New Condos, Hotel Concierge Included

The kitchens and bathrooms may be state-of-the-art. The views may be terrific and the on-site amenities plentiful, but if that high-end condo you are marketing today doesn’t offer spectacular services, it’s going to be a hard sell.

With new developments like One Beacon Court, the Ritz-Carlton at 50 Central Park South and the Residences at Mandarin Oriental in the Time Warner Center, set to open by Thanksgiving, the bar has been significantly raised for high-end condo living.

On-site hotel-style concierge service in particular — allowing you to call from the airport to have food waiting for you, have the beds turned down or the apartment cleaned — will be the new gold standard.

At One Beacon Court, part of the development being completed on the old Alexander’s store site on the Upper East Side, prices will top out at $26 million, and residents will have access to full concierge services. “The concierge will go the extra mile for you, which means if you want theater tickets or to throw a birthday party for your 16-year-old daughter, they can organize all of it,” said Rosita Sarnoff, a senior vice president at Stribling & Associates. But she said it’s the 65 units above the Mandarin Oriental at Time Warner, which will share services with the most expensive hotel built in the city in the last decade, that will be “above all else.”

“You’ll have hot and cold running service,” she said. “You’ll have every amenity that you would have in the top hotel in the world.”

Part of the reason for providing the hotel-style services is that residents at top buildings are also likely to have homes elsewhere, and are constantly on the move.

“Frequently it’s one of several residences for the owner, and people are looking for service because they don’t want to do everything themselves,” said Hall Willkie, president of Brown Harris Stevens. “If it’s a part-time residence, they are going to want these services which have typically never been available in a residential condo building before.”

Many of these concierge services and access to personnel are included in the common area charges, but Willkie says, “the man standing behind the desk doing the calling for you is included, but if a maid comes to clean that is an extra charge, as are any tickets or services the concierge arranges for.”

High-end amenities don’t end at concierge services, of course. Indeed, in today’s condo market, everything from technology to gyms to high-end appliances are also an absolute requirement.

“All luxury condominium developments today have those amenities; they are necessities, not luxuries, in today’s buildings,” said Louise Sunshine, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Sunshine Group.

Willkie said brokers would find it difficult to do deals in a particular building without these amenities. “If they aren’t there, brokers would lose out,” he said.

Technology is one key amenity that makes an apartment easier to sell. Sarnoff said the Time Warner Center is an “ultra-smart building, which means it’s wired for everything.” Features include a special internal TV service. Sunshine points out that condo owners will also have the technology to broadcast from their own apartments, meaning, for example, that a diplomat could broadcast a program back to his home country while sitting in his living room.

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Ismael Leyva, residential architect for the Time Warner Center, included media rooms in many of the apartments.

“What I try to do is give the latest in communications to the apartment for the Internet and all the other services.” He counts “entertainment suites” and private screening rooms among the most highly desired amenities.

At One Beacon Court, the project on Lexington and 58th Street, Sunshine said the technology being provided by Sony is “far above what developers used to do.”

Other amenities serve as a way to allow owners to extend their living spaces outside the limits of their own apartments, particularly through athletic facilities. Eric Ozada, a vice president at William B. May, harkened back to the opening of The Promenade on East 76th Street back in 1988, when it was one of the first residential buildings in the city to offer the kinds of services that have since become standard. The building has a health club and a pool on the top of the building. Ozada points out that “very few buildings have pools located on the 38th floor because it is the most expensive floor and you need triple height for the pool because you need one floor to go below the pool level for the water.” A roof garden, children’s playroom, conference room and full health club are also open 18 hours a day.

In another project, Leyva is working on a building in the heart of the financial district which has enough athletic components to make it sound like it is shooting to be the next Chelsea Piers. “It’s a 400-unit planned conversion to loft apartments with bi-level high ceilings,” he said. “We are putting in a squash court, basketball court, climbing wall and a bowling green.” Those features don’t come cheap, however. “Not too many people have these amenities because you need double high ceilings for basketball courts” he said. The price range will not be as high as the Time Warner Center, Leyva said, “but it’s going to be up there.” The Time Warner Center itself will sport the city’s largest hotel spa; a 14,000 square foot facility spread over two floors.

Other amenities found in the city’s top apartments can help insulate residents from the insecurity of the outside world. The threat posed by failing power grids and citywide blackouts are considerably lessened at the Time Warner Center, which has its own generator. “People have definitely been asking about that,” said Sarnoff.

At the Promenade, “Whenever there is a strike by workers, the building signs a statement that whatever the workers and the labor union agree upon, it will be accepted, so the building never faces a strike,” Ozada said.

While most amenities enhance quality-of-life in one-way or another, some appear perhaps a tad frivolous. Douglas Wagner, president of Benjamin James real estate agency, points out several high-end amenities, including “electric towel warmers, heating and cooling systems that you can call in and adjust from your cell phone, and faucets over the range so you can fill your pasta pot with out having to move it off the burner.”

Will these features increase the value of an apartment? Probably not, said Sarnoff.

Kitchens are another story. Even if they never set foot in the kitchen or know how to boil a pot of water, many owners still want the best. “People love high-end kitchens,” said Sarnoff. “They may never use them, but they love the idea.”

Condominium buildings with high-end amenities and services are no longer exclusive to particular sections of the city.

“New York is changing and because there are no empty lots anywhere, most new buildings are being built in locations that at one time weren’t considered so fine,” said Willkie. “The Time Warner Center, for instance, is on Columbus Circle, but none of us ever thought you’d want to live on Columbus Circle.”

With all the high-end amenities offered by recent condo developments, where does that leave co-ops? Most brokers say that’s comparing apples and oranges. “The most prestigious, most valuable spaces in New York are the big old co-ops, but that is a different market,” said Willkie. “That is more primary homes, where the financing and everything is very controlled. In a condo, you are buying real estate, you can leverage it, you can let your daughter stay there, or you can rent it.” Sarnoff said that you won’t get the same sort of hotel-style concierge services in a co-op, but adds that of course people are still “looking for an address, a brand, the large rooms and the prewar detail of Fifth Avenue or Central Park West.”