Inside Today’s Reimagined, Reenergized Clubhouses
Say goodbye to tennis courts and drab, windowless fitness centers. Say hello to color-splashed clubhouses with open floorplans, high-end coffee bars, and outdoor fireplaces and kitchens.
Call it the “Starbucks effect” or the “Millennial effect.” Either way, the big trend in multifamily properties is to renovate or build anew clubhouses that serve as a communal space for residents to gather, relax, play and enjoy upscale amenities that the designers of those dated 1970s clubhouses never imagined.
This focus on amenities has been a major undertaking at Audubon Communities, where we have recently completed six major clubhouse renovations, built one clubhouse from the ground up, and have three more clubhouses in the planning stages for later this year. In each instance, our goal is to create an environment that invites residents to come and stay for a while in a place they can call “their space.”
Building upscale clubhouses is especially critical for us, because Audubon typically acquires Class B properties, yet we want our residents and prospects to feel they are getting an amenity package worthy of a Class A property. There are several important reasons for doing this.
First, we want to leave a lasting, positive impression on potential customers the first time they step into our leasing office. Also, whenever we do a major clubhouse renovation, we see it as an opportunity to reintroduce the property in the marketplace. That makes it even more vital to change their perception from the moment they drive up to the refurbished property.
Finally, an awesome clubhouse benefits our employees. It makes them proud of the place they come to work each day, and because it sets us apart from the typical competition, it gives them an added advantage in the sales effort.
So, we’ve demolished or done away with closet-sized “business centers” and darkly lit, difficult-to-find basement fitness centers areas.
Today we offer a bright communal space with free Wi-Fi as an encouragement to bring your own device and cozy up and stay a while, whether at the pool, by the fireplace, or at our indoor lounge, all while enjoying plush seating, high-end coffee bars (with free coffee) and stocked refrigerators.
Outside, we’ve built stone fireplaces and kitchens – a huge advance over yesterday’s charcoal grills. Even the adjoining pool area has gotten a makeover. Large concrete pool decks have been replaced with lush landscaping and comfortable and varied seating areas, including cabanas, trellises or pavilions to provide shaded areas.
This new vision made us realize that tennis courts are passé in most cases, leading us to convert them into generic sports or soccer fields simply by resurfacing them. In some cases, we’ve used the old tennis court space for an expanded and improved clubhouse. Basketball and handball courts also don’t add value to a property, nor do those outdated car wash areas that usually weren’t in working order anyway. So we’ve done away with them, too.
The overall intent is to create more interesting spaces in and around the clubhouse. This has been our mission since teaming with the architects at Dwell Design Studio on several clubhouse renovations. Dwell has provided us with a unique perspective on the intersection of leasing and amenities, and they are translating their experience on new construction into our rebuilds, helping us incorporate the latest in colors, furnishings, layouts and amenities, and exposing us to the newest trends in the market.
Perhaps to nobody’s surprise in the multifamily industry, the trickiest part of clubhouse renovations is determining how much to spend. On our recent renovations, we have invested anywhere from $300,000 to more than $1 million on clubhouses and related amenities and have concluded that the cost/benefit calculation is more art than science.
At Audubon, we don’t have a formula. Instead, we approach each property by asking ourselves what things we’d like to do – and then working backward from there. Capital dollars are a finite resource, and we know the more money spent on amenities and the leasing office means fewer funds to spruce up landscaping or unit interiors.
Even so, the clubhouse conversation has taken on more importance in recent years. In the early days of Audubon, the decision on how much to spend on the clubhouse and leasing office came last, and generally the budget was whatever money was left over (if any) after we completed our other work.
Today, the clubhouse and amenity discussion comes first. And if that means we end up doing less on interior renovations, that’s okay. You only get one shot at remaking a clubhouse and you want to do it right.
Done right, today’s clubhouses can translate into happier residents, higher rents and more traffic, not to mention those happier employees. So, grab a hot coffee, a book and cozy up with your friends next to the fireplace in a clubhouse near you.