What's Hot in Exterior Amenities? Walking Trails and Concierges are In

What's Hot in Exterior Amenities?

What makes one condominium fly off the market and another sit stagnant for months? Do condo communities with amenities like sprawling clubhouses, sparkling pools, and concierge service still entice buyers regardless of what the units look like?

As anyone who has ever bought or sold a home knows, the role of amenities in the condo’s curb appeal can be complex. A must-have for one buyer may be meaningless to the next. Nonetheless, a community’s amenitiesultimately play a decisive role in attracting new residents and a survey of realtors and developers reveals a recent sea change in what’s hot and what’s not.

Less is More

When asked what exterior amenities condominium buyers are looking for today, Paul Leys, the co-owner of Gustave White Sotheby's International Realty in Newport, Rhode Island, saysthat five years ago, he would have answered—without hesitation—that a pool, tennis courts, and private gated security were at the top of the list. But these days, he points to something quite different.

“We're selling condos at Ferry Landing in Portsmouth,” he says, “with none of those things—and they're doing really well. Better than a lot of other places.”

According to Leys, the stand-alone condos at Ferry Landing offer two things that people want: high-quality new construction, and homes that come “as close as you can get to single-familyliving” with the convenience of a condominium.

In 2007, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that 63 percent of homebuyers had no children residing in the home. The huge population of empty nesters is Leys’ market, and he says that while they want to scale down, they also want something similar to what they are leaving behind. Therefore, condominiums that are freestanding, or close to it, are attractive. At Ferry Landing, all of the homes are two stories with a two-car garage and a basement. They range in size from 2,100 to 2,400 square feet—but here's the big difference: almost all of the units have a master suite on the first floor for less stair climbing.

“They want new—and quality that they know isn't going to break down in ten years,” Leys explains about folkswho want convenience and ease in a home they plan to be in for a while.

Because of the high-quality materials and finishing touches in the units, Leyssays that eliminating the usual pool, tennis courts, and clubhouse doesn't necessarily lower purchase price, but it does make the monthly condo fees “more affordable and predictable.”

Maureen McNamara of Lewis Builders in Atkinson, New Hampshire, says that two of their larger developments that have pools—West Meadow Hill in Haverhill, Massachusetts and Bryant Woods in Atkinson, New Hampshire—have both experienced difficulty in stabilizing their condominium association fees. “Once you get started with the pool, there's a lot of maintenance involved, and insurance," she points out. "Some people want the pool to be heated and others don't want the expense. It can becomemessy among the residents.”

Safe and Sound

While security in a person’s home is always important, Joseph DeAngelo of Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty in Boston reports that he sees mixed interest among his clients. For example, he talks about two condo buildings in downtown Boston on thesame block. One is new construction with a fancy rooftop deck and beautiful lobbies but no 24-hour concierge. The other building, where he lives, is an existing older loft where the hallways aren't as nice but there is a 24-hour concierge and direct garage access. He says the concierge—someone who knows your comings and goings and keeps an eye open night and day—adds a feeling of security, along with tremendous value.

“You won't see alarms or any kind of elaborate security on the units in a building with a concierge,” he says.

Where there is street level access to a person’s home, like in brownstone condo, he adds, bars on the windows and an alarm system are always included in the package. But if you’re not an urban dweller, Leys believes that the gated community is less desired because “people have realized there just isn't a need.”

“The extra salary for a security guard adds to everyone’ association fees,” he adds. “If it’s not necessary, why do it?”

Water, Water Everywhere

Pools might be going out of vogue, but a waterfront never does.

“Buyers always choose the neighborhood first,” says DeAngelo “When someone says their first choice is the South End [in Boston] and their second choice is Beacon Hill, they’ll end up in the South End.” But, DeAngelo concedes, once the location parameters are met, buyers want the best for whatthey can afford. And while some amenities, like a parking space, for example, might be highly valued in Boston and equally unimportant in rural Maine, a waterfront is prized wherever it’s found.

DeAngelo says of Boston that a view outranks a dazzling kitchen or stunning bathrooms, even though it’s a close competition.

“In Newport,” says Leys, “people come to be near the water, so a view—or at least a glimpse of the shore—always commands a premium. You know what they say: location, location, location.”

And McNamara says her firm is actually “a little surprised” by the response to the “water feature” in its latest project: a 55+ community in rural Hampstead, New Hampshire called Angle Pond.

“We have 225 feet of waterfront frontage for community use,” she explains. A gravel road leads down to the beach and no individual units have water access.

“We built a little gazebo, a fishing dock—really basic, nothing elaborate. But it's very conducive to the lifestyle people are looking for. It’s a gatheringplace, a swimming place; people put their little boats and kayaks in the water. There are people down there every day that weather permits.”

McNamara says that even though Lewis Builders’ sales in 2007 were down about 50% from the previous year, Angle Pond accounted for 25 of the 47 closings for new construction in age-restricted condominiums in Rockingham Country, New Hampshire. Sixty-seven of the Angle Pond's 116 units have been sold.

In addition to the waterfront, McNamara attributes the success of Angle Pond to its close proximity to convenient retail stores and the extensivewalking trails that lead right to the town's main road. There is also a fitness center nearby, but McNamara says that walking is the exercise of choice among the residents, so the trails are all they really need.

At home at the country club

While some new condominium communities are scaling back on high-maintenance shared amenities, “putting less emphasis on the toys,” as Leys puts it, others are taking a different tack. Two high profile projects are underway, one in Massachusetts andone Rhode Island, where the country club—with all its bell and whistles—comes with the condo. “A different animal altogether,” Leys says about The Tower at the Carnegie Abbey in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, just six miles from upscale Newport.

Purchasers at The Tower are required to be members of the Carnegie Abbey Club, which calls itself “a private sporting estate dedicated to the art of living well,” and as such, they are privy to all the amenities of the world-renowned club: Eighteen holes of Scottish links-inspired golf, a premier equestrian center with two outdoor rings and seven miles of picturesque riding trails, a tennis center, a Europeanspa, a kids’ camp and much more.

The Preserve at the Bay Club in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, is bettingon the buyers who want both the “single-family-home-feeling” along with the county club amenities. Their 68 condominium-style units, which begin construction in spring of 2008, are all freestanding with one or two bedrooms on the first floor, a full basement, and two- or three-car garages (with an optional bay for the golf cart).

All exterior maintenance of the home and grounds is provided through the association fee. A full social membership in the country club is included with the purchase of a home. That means access to the junior Olympic-sized swimming pool, tennis courts, the fitness center and its classes, the restaurant, and activity programs for kids and adults alike. Of particular note, the activity center includes a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen for cooking classes. In addition, a golf membership at the club is available to homeowners at a preferred rate.

Claude Hoopes, director of sales andmarketing at The Preserve, doesn’t like the term “empty nesters” and instead calls that demographic group “next-stage buyers.”

He says, “We offer people in the best time of their lives a chance to live in the luxury and convenience of the country club, a chance to feel on vacation all year round.”

Mattapoisett, he adds, is a charming relaxed town with plenty to do in the warm waters of Buzzard's Bay just one half mile away from The Preserve—a combination of amenities in a real estate market in which a condominium’svalue is largely dependent on the strength of its exterior amenities.

Lisa Oram is a freelance writer living in Amherst, Massachusetts.