Spacious rooms. Walk-in closets. Gleaming hardwood floors. Years ago, renters and condo buyers seeking a rental or condo could be wooed by these must-have amenities, considered high-life luxuries at the time.
As rents and condo prices climbed and consumers became more knowledgeable, demanding, and flush with cash, developers have added luxurious amenities to differentiate their products and speed leasing and sales. Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances became de rigueur in kitchens. Whirlpool tubs, steam showers, and French limestone showed up in master bathrooms.
But no longer do such features serve as sufficient bait in many markets. "Luxury is the new normal," says J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich, a research company based in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The result is that the search continues, and at a much more frenzied pace, for the latest ultra-luxe amenity as new buildings come online and vie for residents' dollars. Today cool trappings may mean an exterior moon garden, a lobby waterfall, or a private dog park. No developer queried for this story had started an in-building matchmaking service yet, but ever more extensive on-site gyms and posh laundry rooms–one with the moniker "Clothes Encounters"–seem the next best way for residents to find romance.
And despite softening in some markets, many developers say they're not planning to forgo such extras, believing that one-upmanship will prove crucial in sales and leasing.
Just look at 1600 Broadway on the Square, a New York property that includes such novelties as common area decks featuring grass, trees, an outdoor shower on one deck, a telescope, and front-row views of classic New York sights such as Times Square and Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. In the first 10 weeks since sales began at the property, 100 of 137 units have sold, says Steven Novick, president of Sherwood Residential, which manages the 27-story glass tower.
Of course, whether all these amenities make financial sense or drain developers' profits remains to be seen. Novick says his company carefully selects amenities that are cost-effective because they're built into the infrastructure's initial expenses. "We don't include ones that require ongoing expenses such as a pool since that means hiring a lifeguard and paying insurance," he says.
Looking to up the ante in your market with a new and creative amenity? Here are 10 extras worth considering for your next construction or renovation project.
1. Nighttime Gardens
Are your residents never home before sunset? No worries. Buyers at the Sutton 57 condo building at 212 E. 57th St. in New York will enjoy night-blooming flowers in moon-shaped planters on a common rooftop terrace since many condo owners aren't home to enjoy greenery during the day.
2. Outfitted Kitchens
Forget offering kitchens with "just" granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and sophisticated lighting. Today's condo buyers may expect you to provide the gourmet pots and pans, too. O'Neill Properties, which is developing the Corinthian condo building on Philadelphia's Main Line, is filling the custom Italian cabinetry in the kitchens of its 108 units with the best pots, pans, utensils, and spices, and installing flat-screen TVs, all for the same base price: $795,000 for a 2,105-square-foot condo with two bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. The prime motivation is to exceed customers' expectations, says developer Brian O'Neill, chairman of O'Neill Properties. "If they want X, we give them 10 times X. People moving in here want choices made for them," he says.
3. Pet Paradises
With pet lovers willing to spend serious dollars on everything from people-quality food to dog-friendly hotels, it's no surprise more developers know that pet-friendly buildings are necessary. But they also know that proximity to a public park is no longer enough. So several buildings in Manhattan sport rooftop dog playgrounds. The 138-acre Atlantic Station complex in Midtown Atlanta has an off-leash dog park with faux fire hydrants. Other buildings provide dog-walking services to residents, eliminating pet owners' need to hire such a service.
4. Entertainment Galore
Young renters and buyers want opportunities to meet their neighbors and make new friends, and so fun-filled lounges, bars, and billiards rooms are turning up coast-to-coast. The clubhouse at the Pavilion Apartments in Maryland Heights, Mo., provides billiards and a theater with a 110-inch TV and a state-of-the art surround sound system. Metro 417 in downtown Los Angeles offers billiards and a rooftop hot tub. At the Wind by Neo Epoch in Miami, a sky bar and bonfire cove beckon. Buildings like Riverview Landing, an apartment property near Philadelphia, host wine tastings and themed parties.
In Atlanta, where long commutes because of the city's sprawl have become a headache for many residents, the mixed-use Atlantic Station development allows renters and owners the option to stay put. Besides its 5,000 residential units, there will be 12 million square feet of office space (including a LEED-certified tower that's the first in the Southeast), a 16-screen movie theater, 32 retailers including an IKEA and Publix supermarket, and 21 restaurants. If residents want to leave without driving, there's a trolley to a nearby MARTA station.
5. Fitness Fixes
Buildings also lure consumers with well-equipped fitness centers and outdoor amenities more convenient than any gym. The 1600 Broadway on the Square condo offers a gym with a choice of equipment, big windows to gaze outside during a workout, a yoga corner, a virtual golf center, and an outdoor putting green. At 170 East End Ave., a building on New York's tony Upper East Side, owners will have a squash court, gym, and golf simulator when it opens in spring 2007.
Not to be outdone, the Montgomery Greene Condominium across the Hudson River in Jersey City, N.J., the 19-story tower will feature a 2,600-square-foot roof deck with sunning area with privacy screen and outdoor showers.
Outside of St. Louis, Mo., the developer of Pavilion Apartments splurged on a 12,000-square-foot "killer health club" as a way to lure twenty- and thirty-something renters to its 804 moderately priced apartments, says William Procida, chairman of Palisades Financial, a real estate lender based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Pavilion's club houses a fitness center with TVs built into equipment, two refinished swimming pools, and resurfaced tennis courts, plus the piece de resistance: a sand volleyball court that's home to the Budweiser Sports League.
Others are also opting for new fitness options. At Riverview Landing, residents enjoy outdoor paths that run through its bucolic setting adjacent to Valley Forge National Historic Park and nearby trails along the banks of the Schuylkill River. Such options were one reason Marvin Segal, an avid cyclist who sponsors a top cycling team in Pennsylvania, leased a three-bedroom apartment at Riverview after selling his home.
6. Waves of Water
Water features are seen as a calming antidote to busy lifestyles, and developers are incorporating them into projects. In New York, Park South Lofts has a waterfall on an interior lobby wall. At The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton in downtown Philadelphia, one of two gardens will have a 12-foot-high water feature.
7. Green Choices
More developers understand that being cool and environmentally sensitive isn't mutually exclusive. "Health resonates," says George Aridas, senior vice president of Albanese Development Corp. in Garden City, N.Y., which designed the 293-unit Solaire rental building, the first high-rise to receive a green rating, and Verdesian, a 253-unit residence, both in New York's Battery Park. Among amenities are four-pipe HVAC energy-efficient systems, green roofs to cut heating and cooling costs, filtered fresh air, sustainable woods from certified forests for cabinets, bamboo flooring, recycled carpets, and "green" paint and wallcoverings.
8. Super Service
Developers are taking a cue from five-star hotels and staffing buildings with concierges who multitask 24/7. "The uberconcierge is today's lifestyle planner," says Paul Purcell, a partner at Braddock + Purcell, a New York-based real estate consulting firm. "In New York, we're busy and find other people to do things for us."
Among the services offered at the 44-story The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, being constructed adjacent to a Ritz-Carlton hotel, are a 24-hour concierge who will order theater tickets or make dinner reservations, 24-hour room service from the hotel's kitchen, unlimited car service, babysitting, pet-walking, and treatments at the hotel's spa. Such pampering costs dearly: $550,000 for a 1,000-square-foot unit up to $12 million for the 10,000-square-foot penthouse.
9. Home offices
For worker bees who want a change of scenery from offices or building business centers, many units at 1600 Broadway on the Square include a small home office with room for a desk and a couch for power naps.
10. Cultural Connections
In Los Angeles, Metro 417 offers an art gallery with rotating exhibits. When residents want more culture, they can use a special guidebook, "5-5-5 Guide, that lists resources five minutes, five blocks, and five miles away," says Kevin Ratner, senior vice president, development of Forest City Residential.
At the 28-story Cielo in New York, planned to open spring 2006, developer JD Carlisle targeted art lovers, since the property's Upper East Side location is rich in museums and galleries. An art concierge will arrange outings to museums, owners will receive a complimentary one-year membership to the nearby Whitney Museum of American Art, and a children's playroom will display artwork from a contest sponsored by Cielo. Across the street, the building commissioned muralist Richard Haas to paint a trompe l'oeil clock to replace graffiti. At another building at 170 East End Ave., pint-sized budding artists will have an arts and crafts center while adults can read about art and other subjects in an on-site library.
–Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer in St. Louis, Mo.
Knock out the competition with targeted amenities. Though it's tempting for developers and builders to pile on perks, the savviest ones know that choices should reflect several factors:
Location. What's cool in New York, such as a rooftop dog playground, may fall flat in Atlanta, where a ground-level park is more desirable. A twist on this trend is that some developers are introducing what's expected or cool in another market, but not in their own, to create buzz. While doormen may be common in New York City and Chicago apartments, they're not in downtown Los Angeles, says Rodney Franks, who moved into Metro 417 for that reason–among others–when he relocated from Chicago.
Price. Upper-end buildings are no longer the only ones "amenitized." The trend is happening at every price range with the type of amenity usually geared to the unit's rental or purchase price. At Atlantic Stations' Flats building, planned for students, units include a central living room and kitchen and private bedrooms and bathrooms.
Demographics. Since many buildings attract owners or renters with specialized interests, developers are using amenities that are just as special to target those people. At the tony 1600 Broadway on the Square in New York's Times Square, the units may be small, but they're luxurious and close to the offices where the property's expected single and young married owners will work. "Families–Mom, Dad, and Junior–weren't the targeted audience," says Steve Novick, president of Sherwood Residential, which manages the building. In contrast, 170 East End Ave., which will open in 2007 on New York's Upper East Side, will ooze luxuriousness in its spacious "couture" condos and public spaces with name-brand detailing by prominent architect Peter Marino. Public spaces include a garden with waterfall, gym, library, billiards room, 40-seat screening room, squash court, library, interactive children's center with computer games, and arts and crafts center. Prices start at $2 million.