Staying competitive in a growing condo marketplace can often mean attention to detail. Second only to location, it is those little details—a property’s included amenities—that often sway the balance for a potential condo buyer. And as Americans of all stripes grow increasingly health-conscious, experts say fitness-related amenities can be key to the overall health of condo residents—and a condo community’s bottom line.
“It has a big bearing if positioned properly,” explains author and fitness expert Todd Bradley, who’s seen failing condo communities make dramatic turnarounds through the proper marketing of fitness centers. “If you’re trying to attract [residents] and fill up this complex, you can leverage the fact that you have this fitness center and spark some interest by pointing out the benefits and setting up programs…. It can have a lot of interest, but it needs to be leveraged from the real estate agent involved. They have to bridge the gap between that facility and the potential [owner] and spark the interest, point out the benefits, and then have something in place as a catalyst that will prompt them to use it.” One such realtor, Jim Black of Keller-Williams Realty in Worcester, Massachusetts, has often worked with condo buyers. And although he’s rarely known the absence of a fitness center to be a deal breaker, Black feels a base-level facility is an expected amenity. “I think it’s important to have something there, even if it’s just a smaller facility…that people can use. But I don’t know that you get as much back by having this big, elaborate facility.”
“You could put equipment in as little as a hundred or two hundred square feet and still have some basic offerings,” says Dave Ramsey, commercial sales manager for Massachusetts-based Precision Fitness Equipment. “[Condo properties must] have some type of offering for a fitness area if they want to be competitive.” And being competitive, Ramsey notes, requires knowing the needs of your condo community.
While the general fitness center demographic trends toward professionals ranging in age from 25 to 55, experts say condo communities with residents of any age may find value in such a facility. The main variable, says Ramsey, is the mix of equipment. “Certain pieces of equipment are more suited for seniors than they are for the more active and able-bodied. You’re going to consider also, the spacing between the equipment. Seniors, if they have limited mobility, may need additional space to maneuver around the machines.”
Consultants agree that success in condo fitness means knowing your condo residents and balancing the setup to meet their needs, whether that be ADA-approved machines for disabled residents or Swiss balls for younger Pilates enthusiasts. “A lot of times what happens with these fitness centers in a [condo] location, they’re inadequate,” says Bradley, owner of the Hopkinton, Massachusetts-based Fit-Force Consulting. “And most people will realize that. They go down, they see it’s limited, and they lose interest quickly. I’m going to say 90% of the fitness centers out there in the condo domain are like that.”
Condo managers should look for the presence of antiquated equipment like universal gyms or rowing machines—a top fad in ‘80s fitness—when considering whether their current facility may not be up to par. “The Nautilus-based equipment—“selectorized” equipment is what they call it—is probably the most suitable and accommodating for the majority of people today,” Bradley explains. “That has replaced a lot of the older free weight-type systems that were available or around in the ‘70s or ‘80s, even early ‘90s, due to the fact that the selectorized technology changed. It evolved and has become more accommodating.” In addition, entertainment options, once a rarity in personal fitness, are truly mandatory today. Equipment users expect TVs and iPod/headphone integration to be a part of even base-level fitness facilities and are unlikely to use rooms without them.
According to Nate Telow, owner of the Boston-based training firm Foundation Fitness, property managers should consider the success of major fitness chains when designing their private facilities. “The biggest trend in gym [chains] today is Planet Fitness, which is a stripped-down gym—lots of cardio, lots of basic machines, small free weight area,” notes Telow. “And, when I go into [condo] complexes, the ones who do it well are following that [same] model— lots of treadmills, lots of elliptical, a couple of bikes, and plenty of cardio. Nobody likes to wait for cardio.”
“If you do have more room,” says Bradley, “you’d want to put in some free weights—not real heavy, but something where you have a rack of dumbbells and some other free weights—and some balls and other items that cater to some of the newer versions of exercise people are doing that aren’t dangerous.” Both Telow and Bradley agree that considering new exercise trends and leaving space to accommodate them are crucial steps in planning a successful room. “The places that do it well tend to have extra space,” says Telow, “so when we come in as a trainer we’re able to do what we call functional training and bring some of our own equipment. It gives members an area to do whatever it is they do. I’ve seen people do their Tai Chi workouts or yoga workouts in the floor. It’s a place to stretch…. I think that’s a big thing — just leaving an open area. It may seem like wasted space, but I feel like it allows the residents to utilize it as they see fit.”
While trainers such as Telow aren’t often seen on base-level properties, higher-end managers may wish to encourage their use. And though arrangements for personal training are generally negotiated solely between the resident and the trainer — at no cost to condo boards — it may be in board members’ interests to get involved and endorse reputable trainers. “I know a lot of these condo buildings have these freelance trainers that come around,” says Telow. “And when you have that one independent trainer, there’s a lot of risk to the resident which can then be put back on the condominium.”
By endorsing a company like Foundation Fitness, condo managers are likely to avoid future headaches. “I’m in the business of hiring trainers and training trainers,” Telow notes. “I routinely have ads up. I go to the personal training schools and recruit them. I get people who have just quit [other fitness centers] to come in and work for me, so I do background checks. And you’d be surprised. I regularly interview trainers and when I do a background check, I (sometimes) find that they’re convicted felons. And you just wouldn’t know.”
Telow also says the presence of on-site trainers will often spark interest in an otherwise-failing facility. “As soon as the Archstone buildings [in Boston] started putting our flyers around their properties—the elevators, the mail room—a lot of the people that called me…said, ‘I’ve lived in this building for a year and I have not used the fitness facility once.’ So it absolutely encourages people to use the facility. Most of the people we’ve gotten through endorsement from the building have been people who have not used the gym on their own because they felt they didn’t know how.”
For condo properties without an existing fitness facility, first-time construction can seem understandably daunting. Yet board members and management are likely to find the task more straightforward than they expect. Though a do-it-yourself layout may seem tempting, contracting with a professional consultant will help to limit liability and security issues, efficiently utilize your available space, and save headaches in the long run. With regard to the fitness machines themselves, experts say equipment leasing makes the most sense for condo properties. Common lease agreements include a five year term for strength-training machines and three years for cardio. “Within the realm of that,” says Bradley, “you would negotiate whether the lease includes service. Is it serviced by the manufacturer? Is it serviced by the distributor?” (Most managers tend to include service in their lease agreements.) At the end of a leasing period, many standard contracts will include an option allowing condo properties to pay a nominal fee—often $1.00—and own the equipment outright. When it comes to liability issues, board members may also be pleasantly surprised. “I’ve never heard of [insurance costs] being significantly higher [after adding a fitness facility],” says Bradley. “You can trip and fall in the parking lot. Most complexes have tennis courts, they have a pool … If you already have some of those amenities, it doesn’t significantly change.”
For those properties with existing fitness centers, finding a way to properly leverage this increasingly-important amenity may go a long way toward the health of a condo community— in more ways than one. “Put the spotlight on the benefit, on the amenity, and what it could do for the tenant, and encourage them to use it through some programs,” Bradley explains. “Find a way to better utilize a fitness center, because that can be the key to retaining the people of that complex—keeping them there longer—and attracting [residents] initially, which is typically the goal. Outfitted properly and maintained properly, that could be the catalyst that keeps the property running strong.”
Matthew Worley is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England Condominium.