OPINION: The Wow Factor

How one developer finds new ways its properties can relate to residents

Adam Pasternack //February 10, 2020//

OPINION: The Wow Factor

How one developer finds new ways its properties can relate to residents

Adam Pasternack //February 10, 2020//

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Vermella Union outdoor pool rendering.
Vermella Union residents enjoy an outdoor pool and sundeck. – PHOTOS: RUSSO DEVELOPMENT

“Wow” is a common word that keeps coming up when people discuss the amenities at Russo Development’s newest luxury residential community, Vermella Union.

Using dynamic and interactive common-area facilities and experiences to entice prospective renters is not a new strategy. At Vermella Union, we have tried to reach the ultimate expression of a community that supplies an answer to every conceivable lifestyle need.

Many observers may think that our resident amenity space is a bit over-the-top and uncommon, but it keeps us coming back to the simple truth — we’re trying to set a new standard and a new way of thinking about apartment community common spaces. So being out of the box and introducing that “Wow” factor to us is a must.

Vermella Union offers areas for lounging, interacting and entertaining.- RUSSO DEVELOPMENT
Vermella Union offers areas for lounging, interacting and entertaining.

While we may not have known exactly where our immersion into residential real estate would take us when we expanded into this market 10 years ago, we did know that putting our stamp on the industry was going to be necessary in what was becoming a crowded marketplace. Our company’s 50-year history in developing commercial real estate was built around quality construction, innovative design and the highest level of customer service, which continues to reward us in the form of long-term asset life, extended tenancies and reduced turnover. That commitment to leadership in those areas was our starting point in our residential portfolio. Vermella was never going to be just a collection of opportunistically developed projects; we wanted a brand that consumers would identify, seek out and admire – similar to luxury hotels that have loyal brand enthusiasts who follow them around the globe.

We also wanted to reflect our knowledge of the New Jersey communities where we grew up. The resulting Vermella brand bloomed from a recognition that our celebrated New Jersey towns – like Lyndhurst, Kearny and Union– held great value not only for their locational attributes, but for the emotional connection they held for generations who wanted to remain connected to them.

That is when a critical observation emerged: through interaction with our prospects and residents – listening closely to what they were saying – we concluded that a few couches in a club room and some basic gym equipment didn’t define anyone’s lifestyle change. They were convenient and a bonus, but not enough to address the enormous value residents were placing on being able to be home and have that home extend outside their own individual apartment door.

The children’s room at Vermella Union.- RUSSO DEVELOPMENT
The children’s room at Vermella Union.

Not only were more of our residents working remotely, more of them were adopting lifestyles tied to technology, leisure, entrepreneurship, collaboration, creative activities and adaptive fitness. Certainly, they wanted to be in a place that offered convenience to the richness that is suburban New Jersey and by extension New York City, but they wanted even more.

They had adopted lifestyles that compressed time and valued avoiding the disruption and lost efficiency of movement: they wanted lives that were centered on their homes and homes that accommodated their busy lives. The more we could figure out ways to free them from their cars, the happier they were.

The gap between the experiences and expectations of a guest at a hotel and a resident at an apartment community continues to close. Still, as we are informed by what people desire in a luxury resort, we also must be mindful of spaces that feel like home and create that sense of intimate comfort.

The plans for Vermella Union encompassed just that, offering expansive resort-style living right at home.

Vermella Union’s Union Club features a full-equipped fitness center.- RUSSO DEVELOPMENT
Vermella Union’s Union Club features a full-equipped fitness center.

We were fortunate with this community to have enough experience from our other properties, thoughtful feedback from our current residents, and a 50-acre development with the scale and location that allowed us to improve on the fitness areas, coworking spaces, outdoor spaces, walking paths, entertainment venues and even nightspots that our residents were using, and make that part of their home. We even connected every building to the common area so residents don’t even need to go outside as a core principle of our planning, and we connected it to our external assets so they can swim in the pool or barbecue or play with the dog, as if they are in their own private backyard.

In addition, we were conscious of the practical guidelines. How people consume products, experiences and lifestyles is at the core of every business. The fact that some of our residents bowl and race cars does not persuade us to build an alley or a racetrack. But the fact that most of our residents aspire to good health and meaningful, personal relationships tells us that our fitness center has to satisfy every exercise style and our amenities need to breed resident interaction.

Using that paradigm, the cost of creating and sustaining shared experiences for our residents – like exceptional fitness facilities, curated resident events, entertainment resources, shuttles to transportation, convenient onsite retail – is significant, but we find that as long as we are allocating financial resources in areas of demand, the return on the investment is extraordinary. By creating places where people want to live – and spaces they find attractive, like coworking lounges and fitness centers and sports simulators, and firepits to enjoy moments with their family and friends – we are improving what they can get out of their every day.

So, in our zeal to create an extraordinary place, we recognize that our value proposition is the ultimate amenity. That in its essence, is the “Wow” factor to us.

Adam Pasternack is president of Russo Property Management.