Use it Or Lose it Updating (or Eliminating) Amenities

During the real estate boom of the last decades, many new condo buildings used to use extravagant amenities as a tool for new buyers. Marble-top counters, exercise rooms, Jacuzzis, free cars for buyers, childrens' playrooms, computer lounges with wireless Internet (before wireless became ubiquitous), wine cellars and continental breakfasts were among those that were being offered. This author has even heard of one development that offered an in-house art gallery, and another that offered a basketball court.

In suburban condos, this might translate to two separate swimming pools (one for children and one for adults), barbecue grills, covered patios, a clubhouse with a large-screen TV, basketball and volleyball courts, free bus service to town and more.

But what happens when some buildings, whether newer or older, are looking at doing away with some of their amenities now that the recession is hitting them? Some of them, like an in-house pet spa or the aforementioned continental breakfast, could be fairly simple to cut back. Others, however, could present a problem.

How To Decide?

What are some criteria that building administrators can use to determine whether an amenity—for example, a pool or a kids’ playroom—is still pulling its weight, or whether it might be time to consider scaling it back, or getting rid of it entirely?

Some amenities installed into newly-constructed buildings were basically promotional perks, but didn’t prove popular later on. In one condo, says Manhattan attorney Eliott Meisel, a managing partner at the law firm of Brill & Meisel, “A continental breakfast was a selling point for the sponsors.” But afterward, “It was costing the condo $10,000 or $12,000 annually when only eight or 10 people were using it. I suggested that the condo could pay for breakfast for those few people [instead], and continue this until it gradually became no longer needed.”

The issue doesn’t always have to be getting rid of an amenity—it could be merely reducing it, or replacing it with something else. Barbara Holland, president of H&L Realty and Management in Las Vegas, for example, gives the example of condos that have clubhouses that are open 24 hours a day, but want to cut the hours back. This writer knows of a Manhattan co-op that converted a game room that was used mainly by seniors into an exercise room that has become phenomenally successful among owners of all age groups.

Determining whether particular features should be done away with or reduced can just be common sense. For example, says Meisel, a lifeguard at a pool or someone else can be asked to take a survey of how often people use the pool.

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