Graham Price is sipping a glass of champagne on the 50ft yacht moored outside his £1million home in Port Grimaud, playground of the rich and famous in the South of France.
‘You know,’ he says, ‘there are days when I feel like a multi-millionaire.’
Over in Palma, Majorca, Will Hosie is feeling much the same way. His plane is safely stored in its hangar and his boat is moored alongside two 100m mega-yachts belonging to members of the Saudi Arabian and Qatari royal families.
Have a slice of this life: Yachts and exotic holidays could be yours to enjoy
Back in the UK, Adam Farkas is waking up in his Mayfair suite, a piece of real estate that would normally cost him well into seven figures, while just down the road the biggest choice of the day facing Glenn King is whether to jump into a £135,000 Alpha Romeo or a £150,000 Ferrari.
Before this begins to make you feel a little bit nauseous, you should know that while all these people are successful, middle-class professionals, none of them is actually rich – at least, not in the old-fashioned sense of the word.
They do, however, have one thing in common: they are part of a rapidly growing sub-culture that is turning the concept of ownership on its head.
Called ‘fractional living’, it is a philosophy that puts the enjoyment of an asset above the ownership of it. In practice, it means that instead of owning an asset outright (whether it’s a house, yacht, car or even a handbag), you share it with other people – and just use it when you have the time or the inclination.
Over the past couple of years, the idea of fractional living has crept into every walk of life to the extent that you can now own part of an artwork, a row of vines in a vineyard, a fashion designer’s first collection or even a cut in a rock band’s first album.
And just to spice things up, you can dip into a pool of super-cars or designer clothes, hop aboard your fractionally owned helicopter or jet to the Algarve for a round of golf on the course in which you own a tiny stake.
Nobody is quite sure why, but fractional living has exploded into sections of life in the consumerist U.S. in a way that many economists once thought impossible – and it is becoming one of the few growth sectors in the UK.
‘I think the recession has taught people some hard lessons that they will never forget and they are now looking for new ways to make their money go further,’ says Sophie Garrett, founder of Norfolk-based yours2share.com, a website on which total strangers get together to buy second homes, aircraft, cars, yachts and land – with some even sharing pets and gardens.
Slice of the action: Glenn King, 31, with a Ferrari he part owns
‘Even the richest banker is now realising that there are only so many toys you need to own outright. What’s the point of owning a yacht when you can only spend two weeks a year on it? It makes much more sense to share the costs with someone with the same outlook as you. And that’s precisely what’s happening.’
So how do you get involved in fractional living? And how well does it work in practice?
No one knows exactly how all this started, but many suspect it grew phoenix-like from the ashes of the once-discredited timeshare industry.
Although today there are many reputable timeshare firms, the concept developed a bad name in the 1970s and 1980s through con-men who either overcharged or made a fixed two-week spell in a yet-to-be built Spanish complex sound far more attractive than it actually was.
It quickly dawned on people that being stuck with the same time in the same place each year wasn’t such a good idea after all. What was appealing, however, was being able to taste a piece of exotica at a price that was within reach. So what if the idea was taken forward, introduced into other areas of luxury living and made more flexible?
‘Everybody wants a slice of luxury but few of us can afford it,’ says Piers Brown, founder of fractionallife.com. Visitors to his website can find ways to share executive jets and yachts, buy fractional homes on golf courses, shares in horses or vineyards, and join collectives that buy works of art that you can display in your own home for a fraction of each year.
He adds: ‘Fractional living allows people to enjoy those luxuries to a standard that would normally be well beyond their reach.
‘There have been studies demonstrating that the average owner of a luxury yacht spends just 30 days a year on board – and the average holiday home owner visits their property for just three weeks a year. Dividing that ownership up into fractions makes much more sense, financially.
‘Yes, you are having to share with other people, but it isn’t the same as timeshare. Since you actually own a slice of the freehold in a property or asset, you can use it at various times that suit you – and you can sell it and move on if you want to.’
Graham Price’s foray into the fractional world began several years ago when he discovered Port Grimaud, a town four miles south-west of Saint-Tropez built in the Venetian style in the 1960s. The town is hugely popular with the yachting set as it is built around a series of canals that allow almost every property to have its own mooring.
However, this popularity makes buying there expensive, and although successful in his career, 59-year-old psychologist Mr Price would have found buying a home and a yacht there almost impossible.
‘I advertised for some other people to come in on the idea and formed a syndicate,’ he says. ‘We found a three-storey, four-bedroom house that was bigger than I was originally thinking of, then we went to the Boat Show and chose a 50ft Beneteau Oceanis fourcabin yacht.’
Mr Price has two partners in the venture – a GP and a director of a yacht management company – and they each paid around £400,000 to become fractional owners of the yacht and the house. They are now after a fourth partner who will be able to buy in for £270,000 – a sum that would barely get you a one-bedroom flat in a desirable part of London.
Top of the range: Some websites ‘rent’ out designer handbags, like this one from Chanel
‘It is vital to get legal agreements in place that determine each person’s rights and establish that you take turns in having first choice of usage,’ says Mr Price. ‘It is also advisable to meet first to be sure that your partners want the same thing out of the venture as you do and that they intend to look after the assets as carefully as you will.
‘But, frankly, we’ve never had to stick to the letter of the agreement. We’re all reasonable people and have become good friends. I can imagine that some people could have problems, but when you have a quarter of a year to choose from, you can usually find dates and times that suit all your needs.’
Will Hosie reports a similar experience. A 49-year-old commercial pilot, he spends so much time abroad that he registered offshore for tax purposes. That meant he couldn’t spend more than 90 days at a time at his home in Somerset, so he bought a 40ft yacht in Mallorca with two other people. They each own a one-quarter share at £16,000 each and he owns the other half at £32,000.
‘It has worked out perfectly,’ he says. ‘One of my partners is a banker and the other a theatre producer. We all have different needs, and although we have strict agreements in place, we usually just operate time aboard on a first come, first served basis. It helps if you’re mature, reasonable people, but in my experience most individuals are.’
And that isn’t all. Back in Britain, Mr Hosie has bought a £35,000 two-seater Fournier RF5 motorised glider and sold five shares at £6,000 each.
‘Obviously, owning your own aircraft is prohibitively expensive for most people, but if you do it in a fractional way it becomes much more affordable and you can still have as much fun,’ he says.
On average, Mr Hosie would manage to get into the air for only 30 hours a year, so it could turn out to be a very costly pastime with landing fees, insurance, access to hangars, etc., amounting to around £7,500 a year.
‘For most private pilots, the cost of flying works out at about £120 an hour,’ he says.
‘With my partners involved, we’ve got those costs down to about &£22, which means that I have a yacht and an aircraft and feel like a millionaire – without actually being one.’
Dr Adam Farkas, a 42-year-old banker from Budapest, spends around 20 days a year on business in London. Staying in expensive and impersonal hotels was driving him crazy – until he heard about 47 Park Street in Mayfair, a luxury fractional residence club with 49 suites
Fractional ownership of suites ranges from £111,000 for a one-bed to £260,000 for a two-bed. For that, owners can use their suites for 21 nights a year for 40 years with a further 14 nights from £89 – a ludicrously low sum for Mayfair.
They can use the club any days they want, bequeath the ownership to their family or sell it on if they wish.
There are service charges of around £6,000 a year, and for that owners get to use some of London’s most exclusive-clubs, have their fridges stocked by staff before they arrive, have clothes laundered and pressed, ready for their arrival, and even have pictures of their family put on the mantelpiece before they walk through the door.
‘This wouldn’t work for everyone, but it was perfect for me,’ says Dr Farkas. ‘Instead of being in different hotel rooms each time, I have the comfort of a home from home in Mayfair at a price that compares well with those same luxury hotels.’
But fractional living isn’t just about posh houses or plush yachts.
Sarah Durbin is a 44-year-old project manager for a housing association. For her, dressing well for meetings is important and she feels that having the right handbag is essential.
‘The problem is that I, like most women, can’t afford to splash out hundreds of pounds on handbags on a regular basis,’ she says.
Instead, she signed up to handbags fromheaven.co.uk.
‘I pay £9.99 a month membership, which is spent on new handbags that members can then “rent” for around £40 a week, depending on the bag,’ says Ms Durbin.
‘You don’t actually own the bags, but you do feel that you have a fractional interest in them.
‘I’ve had Gucci, Mulberry, Prada and Chloe ones – all worth from around £500 to £800 each. I order them online and they are delivered to my door ready for a special occasion or a big meeting.
‘Most women will splash out on an expensive handbag once or twice a year, but then they feel obliged to make their outfits match their handbag. With this, you can get a bag that matches the outfit.’
This type of fractional interest works with cars, too. Car clubs have been around for years, all offering a similar service, but new, smaller ’boutique’ clubs are springing up that are more finely attuned to the preferences of their members.
Glenn King, a 31-year-old City trader, is a member of Marque 2, which has 11 cars and 65 members. Again, its membership fees of £6,000 to £8,000 a year are used to finance the purchase of new (and vintage) cars, allowing members access to vehicles that many simply could not usually afford.
‘In the past, I’ve paid up to £75,000 for a car, but this makes so much more sense, bearing in mind the amount of spare time I have,’ says Glenn.
‘Let’s say you were to buy a three-year-old Ferrari. That could easily set you back £90,000, and then you’d have the insurance, the maintenance, storage and so on, but you would only be using it for a fraction of the time.
‘This way, I don’t actually own any of the cars I can drive – but then, nor do I have any of the hassle involved in their upkeep. I’m just paying for the fractional usage. It’s all about experience, not ownership.’
And if fractional super-car membership is out of your league, there are other ways to enjoy fractional ownership for as little as £5.
For that small sum, you can buy a piece of an up-and-coming rock band and help them finance their first album with slicethepie.com.
In return, for every £1 you invest up to £15,000, you get 10p for every 1,000 albums sold.
You can do something similar with young fashion designers on catwalkgenius.com.
And if you want to feel really special, then perhaps you could toast the fractional racehorse in which you invested £89 (racingshares.co.uk) with wine from the vineyard in which have rented a row of vines for £75 a year (wineshare.co.uk).
Whichever way you slice it up, fractional living has the potential to give you the million-dollar lifestyle you’ve always wanted – a lifestyle that is quite clearly far greater than the sum of its parts.