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'The B&B burnout is real.' Some Cape innkeepers are moving out

"It's not just fluffing a pillow and making cookies."

Throughout the pandemic, Cape Cod's B&B business has boomed. But with real estate values also up, some innkeepers are seizing an opportunity to sell.

Cape Cod's bed-and-breakfast rentals attract visitors from all over the world. TripAdvisor earlier this year rated Candleberry Inn in Brewster the best B&B the country.

These charming inns and sea captains' homes refashioned into luxury destinations have weathered the Airbnb boom and thrived during the coronavirus pandemic, when many travelers began forgoing flights for road trips.

But that shift signals a conundrum for the Cape's B&B business this summer, with soaring property values inspiring some innkeepers to cash in and move on from the 24/7 demands of hosting.

New innkeepers are often eager to abandon their corporate jobs for a crack at a more leisurely lifestyle. But many getting their start encounter an unexpected and relentless cycle of cooking, cleaning, repairing and marketing, a schedule that can stretch B&B owners and offer little downtime.

Allison and Keith McDonald worked in hospitality in California and spent several years frequenting B&Bs for sale along the East Coast with the plan to eventually invest in one. They did their homework and attended the seminars. But one month after they bought Ashley Manor and relocated to Route 6A in Barnstable, the pandemic shuttered businesses.

The couple spent those months remodeling the empty 300-year-old house and downsizing rooms to accommodate social distancing. The McDonalds had no problem booking guests when they reopened in the summer of 2020. But by then the initial appeal was wearing thin.

"From the outside to the inside, there's just too much to do on any given day," says Keith.

Ashley Manor is the McDonalds' first B&B investment, and, after two-and-a-half years, likely their last. In March they listed the property for $1.8 million, $600,000 over what they paid for it.

"That's not a long time," says Allison. "But it felt like the right move with the strong market."

The sale is pending as the couple plans a move back to California. (Only about 5% of the Cape's inns are on the market, and rarely sell as private homes, commercial real estate experts say.)

"One of our favorite lines is, 'I've always wanted to own an inn,'" says Keith. "Rethink that. Because you’ll work harder. It’s not a retirement program. The burnout is real. There's a big balance there: quality of life versus quality of the business."

Those obstacles are harder to surmount without a staff to give owners a break, says Carol Edmondson, a realtor and the chair of the Cape Cod Chamber's B&B Committee.

"If anything is causing innkeepers to think twice, it's the struggle with staffing," Edmondson says. "In a 10- or 12-room property, it's not at all unusual to see innkeepers who have been in the business for 20 or 25 years."

Take Judy and Ray Braz, who have run the Old Harbor Inn in Chatham for 26 years. When an ad in the Boston Globe caught their eye, in 1996, the Brockton couple took their first trip to the Cape to see the inn for themselves. With their two children in college, the couple quit their jobs and moved here for a fresh start. Today they are the inn's longest-running owners.

"We want to become the oldest living innkeepers in Chatham; that's our goal," says Judy.

But, unlike the McDonalds, the Brazs have long enlisted help from housekeepers, a chef, and a general manager. A small-business Covid grant from the state last year helped the inn retain employees. The Brazs plan to eventually turn the property over to their son. 

"We've got a rather extensive staff because we're backing out," says Ray. "And we want to make sure there's a professional staff that will run it along the lines we've established."

In Sandwich Village, another B&B is changing hands. Katherine and Donnie Sanderson bought Isaiah Jones Homestead Bed & Breakfast 15 years ago, after meeting in the travel business in Hawaii.

Katherine became her husband's full-time caregiver in 2014, and his death last year convinced her that it was time to sell.

"I'm way past retirement age, and the price of the real estate is finally back up there," says Katherine. "I still love it. But I always knew that I wanted to leave while I still loved it."

The Brazs, married 50 years, say they still love it but are not quite ready to leave.  

"People have come as guests and become friends," says Ray. "It ain't a bad gig."

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.