Design on a Dime Fending Off the Blahs...On a Budget

Alyssa and her fiancé are on the hunt for a condo in Brooklyn. They came into the process with their wish list (in-unit washer and dryer, hardwood floors, lots of light) and their must-have list (two bedrooms, one bath and something more than a kitchenette, on a safe street). What they didn’t think about is the space outside their condo door: the building’s common spaces. “I didn’t even consider what we wanted in the lobbies and hallways of the building,” says Alyssa. “It seems like such an afterthought or something you can look past, but I’ve seen some really, really gnarly lobbies. “ Alyssa went on to say that her realtor will often warn them that “The building is a little dated,” which translates to “The lobby looks like a ghost ship from 1983.” 

A Matter of Priority

Plenty of buildings and homeowners associations have common spaces, and plenty of those spaces go years—sometimes decades—without an style update or overhaul. It makes sense; when you’ve got bigger fish to fry, like needing to reseal the roof or dry out a flooded basement, picking out a more modern paint color or updating carpet runners in the hallways might not seem like an efficient use of a board’s time, and certainly not their budget. But aesthetics and curb appeal factor significantly into property values, and by extension the likelihood of  prospective buyers like Alyssa and her fiance to make a purchase in your building. 

“I’ve had brokers tell me that sales are won and lost even before the client sees the apartment,” says Susan Lauren of Lauren Interior Design in Manhattan. “If you’re looking to put down a large sum of money, perhaps your life savings, and on the way to the apartment you are disappointed with the lobby, the elevator, or the stairs…if they look shabby to you, who cares how fabulous the apartment is? Renovations of this kind can affect unit sales by 10 to 15 percent in most cases.” 

Serena Spates, marketing manager at Interior Motif in Hoboken, New Jersey agrees. “Common areas are often the first thing that potential buyers and/or renters see when considering a property, and are considered to be focal points of most buildings,” she says. “First impressions are everything, and can go a long way in determining whether they are interested in moving forward to view the unit. If the area is unkempt or looks cheap, it may give the impression that they won’t be able to count on the [board] to handle repairs and replacements in the future. Buyers also look at common areas as extensions of their homes. Whether it’s the concierge desk, outdoor pool area, game room and/or meeting room, these are areas people want to make sure are comfortable and inviting enough to entertain guests.” 

Cheap Up(date)

So the stakes are actually fairly high. Luckily, there are a lot of ways you can spruce up your common spaces without digging too deeply into your building’s coffers, or raiding the reserves.  

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