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Apartments pile on amenities

Luxury extras such as pet-sitting, in-home massage and room service lure tenants.

August 17, 2008|Jennifer Peltz | Associated Press

NEW YORK — Zack Mishkin went all out to impress his girlfriend on the one-year anniversary of the beginning of their romance.

He treated her to a professional massage in a poolside cabana at their Tempe, Ariz., apartment complex, champagne as they relaxed in a candle-rimmed hot tub and a gourmet dinner he grilled by the pool. In her apartment, she found chocolate-covered strawberries, more candles, and rose petals forming a giant heart on her bed.

All this was engineered by the concierge staff at the complex, Grigio, one of a burgeoning number of apartment complexes around the country that aim to provide the convenience of home and the comforts of a hotel.

From New York to San Francisco, the amenities race is on among some high-end apartment and condominium buildings. Never mind a gym and a doorman -- how about turndown service, pet sitting, gift wrapping, a wine cellar or a private library?

They're all yours -- for a price -- as some residential builders add resort-like amenities, and hotel-industry players create residential properties.

Even at a time when many Americans are struggling to hold on to their homes amid slumping values, tightening credit and a stumbling economy, developers say that well-heeled residents expect such luxuries. And layering them on can make a building stand out in a tough market.

People "are just looking for the place that gives them the best bang for their buck," said Robert N. Goldstein, chief executive of Hospitality Consultants Inc. The Boca Raton, Fla., hotel development firm has gotten a surge of calls from condo developers seeking advice about add-ons, he said.

For $850 a month, Mishkin had plenty of Phoenix-area options.

"The amenities and personal services at Grigio were the main reason I chose to live here," the 23-year-old real estate agent said.

Perks include room and laundry service, in-home massage, pet grooming and outdoor movie screenings on a rooftop deck. Social events are free, but members pay for housekeeping, massages and other services. Mishkin and girlfriend Katie Swilley, 22, an equipment coordinator for a developer, rented separate apartments earlier this year.

Among the hotel-industry names expanding into luxury housing, meanwhile, is Ritz-Carlton, which opened its first urban residential offering in November in San Francisco. It added eight floors to an 1890 stalwart that was once the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi River. Housekeeping is available twice daily and concierges stand ready to tackle airport pickups, party catering, even stocking the fridge.

Some perks are aimed at fractional owners, who buy the use of a unit for a period of time each year. But Ritz-Carlton sees the amenities as an important draw for full-timers, too.

Access to such services are "what separates us from buying an apartment somewhere else in the city," said Robert Phillips, senior vice president of the Ritz-Carlton Club, the company's residential arm. All but a few of the 52 full-time San Francisco condos, which start at more than $1 million, have sold, he said.

In New York, Nobu, the restaurant and hotel concern part-owned by actor Robert De Niro, announced plans in May for condos and a hotel in a 62-story spindle in Manhattan's Financial District.

Nobu and developer Swig Equities envision a spa, screening rooms, private wine and sake cellars -- and perhaps the biggest plum of all: room service from Nobu's sushi restaurant and a leg up in getting reservations.

"We want you to have the amenities and services of a hotel but feel like it's your home," said Nobu managing partner Richie Notar.

The solution: "Amenities that are super-efficient, classy and very useful, yet not too expensive."

Harry Jeremias and his partners at PHH Realty Group are building the Renwick, a sleek, $70-million sheaf of glass west of Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood. Features include a lap pool, a library stocked by art publisher Taschen Books, and dedicated gym space for private kickboxing lessons.

About one-third of the 44 apartments have sold since June, with prices starting just under $1 million, Jeremias said.

Amenities have an overtone of pragmatism at 1 Hanson Place, where Brooklyn's landmark Williamsburgh Savings Bank building is being converted into apartments. It will include a children's playroom, a business center and an upper-level deck that takes advantage of the views from Brooklyn's tallest building.

Sure, some buildings offer more elaborate add-ons.

"But then, as a buyer, you really had to wonder, 'When am I going to use this?' " said real estate marketing consultant Arthur Gallego, who represents 1 Hanson Place. "And residents are going to say, 'Uh, I don't want to pay for this golf simulator.' "

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