WaterWalk does DIY extended-stay

WaterWalk has added a whole new twist to extended-stay… living.

Besides offering traditional, fully-furnished suites at its hotels, the Jack DeBoer-founded company now features unfurnished units, allowing guests to personalize the space with their own furniture and personals. It’s a move that ostensibly allows customers to move into an apartment without the shackle of a long-term lease.

“It really is our unique business model. No other hotel chain or brand is offering unfurnished hotel rooms or a blended business model in true residential-style units,” said Mimi Oliver, CEO of WaterWalk. 

Founded in 2014 by the late DeBoer, WaterWalk’s all-suite hotels offer two room options under the same roof—Live (unfurnished suites) and Stay (hotel-style, fully furnished rooms). These room options create flexibility and value to both consumers as well as investors, the company said.  

While Stay rooms can be booked for a minimum of one night to over a year, the Live rooms have to be booked for at least 90 days.  

One Waterwalk resident has been staying at the property for five years, Oliver said.

Although the unfurnished room category was launched in 2014, these rooms can now be booked seamlessly on the website. 

WaterWalk’s Live rooms are unfurnished rooms that guests can furnish and decorate as per their needs.

Every room features a fully-equipped kitchen with full-sized appliances, a pantry and kitchen island as well as a full-size washer and dryer and a bathroom. All hotels include The Living Room in the lobby which have an espresso station, work stations with a printer, oversized wall-mounted board games and a television. Other amenities at the hotels include a fitness center, pool, community events and outdoor spaces.  

The uniqueness of offering unfurnished rooms sets WaterWalk apart from other extended-stay brands being debuted in the market, said Oliver, who doesn’t consider any other extended-stay brand as WaterWalk’s competitor because of the offerings, but does count some of the traditional multifamily and residential buildings as competition.

The first WaterWalk hotel opened in Wichita, Kan., in November 2014 and has since grown its collection and presence in more than 12 locations across the U.S. Responding to increasing demand for extended-stay rooms, the company has opened five hotels so far this year and plans to double its portfolio by 2024-end. The company already has two properties under development in Jacksonville, Fla., slated to open this fall, and Huntsville, Ala., expected to open this winter.   

The Living Room, or the lobby area in WaterWalk hotels, includes an espresso station, work stations with a printer, oversized wall-mounted board games and a television.

The demand for both the room types has been healthy, with furnished rooms recording around 80% occupancy in the past 12 months and unfurnished rooms posting nearly 90% occupancy, Oliver said.  

Occupancy of the room types really depends on the market and that’s the beauty of WaterWalk’s flexible model, she said.  

Under the company’s new Gen 2.0 prototype, all hotels consist of a single four-story high building comprising 126 rooms—76 fully furnished suites and 50 unfurnished units. Fully-furnished Stay units range from studio suites and one- and two-bedroom suites; while unfurnished Live units are available in one- and two-bedroom suites.  

“We’re looking for sites across the U.S. with similar market strategies, but we’re looking for about three acres in a dense suburban market to develop the Gen 2.0 prototype. Our baseline model is 60% of Stay and 40% Live units. But of course, we can be flexible to market conditions and global demand conditions,” Oliver said.  

The interior of a Stay room at WaterWalk Tucson Extended Stay Suites.

Besides new-build properties, WaterWalk is also focusing on conversion projects. The company converted a building in the Atlanta market, which opened this March.  

“We are actively pursuing a couple of other conversion projects, but we have not purchased any others at this point,” Oliver said. “We’re looking at another one in Atlanta, one at Minneapolis and a couple across the country. We plan to start developing and renovating a couple more conversion projects within the next year.”

WaterWalk aims to have at least three more conversion projects in 2024, she added.  

The company is mostly looking to ramp up its presence in high growth markets across the country, especially in southwest areas of the U.S. and is focusing in South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Alabama and Georgia.