Budgeting For Design Keeping Up Appearances Also Keeps Value Up

As Budgeting Season approaches for co-op and condo communities, it’s time for the boards of associations and corporations to consider how they will cover expenses and fund projects in the coming year and beyond. While recurring operating expenses like taxes and staff payroll are always at the forefront of such considerations, strategies for meeting longer-term expenses - annualized maintenance and capital projects especially - also must be put in place to achieve best results. CooperatorNews spoke to an interior design professional to get a sense of how boards can plot out larger investments in their communities’ curb appeal, and to an accountant to discuss the money side of the equation. 

The Pecking Order

When it comes to the allocation of a co-op or condo association’s funds, there is a real pecking order for what work gets done in what order. A leaking roof will always take precedence over an aging paint job in the interior hallways. That being said, common area design and the maintenance thereof are important factors in the saleability of individual apartment units. A dated, threadbare look to your building will negatively affect the market price of the units inside it - so boards neglect aesthetics at their peril. And like all major capital components of a multifamily property, design elements and their maintenance and replacement can - and definitely should - be planned for in advance.

The Useful Life of Things

Marilyn Sygrove, president of Sygrove Associates Design Group, an interior design firm based in New York, breaks down maintenance considerations into three categories: annual (six months to one year), three to five years, and finally 10 to 20 years. According to her, “Annualized upkeep for common areas on an ongoing basis should include repainting of surfaces such as doors, door casings, crown moldings and ceilings where necessary, and cleaning globes on ceiling fixtures and wall sconces.” She says this timeframe also applies to wooden elevator interiors and lobby paneling, which thanks to normal wear-and-tear may also need cleaning and polishing.

The three-to-five-year category for maintenance and replacement includes items like vinyl wall coverings and lighting fixtures, and any improvements over time that will increase their energy efficiency, explains Sygrove. “Vinyl wall coverings will need to be repaired and cleaned, and improvements in lighting technology efficiency will add savings while extending the life of your fixtures.”

Past this point, the maintenance and replacement of design elements usually becomes a capital project, and should therefore be considered on a 10 to 20-year schedule. “This is the time to redo your hallways, and oftentimes your lobbies too,” says Sygrove. Why is that? “Styles and design preferences change,” says Sygrove. “It’s as simple as that. The brand of your building is rooted in its appearance and style. Your carpet may have a 10-year warranty that it won’t wear out, but that’s no guarantee as to when it will ‘ugly’ out. Furniture also may need to be replaced, and the technology used at the concierge desk or doorman’s station may require updating.” On a larger scale, “You may find that you require more package space, which in turn requires a redesign of the lobby area.”  


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