Lifeafar Sees Opportunity in Colombia, Puerto Rico

INTERNATIONAL REPORT—Lifeafar, a Colombia-based real estate investment and hospitality firm that caters to digital nomads, millennials and luxury travelers, is expanding investment opportunities in Puerto Rico and Bogota, Colombia.

“What makes us unique is we’re pretty much an asset manager as well as a hospitality firm. We control our assets,” said Lifeafar CFO Cole Shephard.

“We buy with our own money and we create our own private equity fund for a project,” he said. “We just did a project in Puerto Rico where we acquired the building. We have a stand-alone team and work with in-country professionals to create a new hospitality brand around individual projects. Every project we do is a unique hospitality and investment experience. Where we focus our efforts primarily is in Colombia and Puerto Rico where our U.S. investors don’t have access to the opportunities we can provide. We operate in markets they don’t have assets to invest in the hospitality world, but we make it comfortable. All of our investors are all foreigners.”

A guide in terms of the locale, Lifeafar’s goal is to operate in distinct markets and places where it wants to be and can find value.

“I want to create products that I want to invest in or stay in,” he said. “We have a multinational team used to living, working and investing abroad. It’s the ethos we try to bring to the business. I’ve lived away from the U.S. since I was 25 years old and I’m now 35. Once you start engaging in that and living around the world, you don’t want to stop. It’s a global citizenship ethos, and we’re comfortable operating in markets outside of our home markets.”

The company has recently opened Urban Heights, a premium “apartment-hotel,” offering 19 modern apartments and hotel rooms within the Chapinero Alto neighborhood of Bogota, Colombia. With its newest location, Lifeafar now counts more than 200 custom-designed apartments in four cities throughout Colombia.

What’s driving the demand there? According to Shephard, there aren’t a lot of true international cities, but Bogota is one of them. “Multinational corporations are operating in Bogota; it’s also the political and business center of the country,” he said. “Some of the best restaurants are here, and there’s a strong cultural heritage. Every city we operate in has a different vibe. Some of the main drivers included a higher net worth where you can drive higher ADR, but you’re also getting more business travelers as well.”

Shephard touts Lifeafar’s ability to be nimble and flexible in the types of properties the company selects for investment. “We’re a boutique investment manager and hospitality firm and we do things a bit different from what others do,” he said. “In Colombia, you’ll see hotel brands with the same product. We’re seeing value in the apartment studios or two bedrooms or kitchenettes. In the hotel space in Colombia, it’s much less prevalent, especially at the price point we offer.”

The company’s other real estate investment plans include looking at a mix between hotel and apartment suites like the Urban Heights project. “We see value in Puerto Rico; what’s fueling that interest is the tax reform there in 2012 and the new tax reform in the United States,” he said. “We just completed our first project in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, for $16 million and we’ll have two more projects. We’re looking at projects in Puerto Rico around the same size, maybe smaller, and we’ll see more acquisitions there. A lot of our clients are American, and they feel comfortable operating in places like Puerto Rico.”

Lifeafar is also tracking prospects in Panama and Portugal, too.

“Guests really are more experiential in nature and that’s the client base we’re going for,” he said. “We’re trying to create distinctive experiences with each one of our projects.”