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Attractive Perks What's Hot—and Not—in the World of Amenities

You’ve got the perfect couple looking into buying a condo in your building. And they love everything about the unit.

But here’s the catch—they also love everything about another building’s unit. They can’t decide which to buy.

Then they notice the gym in your building. It has everything they pay for at their private gym, which means they could save $150 every month by canceling their gym membership. And even though their unit has all the bells and whistles and the perfect location, it’s that gym that pushed them over the edge and made them take the plunge.

The Hudson Tea community, a trio of luxury condos in Hoboken, has seen this scenario play out over and over in their residential community. The three properties: The Hudson Tea, Maxwell Place on the Hudson and 1450 Washington—located on the former site of the Lipton Tea Factory—are home to Super Bowl XLVI and MVP quarterback Eli Manning as well as Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez. The properties are known for an outstanding array of amenities such as a rooftop pool and Jacuzzi, a landscaped rooftop terrace, a resident’s club, a business center and complimentary shuttle service to the PATH train.

“The fitness center and rooftop terrace are our most popular amenities but we’ve seen a greater interest in children’s playrooms,” says Todd Dumaresq, marketing manager for Toll Brothers City Living, a luxury condominium development firm that oversees the Hudson Tea community.

“At our latest property 1450 Washington (in Hoboken) we were seeing a lot of young families coming in,” says Dumaresq, “so we decided to add a children’s playroom. The playroom is filled with costumes, games, toys and a table with arts and crafts. We worked with an interior designer named Mary Cook. We also wound up employing a husband and wife boat builder team from Idaho, and they actually built us a half a boat for the playroom. The kids love it. Our children’s playroom is something that’s recent and it’s very popular.”

Over the Top

Amenities are one of the key factors that draw buyers to one building or HOA over another—if two units are otherwise identical in every regard, the one in the association with the immaculate, Olympic-sized swimming pool, the screening room, or the roof-deck with spectacular water views will be the one that ultimately attracts the buyer.

It’s not surprising these days that nearly everyone is looking for amenities that make their life easier.

While Hudson Tea went all out with their amenity package, other buildings are simply trying to put in the most popular ones so that they can compete. They may not have the budget, the space or the time to add a children’s playroom or even a sauna adjacent to the gym.

In this rebounding economy every dollar spent is scrutinized and associated values must be clear. For some, location and million-dollar views are their chief concerns.

“We have a fitness center, 24-hour concierge and on-site dry cleaner, but people are mainly attracted to our views, we’re sitting at the top of a 20-foot-cliff. It’s the number one feature of the building,” says Paula Brown, a saleswoman at Troy Towers, a luxury building in Union City. “We have an outdoor pool with a view of the New York City skyline that is extremely popular with the residents.”

Some of the more popular amenities currently trending in condos and HOAs focus around health and wellness, says Michael Zuchelli, vice president of operations at Elite Pool & Fitness Management, Inc., in Whitestone, New York.

“Condos and like properties that once boasted lap pools and fitness centers, are now seen as customary in the eyes of many amenity seekers,” he says. “Newer trends include in-house spas and wellness services ranging from traditional Swedish or therapeutic deep tissue massage to Reiki and other body treatments that continue to be a growing trend among health enthusiasts.”

Going Virtual

Virtual reality cardio equipment plus new exercise classes such as kettle bells, Zumba and TRX training are also becoming popular features, Zuchelli says.

But while those are gaining in popularity, other amenities are falling out of fashion.

“We use to have a small deli on the premises several years ago and people loved it,” says Brown. “But then a corner grocery opened up around the corner with a wider selection and most residents began going there. Then there was an explosion of new restaurants that opened in the area, and they delivered, so less and less people were using the on-site deli, so there was really no need for it so it closed.”

“Concierge services were something that was really popular at the height of the market in 2005, but we’ve seen a major decline in that service,” adds Dumaresq. “It was an amenity that was offered at an additional cost to the homebuyers, but I think people were less inclined to spend money on something that was not necessary, especially if it’s a new family. That’s why we put in the children’s playroom at the 1450 Washington building.”

“When investing in the amenities of your property, expand on what is popular among other facilities, while leaving behind ideas that have lackluster success in the past,” he says. “The developers that continue to raise the bar, recreate those timeless amenities that have potential buyers dreaming of a massage or relaxing by the pool, before they even move in.”

It’s important for condo owners and developers to think long and hard before putting new perks into their buildings. It’s also important for everyone in the building to agree on which amenities to add.

The key is to strike the right balance between what amenities are offered and an affordable association fee for the demographic buyer pool. If your amenities are too high, they’ll knock out buyers who may have been interested in the building. But if there aren’t enough perks in the building, you may lose some buyers who are looking for a pool or a small movie theater.

Strike the Right Balance

There are also some amenities that buildings are adding that don’t cost too much—and may even make money.

Zuchelli suggests adding a fitness center, since—according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—47 percent of Americans over the age of 18 engaged in some form of aerobic physical activity.

“More and more Americans are taking a proactive approach when it comes to their health, and there’s nothing like having fitness center footsteps away from your morning coffee,” he says.

If the fitness center rivals private gyms, you could choose to charge residents a monthly or annual fee to join—an option that’s become very popular in recent years, as buildings spend more money on their gyms.

Fitness centers can become pricey, however, since the building would have to buy treadmills, elliptical machines, weights and televisions—each of which can cost upwards of $500. There’s also the added cost of insurance.

Other options along the same lines would be a room that could be used as a yoga, Pilates or even kickboxing studio. The building’s manager could arrange for an instructor to come in weekly—charging residents who want to participate a nominal fee—and it would be a nice perk to be able to do this without leaving the building.

Or, if the building houses many children, you could use an empty room as a play space. Ask the residents to donate their old toys, put up shelves and a few mats, and you could offer this room to all the families so they don’t have to clutter their apartments with dolls, activity mats and bouncy seats.

You could also add storage cages if there’s an unused basement room, and either sell the cages to the unit owners or rent them for $75-100 per month, depending on the size.

Usage is key. If the building can track usage via something as basic as a sign-in sheet, or through electronic monitoring, you’ll know if the amenity is worth keeping, Zuchelli says. Some amenities—such as a pool or even a landscaped patio—take constant maintenance. So if they’re not being used, it’s better to get rid of it instead of continuing to throw away money trying to maintain them.

It’s even better to monitor usage of an amenity prior to installing it in your building. Contact other buildings and ask if you could spend an afternoon in their business center to see who visits the room. If the majority of the people using the business center are older adults—but you’re trying to market your building toward younger people, it’s probably not a great amenity for your building.

If you’ve already put the amenity into your building, only to realize that it’s not being used by many residents, you may want to consider getting rid of the perk. But before you do that, you’ll have to see what’s been written into your specific declaration and bylaws.

Follow the Bylaws

You can’t get rid of the doorman—even if many residents don’t want him anymore—if you’ve promised 24-hour doorman security in your declaration or bylaws.

First, you’d have to have the building’s board vote to change the laws. Then, if and only if that passes, you can get rid of the doorman or any other amenities in question.

Failing to take all necessary measures to legally change the rules to get rid of amenities can land you in court, says Gary Poliakoff, co-author of New Neighborhoods: The Consumer’s Guide to Condominium, Co-op and HOA Living.

But it probably won’t get that far.

“The consequences of amenities being eliminated are unit owner complaints, but few are willing to go into court because if you prevail, it means your maintenance goes up—and few are prepared for that.”

Danielle Braff is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator. Staff Writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.

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