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Outdoor Space, Home Offices, and Health Perks Will Dominate Amenities in 2021

Buyers stuck at home are placing a newfound emphasis on space, safety, and comfort; developers are following suit.

By Virginia K. Smith | Mansion Global

Before 2020, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a buyer intent on learning every detail of a building’s cleaning regimen and air filtration technology. Now, these kinds of questions are commonplace.

“We’re seeing a higher concentration on cleanliness and sanitation as the most important thing,” said Andrew Barrocas, CEO of MNS Real Estate in New York City. “Making sure everything is sanitized, asking if there are doors that open electronically or touchless functions.”

As with so many other aspects of day-to-day life, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the landscape in luxury development, with many high-end buyers and renters still stuck at home, and changing their priorities.

“There are three things in buildings that are important: space, privacy and safety,” said Lauren Witkoff, executive vice president of New York-based investment and development firm The Witkoff Group. “Amenity spaces are becoming more important, too, because if you’re stuck at home all day, you want to get out of your apartment.”

In some ways, however, the amenities landscape hasn’t changed as dramatically as one might think.

Co-working spaces and larger outdoor areas were trending well before the pandemic arrived, for instance, as was health-focused programming ranging from boutique workout spaces to more targeted wellness services.

“I do think anything related to health is a long-term trend,” said Leonard Steinberg, chief evangelist at Compass. “The luxury consumer has a great appreciation for luxury that isn’t just cosmetics and fluff. They’re looking for substance and authenticity, and health is the ultimate substance and authenticity.”

In 2021, then, buyers can expect amenity programs to focus on practical, quality-of-life upgrades ranging from increased outdoor space and natural light to safe and private office spaces to touchless technology and package delivery to, yes, air filtration and Covid-19 prevention.

Here’s what the next year of luxury amenities has in store:

Outdoor Spaces Get Larger, More Carefully Curated

After months spent mostly stuck inside, fresh air and outdoor space have become the center of many buyers’ apartment searches.

“In the past, we always joked that everybody wants to know if there’s a roof deck, but never uses it,” said Lisa K. Lippman, a broker with Brown Harris Stevens in New York City. “But roof decks now get used, it’s become much more important to people. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your building, at least you can be outside.”

New-construction buildings were already putting increased focus on outdoor spaces prior to this abrupt change in demand, offering small on-site parks, multiple outdoor areas per building, and a variety of seating and activity options.

At Front and York, a new condo development in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood, “We have a half-acre park in the center of the building, and on level eight, there’s going to be an expansive amount of outdoor programming,” said Jason Schreiber, principal at CIM Group, one of the building’s developers. “There will be an outdoor pool, cinema, fireplace lounge, a barbecue grill. Those are really resonating with buyers.”

Developments across the U.S. are putting a similar focus on wide open spaces. At Villa Valencia, a forthcoming development in Coral Gables, Florida, “Our units average 1,000 square feet of open terrace space, we have a public park that we’re developing on-site, and there’s an enormous amenity deck and wellness center that’s both indoor and outdoor,” said Rishi Kapoor, CEO of developer Location Ventures.

Watermark, a new luxury rental in Washington, D.C., will feature a roof deck with an infinity pool, seating, fire pits, and grills, as well multiple patios on lower levels, an outdoor dog run, and a boardwalk along the river.

Outdoor space is a particular draw for families, and buildings like 77 Greenwich in lower Manhattan are including dedicated children’s play areas among their outdoor options.

With winter lockdowns looming in some cities, expect to see heat lamps, fire pits, and other efforts to ensure that outdoor areas can remain a year-round amenity.

“The Centrale [in midtown Manhattan] has designed an amenity program which caters to the four seasons of New York City living,” said Susan de França, president and CEO of Douglas Elliman Development Marketing. “There’s a double-height entertainment lounge which opens to an outdoor covered area, and behind that is a dog-friendly park where owners can take their pets to run around in a safe environment.”

“Any opportunity to identify spaces where one can live and be with their neighbors and feel safe is definitely important,” Ms. de França added.

Common Areas Become Co-Working Spaces

While buyers and renters have been clamoring for apartments with dedicated home offices, that demand extends into a building’s common areas, as well.

“A lot of projects had something smaller for co-working, maybe only a couple of desks,” said Time Equities director of development Rob Singer. “Now it’s like you can’t build these things big enough.”

The Ritz-Carlton Residences in Miami Beach have converted on-site guest suites into private offices, available for existing residents to purchase. The offices include terraces, as well as the option to add multiple monitors and exercise equipment such as a standing desk or Peloton spin bike.

“Every one of our projects had cabanas, and you’ll see at least half used by people during the work day—they were well-utilized during Covid,” said Gil Dezer, president of Miami-based Dezer Development. “With people not going back to work, even the biggest house or apartment can feel like you’re trapped. The cabanas are an extra room where you have peace and quiet but it’s just a walk away.”

As with gym spaces, developers are repurposing larger lounge areas or generic conference rooms into a series of smaller individual work spaces.

“We’re taking slight departures from huge, open lounge spaces and making them a bit more personal,” Mr. Serhant said. “If we were going to do another lounge or game room, we’re going to take that space and turn it into 10 rentable small office spaces where it’s soundproofed, you’ve got a desk, there’s Wi-Fi, and you can work from home and rent it out whenever you want to.”

“We’ve discussed with developers and broken up some conference room space into video conferencing rooms,” added Stephen Kliegerman, president of Brown Harris Stevens Development Marketing. “Executives are going to need private space, and employees can easily work from home but not their apartment.”

Health Becomes the Bottom Line

For residential buildings, the concept of wellness amenities has evolved from perfunctory on-site spas to a category that encompasses full-blown cleaning and sanitation programming, high-tech lighting and air-filtration, and in some cases, on-site medical care.

At Madison House in New York City, buyers receive a free one-year membership with Sollis Health, a 24-hour medical concierge service that, in addition to its usual offerings, has offered residents Covid-19 testing and extensive treatment options since March.

In Pompano Beach, Florida, luxury development SOLEMAR has equipped each apartment with wellness technology designed by Delos to improve everything from a resident’s sleep to their energy.

These kinds of full-service, in-building health-care options are only likely to expand in the coming year.

“We see demand in the upcoming year for preventative health, more integration between the medical community and fitness,” said Leslie Fajfar, CEO and co-founder of Community Amenity Management and chief managing consultant of Community Fitness NYC, a firm that connects buildings with fitness and wellness professionals to work with residents “Medical advocacy, frequent vitals checks. This was a trend we were already seeing but because of Covid we’re seeing an even higher demand for it.”

On a more basic level, cleanliness is now king, and in addition to upgrading HVAC systems and adding UV lighting to high-traffic parts of the building, many management companies have expanded their cleaning staff and schedules accordingly.

“Cleanliness is a huge thing,” Mr. Serhant said. “There are disinfectant schedules now, there’s added staff for buildings to make sure it’s fully cleaned and people feel safe living in the same building with other people.”

For the foreseeable future, creating a feeling of health and safety is likely to be among developers’ top priorities. “We want the residents to feel safe and comfortable within the building,” Ms. Witkoff said. “It’s sort of like being in a little cocoon.”


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