Once you've got your mortgage in place, there's still another hurdle to clear: renovation. While the Evanses, who bought their property in 1999, financed it through a local bank, a gap financing program run by the state provided the loan for rehab. "Without it, the bank probably wouldn't have given us the [mortgage], and we couldn't have opened the business," says Andrew.
Even with financing in place, renovation can hit your pocketbook hard. "It always costs more than you expect," Andrew adds. The Evanses hired experts for some of the work, like plaster and plumbing, but they stripped wallpaper, ran phone wire and did what Andrew calls "the nitpicky nitty-gritty" themselves to keep within budget.
The Kidwells also did most of the work on their property themselves. Ted, a former contractor, knew his way around a rehab, but he still had to hire a crew to assist with some of the renovations.
Likewise, the Libowitzes acted as their own general contractor. "I know more about septic systems than any sane person should," says Bruce. And because they were strapped for cash, the couple lived in the inn during renovations. "You have to have a very strong marriage," he jokes.
Because rehab always costs more and takes longer than expected, many innkeepers open only a few rooms at a time as the project moves along. To offset the costs of renovations and pay the mortgage, Nobile booked one bedroom at a time and kept her job as an electrical engineer. "I couldn't have afforded to pay for [the inn] if I hadn't," she says.
The Kidwells opened with four rooms initially. "We just kept the doors shut on the rooms that weren't done yet," Eva says.
Furnishing can also take a bite out of your budget. While decorating might seem like the fun part, if you haven't budgeted for it, it's no fun at all. The Evanses estimate they spent about $10,000 per room. To keep within budget, they often bought wholesale. Nobile couldn't afford high-end antiques, so she bought pieces that needed refurbishing, which she did herself.
Innkeeping is not for everyone. "We see people who aren't prepared to fail all the time," says Zane. "That's just the reality."
But there are also a lot of success stories. The proof is in the numbers: The industry is growing by 5 to 10 percent every year. What's the key to success? Hardy sums it up: "Provide what people want, and you'll have them coming back again and again."