Luxury Rentals Use Apps to Pique Interest

When Nicole Silver wants to book a yoga class in her new apartment building or notify the doorman that her cousin is staying over while she jets off to Thailand, she does not make a phone call, send an email, or leave a note.

She just opens up an app on her phone. In seconds, she is done.

“It’s the first app that actually makes a difference in my life,” said Ms. Silver, a 28-year-old Manhattan lawyer. “It makes everything seamless.”

Ms. Silver is just one of many residents in high-end buildings now getting the app treatment. Living at 7 West 21st Street, an 18-story Flatiron rental building replete with the accouterments of modern luxury living — including a fitness center, golf simulator and rooftop garden — she was surprised to learn that the building came with a new perk: a customized app, courtesy of the developer, Rose Associates.

While smartphones are ubiquitous and their apps are de rigueur for daily living, developers only recently embraced them. Rose first tested its app last year. Like versions being rolled out by Brookfield Properties, Extell Development and JDS Development, the Rose app offers easier access to the amenities that entice renters to pay more than $4,000 a month for a studio.

The typical app allows the resident, with an easy swipe and tap, to complete tasks like paying the rent, booking fitness classes, arranging dry cleaning, reserving common areas for parties, receiving package notifications or telling the resident manager that you need your stove fixed. The Rose app offers discounts for neighborhood businesses looking to promote themselves.

“Some of it is as basic as: ‘How do I reserve things? I want to have friends over for a barbecue on Saturday night. How do I know I can reserve the barbecue?’” said J. Brian Peters, Rose’s chief operating officer.

At 555 10th Avenue, a new Hudson Yards development, a residential app is a “very important aspect” of the building, said Laura Kirschbaum, the vice president for development at Extell.

“We’re seeing a tremendous amount of engagement,” Ms. Kirschbaum said. Ninety-three percent of residents pay their rent through the app, for example, she said, adding, “We’re doing everything through apps.”

Residential apps are flourishing as the luxury market, particularly in Manhattan, cools off. With prices plateauing and demand slackening, developers and building managers are turning to new toys to lure prospective tenants.

Suddenly, steep prices need to justify themselves, and a rooftop garden is not enough.

“This notion of buildings developing apps to communicate with their tenants and make it more convenient is a great example of how buildings and developers are thinking creatively about alternative concessions and incentives,” said Lauren Riefflin, a senior manager for marketing and communications at StreetEasy, the listings website. “It’s a product of a changing competitive landscape in the luxury market.”

App developers see an opportunity. Francesca Loftus is a creator of hOM, an app used by a number of developers, including Rose, AvalonBay, Brookfield and Kushner Real Estate.

HOM functions somewhat like GoFundMe, allowing residents to propose and rank programming in their buildings. Residents chip in money through their phones and staff members from hOM run events. The app can connect to the calendar in a user’s smartphone to determine the best time for that building-wide Pilates class penciled in for next Thursday.

“The buildings that really understood the value at the outset were luxury rental buildings,” Ms. Loftus said. Now, smaller buildings without the same amenities — a doorman or gym — are trying to get in on the act. “If you can get $2,000 a month on a 300-square-foot studio and also have some sort of community element, it’s such a win, such a competitive advantage.”

For the residents who are living the app life, there is no going back.

“It’s one of those things you overlook when you move into an apartment building. How are packages delivered? How are groceries handled?” said Michael Gleicher, 30, who lives at 7 West 21st Street. “Life is so much easier now.”

By Ross Barkan, New York Times

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