Realtors And Developers Are Selling Wellness, Whether It Works or Not (#GotBitcoin?)
Developers command a premium for homes with amenities like infrared saunas and meditation rooms, though some scientists dispute their benefits. Realtors And Developers Are Selling Wellness, Whether It Works or Not (#GotBitcoin?)
When Daniel Donnelly spent $9 million on a three-bedroom, three-bathroom Manhattan condominium in November, he wasn’t just buying high-end real estate. He was investing in his own wellness.
“We have the cleanest possible water in the building, the best air. My building is healthy,” said Mr. Donnelly, 60, who owns a design firm and a restaurant, and recently sold an HVAC and water tower company. He regularly uses 252 E. 57th’s “hydrotherapy circuit,” consisting of a steam room, experiential shower and ice room. He meditates in the sauna, studies Pilates in the Pilates room and receives massages twice weekly in the massage room.
Mr. Donnelly, who says wellness is his passion, is exactly the type of buyer the luxury real-estate sector is banking on amid a downturn in sales. Rather than simply offering owners access to on-site “spas,” with pools, saunas and Jacuzzis, developers today offer “wellness” areas that purport to detoxify, reduce inflammation, and stimulate good health. Amenities include halotherapy, hydrotherapy, cryotherapy, and chromotherapy (translation: salt, water, ice and color, respectively). There are infrared saunas, flotation tanks, meditation rooms, circadian lighting, water ionizers and magnesium pools.
Nationwide, the development pipeline is packed with properties oriented around wellness. This month in Los Angeles, the putative homeland of health crazes, one Beverly Hills spec house developer will list the Wellness House, while in August, another will list Beverly Hills’ First Wellness Estate. Another spec home, listed for $52 million, offers a cigar room, wine cellar and wet bar. The buyer can then stagger over to the “wellness studio,” which includes a flotation tank, infrared sauna and steam room.
The question is whether wellness features will be a panacea in a tricky sales environment. “I think it’s an interesting marketing ploy but there’s a fad element to it,” said John Burger, a New York City real-estate broker with Brown Harris Stevens.
While developers compete on amenity packages, there’s no data on whether they help goose sales, Mr. Burger said. Data from Realtor.com shows that, at the very least, developers believe that wellness can fetch a premium. Listings for homes over $5 million containing the word “wellness” have a 39% price premium compared with similar listings without the word in New York County. The premium is a whopping 72% in Los Angeles County. (News Corp, owner of The Wall Street Journal, operates Realtor.com under license from the National Association of Realtors.)
Equally dubious is whether wellness “therapies” work. The Food and Drug Administration typically doesn’t examine “low-risk devices” intended for “general wellness,” according to 2016 FDA guidance.
Scientists question some of the core wellness propositions, the most common of which is that these therapies can help a person “detoxify.”
Detoxifying is done quite efficiently by the kidneys, liver, lungs and through normal cellular activity, said Dr. David Seres, associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical.
Others scoff at the quasi-scientific lingo used in wellness marketing material.
“I have no idea what wellness means. I don’t know what they are measuring,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, senior science consultant for the American Lung Association.
Wendy Bosalavage, president of LIVunLtd., an amenities consultant, has no such doubts. She advised developer Francis Greenburger, chairman and chief executive of Time Equities, on the latest amenities to include in 1000M, a 74-story building under development in downtown Chicago, where one of the penthouses will cost roughly $8.5 million, Mr. Greenburger said.
The project will have a “Himalayan salt room,” where tiny particles of salt will “promote better breathing, sounder sleep, improved physical fitness, endurance and overall wellness,” Ms. Bosalavage said. It will also have “ice therapy to be used in both hydrotherapy and cryotherapy routines, which is good for circulation and relieving inflammation,” she said.
Dilip Barot, developer of Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences in Palm Beach, based the project in part around “the eight limbs of Patanjali Yoga,” a philosophy from his native India, he said. The development, opening in early 2020, offers units from $1 million to $4 million, and includes “personal wellness coaches” assigned to residents, and intravenous vitamin cocktails, administered by a medical professional, said Alison Howland, vice president of wellness programs and resourcing.
Wellness consumers aren’t always clear on the details. Nick Jablonski, 37, and his partner Julio Acosta, 36, are eager to try the features at Arbor 18, a building under construction in Brooklyn where they are in contract for a $1.12 million, two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo.
“I’m definitely into the infrared sauna, especially in the winter months when it’s cold and dark and you need extra vitamin D to perk you up,” said Mr. Acosta. Infrared saunas don’t stimulate vitamin D production, said Bruce Weinberg, director of marketing at Clearlite Infrared in Berkeley, Calif., which will make the sauna for Arbor 18.
After Larry Blair, a 66-year-old tech executive, paid about $8 million in 2013 for a 5,300-square-foot house overlooking the ocean in Laguna Beach, he spent “tens of thousands of dollars” installing “chromotherapy,” colored LED lighting which allegedly alters mood, throughout the house. He uses turquoise lighting to suit early evening, said Mr. Blair, and magenta when he’s feeling a bit naughty.
The house is on the market for $9.975 million. He plans to move to Arizona, where he and his wife, Carol Blair, intend to install chromotherapy lighting again, he said.
“I think it speaks to your own personal aura. Light, music, smell and the environment all become part of how you feel and respond,” Mr. Blair said.
With nearly 100 homes in Los Angeles County currently asking over $20 million, developers are hoping homes chock-full of wellness will grab buyers’ attention.
The Wellness House, listing this month in Beverly Hills, for $12 million, will feature an “alkaline oxygen water filtration system” and “the Mirror,” an exercise system that streams fitness classes into a mirror on the wall, said developer Tony Sater. The buyer will receive three months of house calls from a yoga instructor, a private chef and a “juiceologist,” who will drop off “cold-pressed, custom juices,” said Mr. Sater. His real-estate agent, Rochelle Maize with Nourmand & Associates, said she recommended the features after realizing that buyers have become passionate about homes that are “clean” and promote wellness.
Making its debut in August, Beverly Hills’ First Wellness Estate, listing for $24.5 million, will have air and water filtration, a circadian lighting system, a “Salt Room,” rooftop yoga area, massage area and steam room. Developer Ron Corvino believes the amenities will set it apart.
“The market has turned a little bit but I am banking that these features will help me prevail in the marketplace,” said Mr. Corvino.
Cannabis Open Houses Are Putting the High In High-End Real Estate
Real-estate agents and developers have discovered that cannabis can be a powerful marketing gimmick to sell luxury homes in communities, like Los Angeles, that have legalized recreational marijuana use.
On a warm evening in September, guests gathered on the terrace of a roughly $9.5 million contemporary mansion on the market in the Hollywood Hills for an elaborate seven-course meal. In lieu of a wine-pairing for each course, they opted for a different kind of accompaniment—seven flavors of cannabis vape.
The flavors of pot included “Grandaddy Purple,” a sweet, grape- and berry-tinged strain with a floral smell; “Pineapple Express,” a potent, tropical strain with supposed energy-boosting effects; and “Wedding Cake Profile,” which blends the flavors of cherry pie and Girl Scout Cookies.
Smoke filled the air as guests traded personal stories about the first time they “hit a joint.”
Welcome to the new-generation open house.
In Los Angeles, where recreational cannabis use was legalized in 2016, the real-estate industry is embracing cannabis as the latest gimmick in mansion marketing, designed to draw attention to high-end homes from real-estate agents and prospective buyers in a crowded luxury market. Real-estate agents are throwing cannabis parties and open houses, while one spec-mansion developer is building secret “cannabis conservatories” into his homes.
Proponents of the trend say the cannabis industry is a relatively untapped source of buyers for high-priced homes. They also say these unusual real-estate events jump-start sales by luring curious agents and buyers who would otherwise stay home. They point out that many deep-pocketed Hollywood types, including actors and producers, a major component of L.A.’s real-estate buyer pool, are active smokers and growers.
The Ennis House, a home in Los Feliz designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, recently sold for about $18 million to a company tied to Cindy Capobianco and Robert Rosenheck, for instance. They are the founders of Lord Jones, a company that sells cannabis-infused health and beauty products.
“Gone are the days of tie dye, bongs and VW Bugs. That’s not the cannabis of 2020,” said Alexander Ali of the Society Group, the marketing company that organized the dinner. “Doing something that is new and different will always scare traditionalists. But the fact of the matter is that there is a lot of wealth being created in the cannabis industry and we can tap into that.”
“It’s not about getting stoned out of your gourd anymore,” said Jessica Olson of the MOTA Group, a soon-to-open cannabis-friendly private members club that helped organize the evening, as she mingled at the party. “Productive business minds are taking it to promote creativity.”
Detractors say home sellers risk alienating potential buyers who might be turned off by having their future home linked to cannabis. When looking to cast as wide a net as possible for purchasers, agents have to be sensitive to the tastes, and morals, of buyers from other parts of the world, like the Middle East and the East Coast of the U.S., said Stefan Pommepuy of The Agency, a Beverly Hills-based brokerage. The owner of the Hollywood Hills home that hosted the cannabis party declined to comment.
Some real-estate agents in cities like New York, where recreational cannabis use is not legal, said they can’t imagine such parties being effective there, even if they were permitted by law.
“When I think about cannabis, I don’t think about buying an expensive house,” said New York agent Jason Haber of Warburg Realty. “It’s not a call for action so much as a call for Doritos.”
The appeal of such events is complicated more by the recent spate of vaping-related deaths across the country. Federal authorities have not identified a specific cause, so are currently recommending that people do not use any vaping products containing THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Mr. Ali said he’s not concerned about that as far as his parties go. “The vape pens we use are $50 a pop. They’re not black market,” he said, declining to comment further on the matter.
The September party was designed to relaunch the $9.5 million house, located on Thrasher Avenue in L.A.’s prestigious Bird Streets area. The four-bedroom property had been on the market for as much as $13.25 million last year and had undergone several price cuts—only to be removed from the market in July. “It needed to be rebranded,” said the listing agent, Enzo Fiore of Revel Real Estate.
The seven-course meal included a collagen soufflé made from fried beef tendons, hemp-infused ravioli with Brazil nut pecorino and roasted fungi. Guests were invited to pour cannabis-infused olive oil on their food, while sipping on cinnamon-whiskey-inspired cannabis cocktails. Hemp leaves were used to decorate the plates and were later fried in tempura-chickpea batter and placed atop salads. Some guests opted to have CBD-oil massages as they admired the views of the L.A. basin. The invitation called the event Elevated Estates.
The night had little to do with highlighting the details of the real estate, though marketing brochures for the home were strategically positioned next to buckets of cannabis-infused, ginger-and-lime cocktails—and the owner of the home was on hand to give tours. Rather, it was mostly devised to generate buzz around the property, particularly on social media, and get the industry talking, Mr. Ali said.
Real-estate agent Ben Quibrera said he’s already had success with the concept. He recently sold a $3.45 million mansion in Sherman Oaks, Calif., after throwing a couple of cannabis-related events there, he said. First, he lured more than 50 local agents to see the house with a live cannabis-trimming class, where they learned how to harvest and cure cannabis buds. Later, he threw a cannabis laboratory-themed event, with organizers dressed in lab coats. He said that about 100 guests attended the event in the far-flung San Fernando Valley; some munched on infused foods and had CBD massages. The house was branded as the Cannabis House.
“Getting 100-plus people out there on a Friday night is unheard of,” Mr. Quibrera said. “People don’t come out to a listing in the Valley on a Friday night.”
The party also attracted a couple of potential buyers, who saw a sign outside about the party and decided to pop into the open house for a tour—and some cannabis products. Mr. Quibrera said he sold the house two days later to a couple whose agent saw pictures of the party on Instagram. They weren’t smokers themselves but the “buzz” had made their agent aware of the home, he said.
Ramtin Ray Nosrati, the developer and designer building cannabis rooms in his spec-mansion projects, said he was inspired by his client base, which includes athletes, celebrities and Hollywood types. “What I have learned from a lot of my friends is that these celebrities can’t go out and smoke,” Mr. Nosrati said. “They go out and it’s paparazzi all over the place. They would feel more comfortable in a private atmosphere.”
Mr. Nosrati’s company, Huntington Estate Properties, is building five “marijuana mansions” in the Los Angeles area, including in Bel-Air and Brentwood. Described by Mr. Nosrati as “adult playgrounds,” his ventilated cannabis rooms have fingerprint-only access and entrances hidden behind bookshelves for privacy and security. The rooms will also have areas for growing as well as lounging and smoking.
Some will come with bowling alleys, golf simulators, game rooms, karaoke facilities and video walls, Mr. Nosrati said. Renderings show sprawling entertainment spaces with large murals depicting Bob Marley and glass-walled cannabis growing areas. One conservatory, in Bel-Air, will be located directly beneath a clear-bottomed swimming pool, so the owner can watch people swimming above. Mr. Nosrati said he’ll throw in a bud tender, who comes to the house every week to care for and cultivate the plants, for the first three years. It’s legal in California for people to grow up to six plants at a time in their homes, he said.
“Right now, it’s becoming the norm,” he said. “I feel like 10 years from now, the wine cellars that are being installed in these luxury homes are going to be transformed into cannabis rooms.”
Mr. Nosrati said he’s received multiple inquiries about the homes and has had previous clients ask him if cannabis rooms can be built into their homes retroactively. But he recognizes it is not for everyone. In one recent instance, a new client told him he liked the concept of having a cannabis room, but wasn’t sure it was the right thing for the home.
“The client was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing, I love it. I just don’t know how my friends and family are going to feel about it.’ ”
Instead, Mr. Nostrati turned it into an indoor garden for growing vegetables and herbs.
Vaping THC: The CDCs Health Warning
A recent spate of vaping-related deaths has led to questions of safety. As of October 22, there were 34 vaping-related deaths confirmed in 24 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency’s initial findings suggest that the deaths are linked to products containing THC (tetrahydrocannabinol is the chemical that causes marijuana’s psychological effects), and in particular products obtained off the street or though black-market dealers. While an inquiry is ongoing, the agency is recommending that people do not use any e-cigarettes or vape products containing THC.
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