Experts Talk Merits of Condominiums and Gated Developments

Moderated by Michael Braverman | June 26, 2015 |

A panel of local real estate and home design experts debates the merits of the rising trend of condominiums and gated developments in the East End.

Taking part in the discussion are (from left): Moderator Michael Braverman, Steven Dubb, Michael Ullian, Aaron Curti, Esen Edip, Melissa Cohn, Austin Handler, Keith Green, and Arthur Blee.

Michael Braverman: We’re seeing these condo developments not just in Sag Harbor, but in all the various villages. What does this mean for the Hamptons?
Steven Dubb:
There’s a demand for homebuyers who want to live in the Hamptons, enjoy the social life, but do not want to deal with maintaining a house. There’s a lot of work that goes into [home ownership]—landscaping, garbage removal, turning pipes on and off [over the winter]. Condo living offers buyers the opportunity to live out here and not have to worry about the parts that aren’t as much fun.
Melissa Cohn: I agree that there is demand for alternative housing. There are a lot of people who live here six months out of the year and elsewhere for the other half of the year, and to know you’ve got someone watching and taking care of [your home] when you’re not here is a huge benefit.
Arthur Blee: It’s more than just not mowing the lawn or not taking out your garbage; it’s a social decision. We’ve had people who know each other who buy within [Watchcase]. Sag Harbor is an animated place, and there’s a year-round lifestyle, and I think people want to be part of that life.
Keith Green: When you hear people talking about downsizing to a condominium, I think the best reason, of course, is freedom. It’s freedom to travel, it’s freedom to be with your grandchildren, it’s freedom to go and come as you please. When I first started introducing people to Harbor’s Edge, I would talk about the views and being on the water, and before I would be done talking, they would respond, “Walking distance to 20 restaurants!” They would tell me that they wanted that freedom to go at their leisure, which is very different than living in the woods.
SD: I think there was a stigma at the beginning associated with condos that we eroded, because people associated condos in the Hamptons with condos in New York in the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s. They were a completely different caliber, compared with what we’ve built. Seeing the quality at Bishops Pond, and the quality I know is at Watchcase Factory (watchcasefactory.com), it started to erase people’s preconceptions that the Hamptons is just about a single-family home.
Michael Ullian: Ponquogue Point is a very broad-based demographic. We have a lot of young people, we have a lot of European and foreign buyers, and we have a lot of 55-and-older people—active seniors. And because we’re oriented toward a waterfront and boating community, a more active lifestyle, that seems to appeal to [people]. You have to do high design; you have to do great quality; you have to do great amenities. You have to make people feel they’re getting more for their money. People expect it, and I think that all of the projects that are represented here represent a high level of quality, detail, amenities, and locations that offer a social lifestyle.
Aaron Curti: Barn & Vine are single-family residences, but they’re almost like condos. Most people [moving here] live in an apartment in the city, and they want to have their own lawn and enjoy their own pool. Condos are great, but you do give up privacy. I’ve lived in condos, and I’ve developed two of them, and it’s great that you can just call the super and he’ll take care of everything for you. But when you pull up [to your home] sometimes, your neighbors are there. That’s the only drawback to it.

Ponquogue Point

MB: These projects have completely changed the face of condo living in the span of just a few years. It’s about adding the quality first, and understanding that the price will come when the homeowners see what they’re getting for their money.
AB: The discussion often revolves around house or condo, and what you alluded to is the pluses or minuses [of one over the other]. I think the condominium is a unique product in itself. Watchcase is this amazing historical building—unique, something that doesn’t exist anywhere else—but people are buying there because of the quality of the condominium, not evaluating it necessarily against a house.
MC: It also speaks to the way people live today as opposed to how we functioned 20 or 30 years ago. We’re a much faster-paced community.
Austin Handler: We’ve been brought in to design some of these developments, and many of our clients are spending just as much on their interior-design budget in a condo as they would spend in a house, which really shows that people are making these choices because it’s something that they want, rather than out of necessity.

“Condo living offers buyers the opportunity to live out here and not have to worry about the parts that aren’t as much fun.” —Steven Dubb

MB: Lots of residential resorts have had condominiums for years, but it didn’t happen in the Hamptons until recently. Is there a reason?
SD: We’ve built condominiums in communities all over the place for 20 years. We found this parcel out here, looked at it, and said, “If we can do this in a really nice way, I bet there’s demand for people who want to live in the Hamptons and have that style of living.” The timing just happened to be when we found the right piece of land. I think that’s one of the reasons it hasn’t been done in the Hamptons before—land use. It’s really difficult to get projects of this type approved in the Hamptons.
AH: One of the amazing things about Bishops Pond is, you went to the public meetings, and there was hardly anyone who had anything negative to say about it because most people saw this as a huge improvement to that neighborhood.
Esen Edip: I’m really excited about [Ponquogue Point in] Hampton Bays as well. That’s bringing attention back to Hampton Bays that it might have lost a couple years ago to Montauk. You’re bringing people back into the restaurants and business district of Hampton Bays, so I’m sure that will be a great asset.
MU: Ours was a unique situation in that it was all about zoning. So the ability to reconfigure or repurpose, just like Watchcase, was there. Even though it wasn’t a renovation of an existing structure, it was repurposing of the land-use rights that came with that property, which is a very, very rare and difficult thing to happen.
KG: I want to bring the conversation back to the people who are buying the condominiums. One of the people who showed very early interest in Harbor’s Edge said to me, “I’ve made a decision, and what I want to focus on is enjoying myself every hour of every single day. There are only two things I want to do regarding home ownership—I want to write a check and turn a key. Other than that, I want to focus on my life.” That’s what’s creating the demand for our projects. That’s a very, very different mind-set than people who wanted to express themselves through real estate and “my house is bigger than your house.”
MU: We call it “QTR,” or quality time remaining. At a certain age, you don’t really have to have the biggest mansion, the newest car, the greatest watch. You know where you stand, and you could live anywhere, in any zip code, and as long as it’s high-quality, high-style, high-design, you’re not really so concerned with those type of things.
AC: It’s also a better investment; the numbers are there.

An F-style model living room at 4 Bishops Pond in Southampton.

MB: What is the future of condominium development? It’s been pointed out that only a very limited number of properties permit it.
AB: You look at something like Watchcase, and you completely understand that it’s never going to happen again. There’s no other 19th-century factory building on the East End. And it was 20 years in the making. If you’ve got this asset, it really is a rare thing, and it’s going to hold its value because it is a really limited supply.
AH: When Watchcase and Bishops Pond were first proposed, there were a lot of people rolling their eyes, and very, very quickly that conversation was over, and people were like, Wow! Now that sort of sets the bar higher for any other property. We will never have low-end condos out here. What I think is interesting is that the projects mentioned all have their unique features. It may be coincidental, but it’s also a recipe for success that each one has its own style; I don’t think, just because they’re condos, they all have the same customer.
KG: The future of condominium development in the Hamptons is going to be limited—it’s just a fact. Those of us who have been through the regulatory process understand just how challenging it is. What we shouldn’t do is presume that we’re going to see a whole bunch more. What we are going to see is incredible pressure on the properties that do exist to deliver on the lifestyle that people have bought into. That said, these properties are going to retain their value in an incredible way because there are going to be so few other options in the future. Those of us who have properties, if we get them opened, get them built, get the people moved in, and deliver on that lifestyle, people are going to find out that they’ve bought an incredible asset and an incredible value.

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photography by tanya malott

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