Luxury residential real estate on New Jersey’s Gold Coast was once defined by larger-than-Manhattan unit layouts, views of the city’s skyline, structured parking, a 24-hour doorman and a plunge pool with lap lanes. Today, as newly constructed properties like The Modern in Fort Lee and the soon-to-open Hoboken Heights are entering the market with increasing frequency, many once-iconic facilities built in the 1960s through 1980s are finding it difficult to compete.
The reality is these outdated buildings no longer match local demographics or the needs of the market audience. As value propositions have shifted to focus on lifestyle trends and upscale amenities, their jaw-dropping views and covered parking no longer sell units. Co-op boards and tenant shareholders in these “tired” properties are faced with flat or declining unit prices, and local taxes and support for neighborhood businesses are equally depressed.
Additionally, long-term residents, many of whom are empty nesters looking to downsize, retire or both, are economically trapped because they cannot realize the value of their original property investment.
Over time, the natural life expectancies of buildings require capital expenditures to repair and replace some of the more typical “bread and butter” renovations:
- Building facades, systems, risers, and structures
- Deteriorating “skin” enclosures and facades
- Windows and appurtenances including balconies and railings.
Weighing the expense of replacing infrastructure against adding amenities and value creation, co-op boards with foresight are combining both to add “wow” factors that create value. For example, their original plunge pools due for new equipment and concrete repairs can be reinvented by raising and stepping the floor so it is accessible to more generations of users, while keeping a portion for some type of diving.
Additionally, older buildings that refresh their identities with game-changing amenities see an impressive return on investment. The transformation of the Briarcliff, a 30-story multifamily building in Cliffside Park rebranded as Apogee, is one notable example.
My firm served as master planner, architect and designer of the Apogee project. Working with the co-op board and shareholders, we implemented a comprehensive design vision that first focused on renaming the property, then enhanced exterior curb appeal and finally upgraded the property with upscale interior amenities.
This overall strategy enhanced Apogee’s resident experience and increased shareholder value. The results of the four-year, multi-faceted renovation of the cooperative far exceeded expectations, generating an immediate jump in unit prices of over 20% as well as considerable excitement on the part of building residents.
Every building is unique but these five trends are destined to help multifamily property owners and their boards of directors to appeal to contemporary audiences, benefit current residents and increase property values.
Aging in Place. As the baby-boom population continues to age, residents want to remain active and safe at home as long as possible. For this new generation of seniors, getting older may mean navigating personal and shared space with a walker, mobility scooter or wheelchair. More inclusive design elements in apartments and common areas – from wider doorways and no-step entries to accessible sinks and countertops – will empower this resident demographic to enjoy life in a setting that is comfortable and supportive.
Five generations. Today’s tenant mix often spans multiple generations – infants and toddlers, pre-teens and teens, college and post-graduate students, young professionals, new families, empty nesters, and seniors – each of which requires thoughtful design. One clear impact of this trend is the reimagined use of outdoor spaces and water areas. An example is seen in our firm’s master plan for Horizon House, the 1,266-unit deluxe cooperative complex in Fort Lee. It incorporates five-generation demographics design into the existing tiered pool facilities, which will include two distinct pool areas (for adults and children) as well as water fountains, cruise ship pool edges with built-in seats, decks, lockers, changing areas, sun shading and cabanas.
Four seasons. A Scandinavian writer once said, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.” I like to think there is no such thing as bad weather, only architecture that ignores it. Maximizing outdoor space is a concept that has become more desirable than ever during the pandemic, and it is possible to expand outdoor living in New Jersey to at least nine months – if not 12 months – of the year. As an example, our firm’s master plan for renovating the circa-1966 Troy Towers in Union City explores options for converting the swimming pool deck to multi-season use by adding dining alcoves with grills and fireplaces and optional outdoor heating. Rather than limiting tenants’ passion for gardening to the spring, we are proposing the use of trellises, planting beds and cold frame structures that provide protection from the elements year-round.
Pet friendliness. While many luxury properties prefer to be pet-free, one of the top storylines of this pandemic year featured local pet stores and pet adoption agencies that were “sold out” for the first time in recent memory. As pets become more of a priority in people’s lives, building owners must consider how their community’s pet policy could be influencing their competitiveness. In addition to modifying building rules and regulations, design solutions that offer specific pet-friendly community amenities – such as the pet grooming and dog run facilities we have planned for Troy Towers’ renovation – can increase a building’s appeal and profitability.
Family focus. Many young families are opting for apartment living rather than buying a home. For co-op and condo owners who are also parents, quality-of-life amenities that foster a sense of safety and community add value to homeownership. To meet the needs of these parent-owners, buildings are increasingly incorporating family-friendly amenities on a family-size scale. At Troy Towers, plans include family picnic areas with grills and solar shading structures. Water areas must be reimagined to offer not just a lap pool or wading pool for kids, but lounge areas where parents can relax with features like hot tubs, saunas and Spanish steps for sunbathing. Other must-haves include high-quality outdoor play areas with state-of-the-art equipment and communal teen game rooms and kids’ playrooms.
Steven Kratchman is the owner and founder of Steven Kratchman Architect PC, an architecture and design firm that specializes in repurposing, reinventing and reinvigorating existing spaces throughout New Jersey’s Gold Coast, New York City, and the Hudson River Valley.