Why You Shouldn’t Buy or Rent for the Building Amenities


Buying or renting an apartment requires coordinating dozens of needs, wants, and must-haves. Figuring out what you absolutely must have versus what you could possibly live without under the right conditions can be a challenge. And after a while, every two-bedroom, 1.5-bath condo in your price range can start to look the same.

That’s one reason why we’re in the midst of the Amenity Wars. While a lot of so-called “amenities” are just practical things like in-unit laundry or parking spaces, landlords increasingly hope to distinguish their offerings with the luxurious extras that you get in their building. From pools and gyms to party rooms and even ultra-luxe stuff like cooking classes or weekly happy hours, apartments and condominiums for rent and for sale increasingly come with a dizzying array of amenities. Putting aside the fact that none of these amenities are actually free—you’re paying for them in the form of higher rent and condo or HOA fees—these amenities can be tempting. It’s easy to imagine yourself living a carefree life with everything you might need right there in your building. But if you don’t actually use those amenities, are they worth the premium?

Your lifestyle history

The number one data point when it comes to the likelihood you’ll ever be found in your building’s party room or gym is your prior history. If you never used the roof deck in your prior home, you most likely won’t use the one in your new place. On the other hand, if you were the mayor of your last condo’s gym, you’ll probably get a lot of use out of this one, too. Similarly, the best way to tell if you’re going to be throwing a lot of parties in the Party Room is to count the number of parties you hosted in the last one.

If this is your first apartment, you can still glean some clues from your own behaviors. When you stay at hotels, do you use the shared gym, pool, or other amenities, or are you worried strangers will walk in and force you into awkward conversation (or silently judge you in your swimsuit)? If the answer’s yes, you might not get as much use out of those amenities as you think. Also note if the amenities on offer match how you use those facilities elsewhere. If the gym in your building doesn’t have the equipment you normally use, chances are you’ll have to maintain your outside gym membership anyway.

Psychology and privacy

It’s a quirk of our psychology: People tend to assume shared amenities will always be in use and crowded, and therefore tend to simply not use them. Why haul a bunch of stuff up to the roof deck to spontaneously enjoy the sunset just to find out that a bunch of your neighbors are already up there using all the chairs? And amenities like screening rooms and yoga rooms sound luxurious, but in reality you’ll probably just watch movies on your enormous TV, or go do yoga in a studio instead of relying on a collective to organize an instructor.

Even an amenity that seems like an obvious win, like a private balcony, might not get used if your neighbors’ balconies are jammed right next to yours. When evaluating the amenities in a building, ask yourself if you’ll be comfortable using them even if other people are always there.

Ease of reservation

An important question to ask when touring an apartment or condo is how the building handles reserving amenities like party rooms, roof decks, and other spaces. If it’s a difficult or arcane process—or if there’s no real process at all—then using these amenities will be more trouble than it’s worth.

You’ll also want to inquire about the rules of use—does your building require you to drop a hefty security deposit for using shared spaces? Are you required to hire a security guard for parties? Do you have to arrange for professional cleaning after use? Knowing how much extra money and effort will be involved will help you figure out how often you’ll actually be willing to go through the trouble.

On the other hand, if there are few restrictions for use you might find that your neighbors—or your neighbors’ rowdy kids—are constantly in there making a mess.

Capacity versus population

The “amenities war” sometimes inspires buildings to offer undersized services and spaces just to tout them in listings. When you’re in the gym, party room, or standing on the roof deck, imagine that everyone in the building—or even half of them—is trying to use it at the same time. If it seems like you might never get to access the amenities, or that you’ll be crammed in when you do, your chances of actually using these spaces plummet.

Shared spaces can also inspire petty grievances and turf wars. Other residents may have ideas about how these spaces get used, or complaints about how other people use them, and these can erupt into simmering conflicts that can negatively impact every other aspect of your life in the building. If the amenities seem a bit skimpy for the size of the building, it might be best to assume you’ll never actually use them.

Kids in building

Something to consider in relation to amenities is how many children are in the building. Amenities like an indoor pool might be swarmed with kids at all times. While not necessarily a bad thing, your tolerance for children in general should be a consideration. Be honest with yourself: If a bunch of tweens cannonballing into the pool on a regular basis is a turn-off, assume you’ll never use it if there are a lot of kids around.

Condition

Finally, take some time to evaluate the condition of these amenities. Are they clean? Well-organized? In disrepair? If the gym has broken equipment or the party room has a dent in the wall when you’re there for a tour, that’s a sign that things are just going to get worse over time.

Also, ask about cleaning schedules. A theater room might inspire you to imagine hosting all your friends and relatives for movie nights, but is anyone cleaning the seats, or will you walk out of there sticky and grossed out?

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