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Updated: August 23, 2021

Just a midwinter visit was all it took to sell NH couple on Lincolnville inn

inn and lawn Courtesy / Inn at Sunrise Point The Inn at Sunrise Point, overlooking Penobscot Bay, sold for $3.5 million.

All it took was a single visit to sell a New Hampshire couple on the Inn at Sunrise Point in Lincolnville.

“It was the middle of winter,” said MJ Ruffing. “We came here, it was closed, we drove down the drive, it was amazing.”

Matt and MJ Ruffing/Ruff Inc. bought the 12-room inn, at 55 Sunrise Point Lane, from DHHill Ventures LLC/Sunrise Point LLC for $3.5 million. 

Dana Moos and Kim Swan of Swan Agency Real Estate brokered the deal.

Saltwater farm

The inn, on 4.5 acres overlooking Penobscot Bay, started life as a small saltwater farm with a classic cedar-shingled farmhouse built in the early 1900s. There were also three small outbuildings and a large barn, according to an online account.

In 1992, Jerry and Louise Levitin of Napa County, Calif., bought the property and converted it into a bed-and-breakfast with three rooms and four cottages.

“Based on accounts from local residents, prior the purchase by the Levitins in 1992, the property was primarily a family home and farm with small livestock — including Max the Goose, who served as ‘watchdog’ and reportedly terrorized all visitors,” the account says.

The Levitins converted the small outbuildings to cottages, converted the farmhouse into the Main House, and named accommodations after famous writers and artists with ties to Maine.

guest room with bed
Courtesy / Inn at Sunrise Point
The Longfellow Suite was one of four suites installed in recent years with design features including high ceilings and a double arched window.

Subsequent owners and additional work ensued, including building a structure named the “Garden House” on the foundation of the old barn.

The seller

In 2008, a retired New York City banking, Daina Hill Belair, bought the inn after touring high-end properties for sale throughout the U.S. 

She brought with her “a vision of a customer focused luxury boutique property forged from decades of international business travel,” according to information provided by Moos.

Hill Belair performed major work that included renovations of all the guest suites, the kitchen and common spaces. She added three guest rooms to the Garden House, bringing the guest suite count to 12. She created and maintained gardens and grew the business to a level that included a 60% guest return rate. 

Five years ago, Hill Belair married. She and her husband Jean began to plan travel options. In order to fulfill their new plans, she realized she would be leaving Maine and the inn and listed the property.

conservatory with tables
Courtesy / Inn at Sunrise Point
A conservatory serves as a dining room.

There were several interested parties, but Hill Belair insisted the new buyers be invested in maintaining and enhancing the experiences she had provided. 

The buyers

She found her new owners in the Ruffings.

Matt and MJ — originally from northern Virginia and Connecticut respectively — spent the last two years, before buying the inn, in Amherst, N.H.

Matt worked for Coca-Cola for 32 years. For the last decade, he was vice president of field operations for upstate New York, eastern Pennsylvania and New England.

MJ has a degree in hospitality and worked in the industry for years. She managed corporate restaurants starting in Westport, Conn., moved to northern Virginia and managed independent restaurants, did event planning all over the country, then ran a boutique clothing store in upstate New York.

A couple of years ago, they got into a discussion about going into business together. 

“We had played around with that idea for years and years,” said Matt. “We decided to look into innkeeping.”

The search quickly resolved itself when they made that mid-winter visit to Lincolnville. After a tour, they drove home and worked with their three adult children — who are involved in the fields of marketing, finance and business — to write a business plan and made an offer. 

“It was kind of crazy, how it happened,” she said.

“The nice thing is our three kids really helped us put that plan together,” said Matt. “It was a nice moment for us as a family.”

Retirement rollover

The couple utilized a vehicle called “rollover for business startups,” or ROBS, to partly finance the purchase.

The investment vehicle allows investors with 401(k) plans and Individual Retirement Accounts to use the funds to buy a business and pay for start-up costs. The process allows account holders to access the cash without paying early withdrawal penalties or taxes. Buyers often use ROBS as one part of a funding mix, which includes other sources such as bank loans.

The Ruffings obtained loans from Machias Savings Bank and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The inn is in great shape. 

“But it is an older property,” said MJ. 

The plan this winter is to invest at least $100,0000 in further renovations such as  fabrics, carpeting and refinishing. Architectural features in the main house include a library with dark mahogany wood paneling, a stone fireplace and a porch on the back of the inn that overlooks the bay. 

The inn runs seasonally and was already fully committed through mid-October when the Ruffings took over. All eight employees who had worked for the seller continued on.

The couple has engaged a marketing firm and plans to revamp the inn’s website and potentially the logo and advertising when renovations are complete.

There was a huge learning curve, said MJ.

“A lot of people are return guests,” she said. “We’re not a place you drive by and pull into. We deal with select guests who have high expectations.”

Said Moos, "The Ruffings' enthusiasm and backgrounds will certainly help them carry on the torch after such a successful run under Daina's stewardship and I was so pleased to be a part of this transaction and to have represented both parties.”

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