages, Wilmington-based Sailfish Real Estate Capital LLC, bought the 28-room Oceaneer Motel at 1621 Lake Park Blvd. South earlier this year for $5 million.
The group owns other vacation rentals in Carolina and Kure beaches, but the Oceaneer is its first motel.
“We are avidly interested in the Southeast but primarily North Carolina,” he said in a Greater Wilmington Business Journal story in June. “We see the demographic tailwinds – a lot of growth and a lot of repeat tourists who will come back to short-term rental properties whether it’s rental homes or hotel rooms.”
In March, a group of partners bought the 112-room Golden Sands hotel and the Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar at 1211 Lake Park Blvd. South, for $16.8 million.
The partners in the buying entity, Golden Sands Resort LLC, were Jim Wallace, Doug Foster and The Focus Properties, a real estate investment, development and management company out of Raleigh.
Wallace, who along with being a real estate investor is founder and CEO of Wilmington-based Intracoastal Realty Corp., said he and one of the hotel’s previous owners, Jim Pope, have been friends for more than 20 years. When Pope told Wallace he wanted to sell the property and retire, Wallace decided it would be a good investment.
In addition to the hotel, which dates back to the 1980s, and the restaurant, the property includes a pier and two swimming pools.
“It’s got a wonderful brand, wonderful reputation in the community, and we’re just going to continue to enhance the great culture Jim Pope already implemented there,” Wallace said.
McCord, as well as the new owners of the Golden Sands hotel, made their purchases with renovations and updates in mind, and changes for the better are also part of Tollens’ plans.
Cole’s Motel at 213 Raleigh Ave., which will be renamed to incorporate the “Carolina Beach” branding, needs extensive renovation, she said.
The motel dates back to 1955, according to New Hanover County property tax records, which also show the Carolina Beach Inn as being built in 1951.
The need for pricey repairs and updates could be one of the reasons why more beach hotels are changing hands, Tollens said, along with owners seeing the prices other properties are getting.
“They know they need work, and it’s easier just to go ahead and sell them and get that money now than to go through all that headache of renovating and going through that process because it’s not easy,” she said. “There’s so many budgets in place, you’ve got to go through permits, you’ve got to go through the town, you’ve got to go through the architect … Then you’ve got to get your construction crew lined up. That’s a whole other battle in itself.”
The Tollens plan to make the Cole’s Motel property clean and safe but don’t want to completely demolish it.
“I love to bring projects and homes back to life,” Cassandra Tollens said.
While she’s worked in real estate since 2004, she said, “I never thought I’d be in hospitality. But now that I’m in it, I love it.”