This Condo’s Decisions are Driven by Data from Leflein

Check out our research at work as reported by Habitat

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on May 30, 2018

Midtown, Manhattan

May 30, 2018
Randy Bongarten had a 40-year career as a radio and TV executive – a career  driven by blizzards of data that measured everything from program ratings to audience perceptions. So when he joined the board of the pre-war Manhattan condo Parc Vendome two years ago, it was only natural for Bongarten to want to base major decisions on hard numbers.

“Like a lot of older buildings, ours face challenges,” Bongarten says of the two brick buildings that are separated by a manicured garden and are home to 576 residential units and 23 commercial spaces. “You need to spend a fair amount of money just to maintain the buildings, but at the same time you need to make it attractive in the marketplace. If we’re going to spend money, what should we spend it on? Boards need to understand the priorities of people who are paying for it.”

Fellow board member Barbara Hayes, a brand marketer for a cosmetics firm, shares Bongarten’s faith in market research. At their urging, the board appointed a committee, which interviewed several research companies. Last year the decision was made to hire Leflein Associates Research, which developed an extensive questionnaire designed to produce a demographic profile of residents, their satisfaction with current services and amenities, and building improvements they would like to see and how much they’re willing to pay for them. The 18-page questionnaire was filled out by two-thirds of the residents and helped produce a Building Management Report, which was presented to residents at a town hall meeting in January.

“A two-thirds response rate is unheard of,” says Barbara Leflein, president and founder of Leflein Associates Research. “It was an opportunity for people to have their voices heard. Unit-owners are much more practical and interested in the physical aspects of the buildings, while renters tend to be more interested in socializing. But it was pretty evident there was an agreement that they wanted a fitness center. They felt the money on the research was well spent. They could see the board’s commitment to making their life better.”

Leflein says the production of a Building Management Report can range from $5,000 to about $30,000, depending on how highly it’s customized.

Bongarten says the data has allowed the board to break residents down into three distinct “clusters.” “The biggest group we call ‘essentialists,’ mostly unit-owners who ranked the infrastructure as items we should address,” he says. “The second largest group we call ‘traditionalists,’ people who have lived here the longest, both owners and renters, and want the least amount of change. The third group we call the ‘actives,’ mostly younger people who tend to rent and want activities and events.”

The board’s architects, Robert A.M. Stern Architects and Ethelind Coblin, are now using results of the research to prepare a master plan for the building, due for completion this summer. The board will then decide which projects to pursue and how to pay for them.

“It’s comforting to have good information and to know what people want,” Bongarten says. “A lot of boards just want to make the calls. I don’t believe in that. I believe the board should reflect the needs of the community as a whole, but you can’t do that by just talking to people one on one. It’s worth spending a little money before you spend millions of dollars.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – RESEARCH: Leflein Associates Research. MANAGEMENT: Brenda Colberg at Charles H. Greenthal. ARCHITECTS: Ethelind Coblin; Robert A.M. Stern.


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