The latest boom of luxury real estate development in New York City has sent seismic waves across the Hudson into New Jersey. Developers and boards are locking into an amenities arms race to keep up with competition on both sides of the river. In the past five years, luxury buildings have installed almost any amenity they can think of, from rock climbing walls to driving ranges, to a pet concierge. Gimmicks aside, the allure of condo and co-op real estate is no longer just about location, door service, and molding. The younger and more affluent demographics are increasingly more interested in being sold a lifestyle, and the lifestyle offered from a building just doesn't come from how nice the lobby looks anymore—it's the activities and amenities that are offered as well. That shift to an activity-oriented lifestyle is turning buildings from sleepy bedroom communities into bustling vertical villages.
On the luxury end of co-op, condo and HOA living, elegance and convenience is still king. Builders of new properties and boards of existing co-op and condo communities are getting creative in different ways, offering prospective buyers and current residents amenities that focus on a hotel-style level of service. In the luxury real estate world, many residents maintain very fast-paced lives, and prefer a home where many of life's onerous routines are taken care of by the building. The result is many buildings hiring more positions and resources in order to handle a very high level of service.
Some newer buildings in New York City are actually combining residential units with hotel units, blending the best of both worlds, and those buildings are raising the bar through the market in the tri-state area. Communities in Jersey City and elsewhere now offer the types of top-tier services usually found in five-star hotels, including private dining and catering, dog walking services, housekeeping, valet parking, food shopping and expansive concierge offerings.
For the discerning buyers, utility is as important as aesthetics. “Especially in luxury condominiums, the industry has really moved past amenities that are unusual just for the sake of being different and towards uniquely useful spaces,” says Tricia Hayes Cole, executive managing director for Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, which markets properties in both New York and New Jersey.
Amenities to Remember
The type and number of amenities currently in existence and on the horizon seem nearly endless.
Amenities with an athletic focus hold a consistent and long-term appeal, especially in a society increasingly concerned with wellness and healthy living. Monica Gonzalez, assistant property manager for Whippany-based Taylor Management Company, says this is certainly the case at Crystal Point in Jersey City. “There is something to cater to all the residents,” says Gonzalez.
“There's those who just want to enjoy the outdoors, and have the flexibility of doing so with use of the patio and the barbecue grills, whereas others are more with the aquatic lifestyle and like to swim laps. But, there's always access to the gym 24/7, all year round.”
In brand-new buildings, developers have upped their game to establish contracts with fitness companies to provide in-house treatment the day the building opens to new unit owners. “Fitness amenities have always found a place in new developments, but currently luxury buyers are looking for something that goes beyond a few treadmills in a basement. Exhale—a popular fitness and spa brand in key cities across the U.S.—offers signature 'core fusion' classes for residents, and the option to have Exhale treatments in their own home, or in the dedicated treatment room in the spa on the rooftop level,” says Cole.
Residents and potential buyers also are seeking out amenities that enrich and serve families as a whole, particularly kids and four-legged family members. “Creating compelling amenity spaces isn’t necessarily about outdoing other buildings on the market,” says Cole. “It’s about finding new ways to meaningfully enhance the lives of residents.” A large part of that is remembering and honoring the role that kids play in parents’ decisions on where to live and for how long.
Crystal Point is an example of a building that isn't just loading up on shiny new toys, but recognizing the demand younger unit owners have of wanting to mingle and know their neighbors. “We are catering to a more youthful active lifestyle. They do have a lot of events that the building does sponsor. They have at least two to three events a month where it ranges anywhere from little parties to get together, like a a Sunday brunch, to even a Zumba class that I had actually instructed and coordinated with another management staff member,” says Gonzalez. Why hire a stranger to run your Zumba classes when your property manager is already certified?
Gonzalez says that kind of community-oriented approach is becoming more enticing to younger homebuyers. “We're trying to actually build and foster more of a community that's geared towards healthy living and also just trying to build the community as a whole. That's why they like to have all these events to draw the residents down and build more of a community instead of someone just running home going to their condo, locking themselves in and not knowing who their neighbors are, they want people to actually get to know their neighbors and that's something that is nice to see, just not done as much in other condos,” she says.
Many New Jersey condos take aim at younger professionals, but many luxury buildings are also putting a premium on keeping the youngest members of the family happy and engaged, which goes a long way toward building a happy and invested community of unit owners and shareholders.
“Really,” says Cole, “the most successful amenities feel like an extension of the home.” She cites libraries, fitness centers with private studios and boxing areas, basketball courts and golf simulators, landscaped terraces with grills, and billiards/cards rooms and playrooms as spaces designed “to feel and function like private spaces for residents.”
Must-Haves, or Just-Nice-to-Haves?
No matter what the price tag is on the unit, buyers and residents want the best that their building can provide. More mainstream buyers are looking for—at the very least—a gym, children's' playroom, lounge and outdoor common space. A barbecue area on the roof, as well as storage for packages and bikes, although not that unusual, would be welcome as well. In any building and in any community, decisions on what amenities to include and not include may all come down to scale—what is possible in a building, and what is affordable. In some instances, residents and boards may not want to shoulder the additional expense and effort involved in creating and maintaining new amenities.
Inside units, developers are including more and more built-in amenities. One popular feature is lighting and home entertainment systems that can be controlled remotely on a computer tablet.
“Battery-powered shades are very popular, especially now that you can actually control the shades right off of your phone or iPad,” says Stephan Elbaz, store owner, decorator, and president of Interior Motif, an interior design firm in Hoboken. “And you're able to control not only having them raise and lower but also controlling them as far as time. So you can actually set your shades to open and close at a certain time. And what that does is not only does it give you the luxury of having that ability to have your shades open up when you're waking up, but also depending on the exposure that you have,” he says.
Unlike those no-brainer amenities to your own unit, costs related to hiring—not to mention retaining—those new concierges, fitness trainers, dog walkers and chefs also need to be considered. There's many ways to handle how costs are covered. “Right now, the events that are sponsored by the building, it's covered within the actual budget,” says Gonzalez. “They have a budget that's strictly for social functions. We do also have like an independent service provider program, where personal trainers can register for a nominal fee, and that way, we can ensure that they have the proper certifications and insurance, and that covers not only personal trainers, but massage therapists, class instructors.
Other expenses include maintenance, upkeep and cleaning of the facilities. “Scheduling can also be a challenge, particularly in the case of swimming pools and roof decks,” says Fran Strauss, a New York-based licensed associate real estate broker.
In the end, the high-end amenities may be an added perk and may help get new buyers in the door, but a screening room or concierge likely will not make or break a co-op, condo or HOA; it may just convince them to sign that bottom line faster. And with the right environment, those niceties may help residents feel more connected to their building, creating a warm, welcoming and convenient community in which to raise a family and spend a lifetime.
Elizabeth Lent is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator. Staff writer Tom Lisi contributed to this article.