Coming Clean A Look at Laundry Amenities

Coming Clean

Two condos are the same price, in the same neighborhood, and are equally pleasing to the eye. What makes someone buy one and not the other? Amenities. One of the most important amenities for many homebuyers is an on-site laundry room. No one wants to drag three loads of socks, towels and unmentionables to the nearest laundromat every Saturday, then spend their afternoon sitting and waiting for a lukewarm dryer. To someone looking for convenience, an on-site laundry is a big plus - meaning that buildings that offer on-site laundry facilities are offering residents added value and convenience. And that's always a good thing.

Making the Laundry Room a Reality

Adding a laundry facility is not really that difficult a process for buildings. "Provided they have room in the basement, electricity and water, it's not a problem," says Howard Herman of Wascomat Washers-Dryers. "And in most basements, you already have water and drains available."

If the building's basement does not seem like the best space for a laundry facility - either because it's too small, or perhaps too inconvenient for residents - second, third and even higher floor options exist. It's just a matter of having access to water and proper drainage. "Many high rises have them on higher floors," Herman says.

Building age should not be a consideration either. Even state-of-the-art, high-tech washers and dryers will function in older buildings - again, it's just a matter of water access and release. "We pretty much can install anywhere and everywhere," says Mitchell Blatt, president of Coinmach, the largest coin and card-operated laundry provider in the United States.

To Buy, Or Not to Buy?

When it comes to installing the actual machines in the building, boards and managing agents have two choices: they can either buy their own machines or work with a route operator. Buying the machines can mean a large initial investment - the rule of thumb is one washer and dryer for every 15 to 20 apartments. In the long run, though, owning the machines could mean larger returns on use - after the initial investment is paid off, every quarter put into the machine goes into the building's coffers.

There are, however, some important questions that the board or managing agent should consider before going out and buying a dozen Maytags. "A co-op or condo will have to lay out more money for their machines than a laundry company," Blatt says. "Their capital expenditure will be high."

Building managers and maintenance staff also will have to put on a few additional hats to manage a laundry facility. "They have to make sure they have someone who can service the machines and keep them clean," Herman says.

Blatt notes that there are many small details, from handling refunds to worrying about vandalism, that will need attention as well. "They'll need staff to collect the money and roll the quarters. They have to worry about security and about clothing damage. Typically, it's just one more aggravation for them."

Hiring a laundry service may mean less cash in hand from the machines, but it also means fewer headaches and smaller up-front investment. Many service providers such as Coinmach will take care of every step in setting up a working on-site laundry facility - all they need is the room. The process is a painless one. "One of our account representatives will meet with the managing agent or the board's laundry committee," Blatt says. "They'll do a walk-through of the current facility or the new space." At that time, the representative and the board will determine several factors - does the building want to refurbish their existing laundry room? Do they want the facility to be a moneymaker, or just an added amenity for their residents? That will determine how elaborate the laundry facility will be. Buildings looking to earn extra monthly income will likely go with a more bare-bones style for their laundry room - relatively inexpensive machines, maybe a folding table. Buildings interested in investing a bit more may lay out additional funds on decorating, adding chairs, buying higher-end, card-system machines. The representative and the board also will settle on the monthly commission to be paid to the building. "We'll go through their wish list," Blatt says. Then, to fulfill those wishes, they will bring in their own contractors to take care of flooring, new walls, lighting, additional plumbing, plaster; the whole works.

Once the machines are in place, the service provider will take care of regular maintenance as well as unscheduled repairs. When there is a problem, residents will go to the laundry company for assistance, not the building. This goes for repairs, refunds, damage to clothes and any number of problems that can arise.

It's a trade-off - going with a laundry company means free machines and worry-free service, but less financial return in comparison to high initial investment and extra duty for building staff with higher income in the long run. For buildings looking to make extra money, it could be a tough call. As with any major decision, though, it all boils down to what's most important to the board and what's best for the building's residents.

Getting the Most Suds for Your Buck

Not all washers and dryers are made alike. There are dozens of different options available for high-capacity residential use. Managing agents or those making the final purchasing decisions should be sure to shop around and ask questions. Comparing prices and features will pay off, ensuring that deals that look good in the short term turn out to be the best option for the long term.

Buildings that own their own machines save dollars each year by investing in low energy, low water consumption machines and those are offered by Wascomat. Blatt believes that energy-efficient machines will become far more prevalent in coming years as government programs such as Energy Star become more prevalent. "Because of state and federal interventions with energy programs, manufacturers have been making more efficient machines," he says. "In 2004, there's a requirement that you must have certain energy efficiencies or you can't install the machines. Efficiency is something that will be taken care of through government regulations."

Many co-ops and condos these days are turning to larger machines. "Most buildings have small machines, 15 to 18 pounds," Herman says, referring to the washer and dryer load capacities. "Many are moving up to 30- and 40-pound machines. This way, people can put in larger items like comforters and blankets. Residents want to stay in one place to do their laundry. They don't want to have to take things off-site." Larger-capacity machines mean greater freedom for residents, saving them the effort of carting grandma's quilt 10 blocks for spring cleaning.

Buildings are also releasing residents from the sometimes frustrating process of digging through their couches for quarters every time they need to do a load of wash. Machines more frequently today are fitted with debit card systems, meaning residents can buy $20 worth of wash and dry time on one card and use it throughout the month. It also gives building owners and service providers more freedom of cost - instead of being stuck with fees of $1 or $1.25 or any other combination of quarter amounts, they can charge $1.10 or .95. Some cards even do double duty as access passes to the building and laundry room as well as the machines themselves, providing an extra measure of safety for residents.

Whether a board chooses to start its own laundry room or turn to outside vendors to get the job done, adding amenities as simple as washers and dryers can make a significant impact in resident satisfaction as well as the budget's bottom line.

Liz Lent is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Cooperator.

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