How Luxury Buildings Are Adjusting for a Future of Social Distancing

CINDY ORD / GETTY IMAGES

This article first appeared on Mansion Global.

Contact-less delivery, high-tech security, and questions of when to reopen common spaces

Between navigating elevators, common areas, and the potential for an entire summer at home without a backyard, Americans social distancing in their apartment buildings face a unique set of challenges.

And the same can be said for their property managers who have had to move rapidly to adjust to new cleaning and social distancing requirements to comply with local regulations and keep residents safe.

As apartment buildings head out of immediate crisis mode and start to look ahead to the long haul of a summer with social distancing measures and coronavirus-related fears very much still in place, management companies are working overtime to settle into something that looks like a new normal.

“A lot of people don’t look so much into the management company and how a building is run, and this is a moment when the leadership of management and a co-op or condo board really comes into play,” said Ian Slater, a Compass agent based in New York City. “You realize you’re living vertically with a group of people who need to be organized and come together for solutions.”

Here’s how high-end buildings are reconfiguring what apartment living looks like in a pandemic, and bracing for a summer with their residents still stuck at home.

Keeping Common Areas Safe

Unsurprisingly, the top priority for most building managers right now is keeping common areas thoroughly cleaned and disinfected for the safety of both residents and staff. For many buildings, this means stepped-up cleaning schedules, and in some cases, bringing in outside cleaning companies to disinfect lobbies, elevators and hallways several times a week. It also means enforcing best practices around social distancing and mask wearing.

“Buildings are going to have to be very flexible and make changes as they’re getting information,” said Nada Rizk, a New York City-based agent with Brown Harris Stevens. “Right now, changes that have been implemented are one person at a time in elevators unless you’re members of the same household, and masks required throughout buildings. Even if you’re just going to throw your garbage away, they do expect you to wear a mask.”

But among the biggest hurdles may be safely managing food and package deliveries. Rather than risking having residents coming to and from the lobby or mail room to pick things up, a number of management companies have developed new safety protocols that involve staff members bringing takeout and packages directly to residents’ doors.

“In many buildings, they have a big table in the lobby and boxes are placed on this table, and there’s an air purifying machine, as well as materials for disinfecting the boxes,” Brown Harris Stevens agent Joanne Greene said. “Then building staff delivers them with gloves and masks. They leave it at the door and notify residents via intercom. From what I’ve heard, most buildings are handling it this way.”

More: Breathe Easy at Home With Automated Air Purifiers

Security and Amenities Go Virtual

As in the wider economy, property managers have found themselves moving quickly to assess which aspects of business-as-usual can be handled virtually, and grappling with the unexpected side effects of social distancing.

In buildings that usually have valet parking, but have paused this service to abide by distancing regulations and quell contamination concerns, this can mean adding extra security cameras in areas that are normally populated with parking staff who can keep an eye on things.

“Valet parking is like having an extra eye on the building. They’re always around,” said Maurizio Pejoves, director of Miami-based security firm P&O Global. “So by decreasing the amount of people in valet parking, now property managers are concerned that some areas around the building aren’t covered.”

Buildings in the Miami area are also starting to integrate security cameras with facial recognition technology into their broader systems, Mr. Pejoves said, allowing residents touchless entry into and around their buildings, and thus minimizing contact and the potential for disease transmission.

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Uncertainty Ahead of Summer Moving and Renovation Season

While some buildings have banned movers altogether for the time being, others are assessing ways to safely accommodate them, and policies tend to vary.

“I’m seeing a difference in how buildings react, and some are more relaxed than others,” Mr. Slater said. “Moving has been deemed an essential service, but many buildings are not allowing movers in for the foreseeable future. So the law and the practice are different.”

“I think it’s going to be building by building,” Ms. Greene said. “But until we have more information, I think everybody’s kind of holding firm with strict restrictions on movers.”

And in cases when movers are allowed in, it tends to be with the understanding that elevators and other common areas involved in the process will be thoroughly cleaned afterward.

At one new development in New Jersey, for example, the policy is that management “will allow for move-ins as long as they are properly scheduled and social distancing is adhered to,” said Christina Perez, regional property manager of developer and property management company Greystar. “Proper cleaning will commence after movers complete the move.”

Similar restrictions remain in place around renovations until further notice. “At the moment, renovations are non-essential and pretty much across every single building in New York City, no contractors are allowed to be doing any work,” Mr. Slater said.

In certain cases, buildings have allowed light construction like painting for residents moving in or out of a unit, but that’s the exception, not the rule. “I have multiple clients who have renovations going on that have had to be shut down,” Mr. Slater said..”

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When to (Cautiously) Re-Open Common Areas

Recreational common areas are another major area impacted in the Covid-19 world.

With most gyms and other recreational common areas are currently closed, buildings are also looking into ways to provide digital versions of their usual amenities. In lieu of typical gym access and in-person events like breakfasts and pool parties, property managers are experimenting with virtual options like pasta-making demonstrations, building-wide movie watching parties, and video yoga and mindfulness meditation classes, said Jill Preschel, vice president of sales and marketing for the New York metro division of Landsea Homes.

“It’s a way for community residents to interact with one another and have something to do to break up their day after work,” Ms. Preschel said.

Meanwhile, laundry rooms are generally still open, often with new restrictions like a limit on the number of people allowed in at one time, and sign-up sheets allowing residents to reserve set times.

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This process can provide a potential blueprint for other shared spaces. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the sign-in is also going to be the new norm, once buildings start thinking about opening a gym or maybe children’s playrooms,” Ms. Greene said. “And maybe two members are allowed in at the same time, and they have to wipe down the equipment they use.”

Most likely, buildings will also take cues from outside businesses. “As far as I know, [common areas] will all remain closed for the foreseeable future, even as things open up,” Mr. Slater said. “But I would not be surprised if they re-open with rules like what you’re seeing in grocery stores, where only a certain amount of people are allowed in at a time, or if gyms are stashed with cleaners to make sure people are wiping down machines afterwards.”

Regardless of the specifics, apartment buildings will almost certainly keep pace with and respond to regulations and re-opening processes seen in the rest of the economy, which is to say, things will happen slowly. “It’s not going to be a kind of hard and fast, ‘now everything’s re-opened,’” Ms. Rizk said. “It will be gradual, and at people’s comfort level.”

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Photo credit: CINDY ORD / GETTY IMAGES

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