The New York Times


The Case History of a Condominium
By Ellen Rand

For Jack and Phyllis Greeman and a few other “pioneers,” the glory days of having a large and luxurious condominium development, together with all its attendant services, just for themselves are over.
Now fully sold out, The Towers in Monmouth Beach is about to enter a new phase of its life. In real-estate parlance, it will be “turned over” to the apartment owners before the end of the year.
But if the high-rise development, which borders the Atlantic, now seems gracefully poised on the threshold of maturity, it had a painful and awkward adolescence.
“It’s strange now, seeing all the new people moving into the building,” said Jack Greenman (the Greenmans became occupants in May of 1976). “It was great when we first moved in. We had all the services to ourselves, and many of us were the only residents on our floors.”
Until last January, only 32 of the development’s 132 apartments had been sold, and what was a private world of services for these residents was a financial drain on Fidelco Growth Investors, a real-estate investment trust that had taken over the property from the builder in 1975.
“The apartments were selling very slowly, to put it kindly,” said John R. (Skip) McCord, vice president of Latimer & buck Advisers of Philadelphia, financial adviser to Fidelco. “We felt that the development had a lot of potential, being that it’s a waterfront high-rise, but it just didn’t have any ‘sizzle’ and the market for condominiums then certainly wasn’t as strong as it is now.”
Enter Jack Studnicky, a condominium marketing professional who has recorded a number of successes with troubled developments on the East Coast that more prudent businessmen might consider hopeless.
Mr. Studnicky, a former Marine likes to compare his technique to “a commando team hitting the beach,” and he hit Monmouth Beach last February.
With a $2 million budget from the sponsor, Mr. Studnicky commandeered a complete overhaul of the lobby, elevators and halls. A boardwalk was built along the seafront, a pool plaza was constructed and a $300,000 recaulking job was done along the face of a building to solve a leakage problem.
When a development runs into financial or marketing difficulty, a sponsor sometimes will drop prices to encourage people to buy quickly. But at The Towers, the prices were raised.
“The average price for an apartment had been about $61,000,” Mr. Studnicky recalled. “By spring, it was about $79,000.”
On March 31, Mr. Studnicky was host at a party for the real-estate community to reintroduce The Towers; the next day, he was host at an “open house” that drew 1,200 people anxious to view the refurbished condominium.
The building’s residents were encouraged to take part in this sales effort, too, with an offer of a year’s free maintenance for every successful referral sale. By May, 52 apartments had been sold; by Nov. 22, all 132 had.
How did the original group of residents react to Mr. Studnicky’s razzle-dazzle approach to marketing?
“We hated their tactics at first,” Mr. Greenman said. “They felt they had to do what they did, whether we liked it or not. But the end result was magnificent.”
The relationship between condominium buyers and sponsors can be a minefield of misunderstanding, disagreement and ego battling that can finally explode into protracted litigation.
At the Towers, Mr. McCord and Mr. Studnicky felt that it was of paramount importance to be open and above-board with the building’s residents. They met regularly with a three-member Ad Hoc Committee of residents to outline plans, work out whatever disagreements arose and clarify ambiguities in the development’s bylaws.
“Of course, there are as many different opinions about what can be done in a building as there are people living there,” Mr. McCord said. “But by and large, the leadership at The Towers is fair and reasonable.”
In preparation for self-government, elections for the Board of Trustees were held in September. There is currently a six member board headed by Mr. Greenman as president of the Condominium Association.
According to Mr. Greenman, The Towers has not experienced the kind of politicking and fierce in-fighting that seem to be hazards of condominium like elsewhere.
“There wasn’t much of a contest before the elections,” he said. “People seem reluctant to give the time needed to serve on the Board of Trustees.
“Actually, we’re fortunate to have considerable expertise on the board. Two members are C.P.A.’s, two are lawyers, one is a retired engineer and the other is a retired financial manager.”
Mr. Greenman considers the association fortunate, too, because it will enter 1979 on a strong financial footing and with no deficits to haunt it.
According to the development’s bylaws, purchasers are required to put into an interest-bearing savings account an amount equal to three months’ maintenance payments. This is in addition to a $100 Condominium Association membership fee, which also is deposited in a separate interest-bearing account.
Marianne Coughlin, who had management responsibilities at The Towers until she recently left the Commodore Group, the building’s management concern, estimated that there was an excess of $70,000 in both escrow accounts.
“We’ve been meeting with the Board of Trustees so that there will be continuity when the development is turned over to the unit owners and so that they will have all the information they need to make informed decisions on budgets, work schedules and the like,” explained Eugene Fishkind, president of the Commodore Group.
Transitions like this can take three to 10 months to work out, he added.
As part of the “growing up” process at The Towers, the association’s Management Committee is studying the prices and procedures of other condominium-management concerns and will make its recommendations to the Board of Trustees in the near future.
“We have to examine all of the alternatives,” Mr. Greenman said. “If we seek competitive bidding, we would not necessarily select the lowest bidder.”
“If our current management firm offers the best alternative, so be it. If an on-site manager, not a management firm, would be the best approach, so be it. We haven’t ruled out any possibilities.”
The board also is negotiating with an engineering concern to conduct a study of the building to determine whether there are any structural defects or construction flaws that may need attention. The Condominium Association will pay for the report.
“Should there be any such problems, we would negotiate with the sponsor to resolve them,” Mr. Greenman said.
In Mr. Studnicky’s words, The Towers has been transformed from “a wallflower into the sexiest girl on the beach.”
And one of the key benefits of its newly found identity has been an increase in the value of the apartments. For resales, prices are said to be about double the original price paid by the development’s “pioneers.”

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