For most people, there simply are not enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done. We rush to pick the kids up from school, make it to that impromptu work meeting that just got called or even find the time to grab some take-out dinner before we climb into bed and do it all again the next day.
Thankfully, a growing number of condo and co-op residents across New England are finding a helping hand as more and more of the region’s residential buildings and communities are offering concierge services. “Everybody on the planet is trying to squeeze 36 hours into 24-hour days,” says Katharine C. Giovanni, CCS, founder and president of Triangle Concierge, Inc., and founder and chairman of the board of the International Concierge and Lifestyle Management Association. “The concierge is saying, ‘Let me do the things that need to be done so we can give you the time you need to live.’”
And for New Englanders, this kind of service is becoming more of an expectation than a luxury as more buildings than ever before are offering it. “Folks pay a lot for their condos in Boston and want a level of service that’s commensurate with property values. I think in Boston, people enjoy concierge services in residential buildings because it personalizes the high-rise living experience,” says Richard M. Primrose, president of the Boston-based concierge company Palladion Services. “A good concierge makes a building lobby feel like home. A good concierge in a residential building integrates him or herself within the residents’ community. They develop relationships with residents and they become part of the family. A good concierge places the city at the residents’ fingertips.”
“I think people enjoy concierge services in residential buildings for a variety of reasons,” adds Rachel Ottley, property manager with Dannin Management Corp. in Brookline, Massachusetts. “I think one of the main reasons has to do with knowing someone is always there to help with anything you might need; no matter how big or how small a concierge can do it.”
How It All Began
In the past, personal service and attention meant turning to the doorman or superintendent for help with unit repairs or some other mechanical issue. Now, residents are able to look for assistance with a far broader range of needs. “Lots of people call on concierges for dinner reservations, theater tickets, to help hire nannies, find a bridge partner,” says Primrose. “Around the holidays, arranging catering, locating private chefs and special event prep is popular. The menu of services is endless.”
Concierge service first made its mark in the hotel industry, as out of town guests would seek insider knowledge on where to eat, what show to see or who could help with a dry cleaning emergency. Soon, those services began spreading to other industries. “Now you’re seeing concierge specializing in everything from hospitals to helping divorced men to helping patients of plastic surgery,” says Giovanni. The thought, she says, was that “if it works in the hotel industry, I bet I can bring it to the greater public.’” And so far it has worked, especially in the real estate market.
“Hotel concierge services and residential concierge services are very different,” notes Primrose. “Hotel concierges are much more transaction oriented. The guest is transient. They don’t know the city, they want dinner reservations, so it’s a transaction. A guest may or may not return to the hotel. Residential concierges are much more relationship oriented. Whereas a hotel concierge will respond to a guest request, a residential concierge often anticipates the residents’ needs and acts accordingly. For example they’ll call a car service or a driver at the same time each week.”
“Like everyone else, the concierge industry has taken a hit with the economy,” says Giovanni. “However, the bad economy has helped certain parts of our industry.” And over the last five years, the residential market has become one of those areas. “Real estate management companies are looking for ways to draw people to their properties. We’re seeing a rise in concierge services in the lobbies of high-rise, five-star properties. You can’t call yourself a five-star property these days unless you have the concierge service.”
Even buildings without the tony addresses are finding ways to bring more concierge-like services to their residents. “A lot of buildings are also cross-training their security staff with concierge skills,” says Giovanni. If a night guard or doorman is already on duty, it makes sense for many buildings to invest in specialized training to enable those staff members to do more for residents. And it provides more professional variety and opportunity for those employees.
In other instances, buildings may provide residents with remote concierge services versus having an individual on-staff and on-site. They may provide a phone number for residents or have a menu of options listed in the lobby. If a building wants to achieve and maintain a five-star image, though, “they’ll always have someone stationed in the lobby.”
Giovanni adds, “There is an advantage for buildings offering concierge services. It gives them an edge on the competition. For a lot of people, they think to themselves, ‘I would rather rent or buy here in a building that offers these services versus the place next door that doesn’t.’”
And despite the added cost—most buildings pay a retainer to the concierge service and include it in their roster of services for residents—the investment ultimately will help the bottom line, says Giovanni. “For real estate managers who offer these services, it will make the buildings more attractive and in turn, generate more revenue.”
Primrose agrees that living in a building with a concierge services or a doorman/concierge combination is a plus. “Concierge service in a residential building enhances property value,” he says. “And it sets the tone for luxury living.”
Experts believe that in the past, the difference for a resident may have been whether or not a building had a doorman. Without a doorman, for example, you could not mail-order a box of light bulbs because there would have been no one there during the day to sign for them. Nowadays, with the concierge service, not only is there someone there to sign for the light bulbs, now there is also someone there to install them and have the lights on when you get home.
That Little Extra
That extra level of service is the hallmark of a great concierge service, says Giovanni. “It’s customer service above and beyond everybody else.” Instead of being thanked and saying “you’re welcome,” for example, a concierge may say “It’s my pleasure” instead, to underscore his or her desire to provide the best care possible for their client. “The last thing you want to see in the lobby is someone with their feet up on the desk, saying, ‘What do you want?’ to a client,” says Giovanni.
For a lot of residents, the service and care provided by the concierge becomes a necessity and not just a luxury. “A lot of residents will turn to the concierge to find a bridge partner or a nanny or to set up the community room for a function,” says Primrose. “And for a lot of residents those services are necessary.”
And it can become their go-to solution when a problem – any kind of problem – arises. Giovanni cites an instance that occurred a few years ago when a client was out of town on business and became trapped in a hotel elevator. Instead of phoning 9-1-1 or the hotel’s front desk, the man’s first instinct was to call his concierge…who promptly answered the phone, called the man’s hotel and soon had him free from the broken-down elevator.
People who excel in the concierge business are natural-born problem solvers, says Giovanni. “A good concierge doesn’t give up,” she says. “They create magic out of a hat. Some of it is training. Or they are just one of those people who can find anything, anywhere, anytime. They have great contacts and they are willing to go to the 20th page of the Google search, not just give up after the second. It’s a way of life, not a job. It’s who you are, not what you do.”
A good concierge must be willing to do just about anything—within reason and the law—for their client because there is no doubt that if they are in the business long enough, they will get some fairly unusual requests. Giovanni knew of one concierge on the West Coast who was asked to find a reindeer, put it in a pen and care for it for the entire 12 days of Christmas. Another time, a panicked pet owner called his concierge asking how to deflate an agitated and highly expanded blowfish. The answer? Put on rubber gloves because its spikes are poisonous and then scratch its belly. A third very hearty and brave concierge took the call of a woman grieving over the death of her cat. The woman asked her concierge to go to Sears, buy a cooler, transport the deceased pet to the taxidermist, have it stuffed and then return it to the owner. “I don’t know why all my stories involve animals,” Giovanni says with a laugh.
Whatever the need and whatever the occasion, for thousands of residents throughout the city it is a relief to know that someone is there to help. Whether it’s dog walking, getting great theater seats for a mother-in-law or just being the friendly face that greets them in the lobby every day, a talented and dedicated concierge makes life better and easier. For people struggling to find enough hours in the day to live, work and play, few services are more important than that.
Liz Lent is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England Condominium. Staff writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.