Years ago, when you bought a co-op or condo apartment, you looked for a unit that had the right number of bedrooms and bathrooms, a perfectly-sized kitchen, and some great living space. For the longest time, that ideal combination was all an apartment needed to attract a buyer to a particular building or association. As property values increased, and as developers built more and more new multifamily developments however, they needed a way to draw homebuyers away from one building and over to theirs. And so began a battle of the multifamily Joneses. Building A had the state-of-the-art gym, so Building B added a gym and a movie screening room. Building C added all of that and then some, including a private personal trainer on-call at nearly any hour of the day.
Amenities Arms Race
How common is this tale of dueling amenities? Common enough that last April, Forbes magazine featured an article on condo amenities one-upmanship and how it’s fueling sales in high-end high-rises across many urban markets. Author Beth Weinberg explained that the newest lure for high-rise residents in New York City is a built-in supermarket. She reported that six specialty food stores had opened in the city within the year in mixed-use residential/commercial spaces. And the trend is hardly exclusive to Gotham; in just one example, a 100-unit condominium and loft development in Vancouver shares space with a Choices Market.
“Buyers are hungry for the most comprehensive amenities ever seen in New York condominiums,” says Beth Stern, a senior sales director with the Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group. “Likewise, developers want to distinguish their projects with unique amenity spaces and best-in-class services,” she says. For example, at the new Halcyon condo building on East 51st Street, HFZ Capital Group made the decision to move the building amenities all the way to the 21st and 22nd floors, which could have been valuable residential real estate. “However, they felt that offering amenities with spectacular views, bathed in light, would ultimately create tremendous value. In particular, the Sky Lounge, Aqua Spa, 52-foot lap pool, fitness center, and Movement Studio feature floor-to-ceiling windows.”
The market’s emergence from the recent recession hasn’t changed the development of amenities either, just the final product. “Amenities help in both good and bad markets,” says Stern. “In the most recent real estate cycle, we are seeing developers think differently about the type of amenities they are offering. It isn’t necessarily about more, it’s about creating thoughtful multi-use amenities that are both efficient and provide versatile spaces for residents to do anything from yoga to host a formal dinner party.”
Jacky Teplitzky, a licensed associate real estate broker in New York and Florida with Douglas Elliman, has been in the business for 17 years and remembers when the most luxurious amenity that a building could offer was a concierge. “Whether or not the building had a doorman was the only thing that was really asked about,” she says. “Today, especially with new construction, you have to differentiate yourself—but what you offer depends on the target market for your building. If it’s families, the amenity will be a children’s playroom. If it’s yuppies, it will be WiFi or an outdoor theater.”