When buyers purchase condo units, they also purchase access to the condo association's shared amenities. Depending on the scale and financial demographics of a building or association, those amenities can be substantial; during the real estate boom of the early 2000s, free continental breakfasts and in-house pet spas weren't unheard of. Even in more modestly appointed properties, pools, gyms and the like were often part of the package marketed to buyers.
In a post-recession economy, however, some boards are asking themselves whether the popularity of luxury amenities really justifies their expense, while others may be faced with amenities that aren't particularly fancy, but which are costing them money and not getting much use. Scaling back or even eliminating a services or an amenity can potentially save money, but it's a tricky process that may have legal ramifications.
Once upon a time—and not very long ago at that—condo associations did not offer amenities at all, unless one was to consider basic necessities like elevators, working heat, and functional windows to be amenities. Since the dawn of colored television, properties have ramped up their amenities with each successive economic boom. After the go-go 1980s and the subsequent dot-com explosion, amenities became a way for smart developers to make their buildings stand out, and then every building had to have a fitness center, or pool, or staff masseuse. With the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession however, the pendulum began to swing in the other direction, and associations began to ask themselves if all the bells and whistles were really necessary because they certainly weren't free.
Now, as markets begin to recover, associations find themselves at a precarious time in regard to amenities. Budgets are still limited and caution is paramount, so, while pocketbooks can be loosened somewhat, the value of each specific feature of a property needs to be gauged for its individual worth. And when an amenity is deemed to be no longer of use, a board needs to be meticulous in its effort to remove it.
Cost & Controversy
Fancy doesn't come cheap. With deluxe or high-maintenance amenities, “There is a cost, and they’re usually considered a pretty important part of the building,” says Robert Braverman, a partner at Braverman & Associates PC, a law firm in New York City. “So at board meetings I often see issues with a pool, issues with a spa. Some of these amenities, particularly pools and gyms, are operated by third party vendors. Pool operating hours are always something that people debate, because you need to have a lifeguard, and there’s a cost associated with that. So dealing with these things is a decent part of the board’s pie.”