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Trump Soho Is Not an Oxymoron

Who’s going to live in Trump Soho? Unsurprisingly, between 55 and 60 percent of the buyers to date, according to Trump, are foreigners, mostly from Latin America (a source in the Sapir organization says at least five Moscow business types have bought in, too).

The condo-hotel model where every room does double duty is a first for these parts. It has a few quirks. Trump Soho unit owners won’t get to put in their own furnishings (Fendi will, complete with the interlocking F logos on the rugs) or hang their own artwork (it will come from a rotating in-house collection). They won’t even get their own keys; the front desk will handle every check-in and checkout. One privilege an owner will have over a guest—after forking over $3,000 per square foot, or more than $2 million, say, for a 682-square-foot unit—is the ability to kick the guest out. Should one require one’s “room” on short notice, the management will relocate the guest to a similar unit. Owners also get a secure master closet to hang a few suits in. But “Possess Your Own Closet in Soho” would probably lack the original slogan’s punch.

To better understand this sales pitch—and to see if Trump is, indeed, peddling a condo in the guise of a hotel—I decided to kick the tires on one of the units myself. One day in late February, I assumed the persona of a wealthy Russian, which I achieved by thickening up my native accent and pairing a loud Richard James shirt with a louder tie. Right away, there was a bit of a velvet rope. I had to submit my information on the Trump Website and wait to be summoned to the sales office.

The process was not without kinks. A woman based in Miami contacted me and said she’d e-mail me my appointment details. When that didn’t happen in three days, I called Prodigy, the Trump Soho sales agent (“For New York, press one. For Panama, press two”), and, with some difficulty, wangled the address.

The sales room was not quite there yet. There was no model bathroom, a huge selling point (many units will have windows over the tubs, among other seductive touches). The developers, I was told, were waiting for a load of Italian marble to come in.

A woman named Sandra, all business, tan, and plunging décolletage, gave me an overview of the building. When I started getting whiny because I said I wanted to spend “autumns” in New York and that the 29-day rule bugged me, she began by suggesting that I could move to another unit for a week, for which I’d be charged the lowest possible rate (while my own room is possibly being rented out at a regular rate—profit!), then triumphantly switch back for another 29 days. I wasn’t sold. Then Sandra suggested a loophole. “If you buy in your name, the use is limited to you, your spouse, and your closest relative. But if you buy in the name of a corporation, you can check in and out colleagues, employees, clients … ” She stopped just short of saying that I could arrange a year-round stay by rotating my own aliases. But it seemed to be implied.

At this point, Amy, an even tanner woman with an even lower-plunging décolletage, took over and shifted the pitch from leisure to business. Most people talking about Trump Soho assume that it will attract the kind of nouveau riche buyer that has only recently learned the phrase “Money is no object” in English. But to my surprise, the hotel is actually being marketed as an income opportunity for the striving buyer. Trump Soho’s killer app, I’m told, is a computerized system “designed to fairly and equitably allocate reservations among participating units,” which means that the rooms that are most “owed” reservations get rented out first. Amy works for Sapir, but there are two other third-party companies you can use to rent out your room; the only thing you can’t do is sublet it yourself.

Amy is not at liberty to say how much the hotel will charge its transient guests, but she says the rates will be “comparable to Mandarin Oriental’s.” (A person familiar with the Sapir Organization says the rate may be as high as $900 per night for a studio.) She then handed me a worksheet that would allow me to calculate my own revenue.

As an investment, it turns out, a unit in Trump Soho leaves a lot to be desired. One would think that the whole point of owning a hotel room would be free room service and such. Not so. When you occupy your own unit, just about every amenity is subject to a separate charge. When you’re renting it out, a blizzard of other fees (rental-program administration fee, credit-card fee, reservation fee, per-use fee) kick in. The furniture and fixtures require their own reserve fund to finance replacements, should I rip a Fendi rug with a Fendi chair leg, say. Oddly enough, mandatory contributions to the fund tick up as the furnishings age: 2 percent of the unit’s gross revenue for the first year, 3 for the second one, and 4 percent from there on.