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Future Tense Tech-savvy

Chelsea house looks high-tech.

The building’s rippled façade of gleaming glass and concrete contrasts starkly with everything else on Manhattan’s West 19th Street.

Chelsea House is high-tech.

The three-and-a-half-year-old, 64-unit condominium is thriving with a package of high-tech services for its residents. Says Ron Brandon, the condo’s president: “Everything is very new and modern.”

Owners ranging in age from their mid-20s to mid-40s live in the property. Many work in the finance business, using the latest gadgets, and they have made the property a laboratory, experimenting with new ideas that could work at other buildings.

Once a month, for example, the five-member board gathers for a meeting...by telephone. “Everybody [in the work world] does business by conference call,” notes Brandon. “Why not board meetings?”

Legally, there are some requirements. The bylaws usually require that at least three of the five board members must participate in the call for the meeting to be valid. In addition, board members must be able to hear each other’s voices for the meetings. If a vote is to be taken, every member who is present must be there for the entire length of the gathering.

“Board members have to operate in a fiduciary capacity,” notes attorney Stuart Saft, a partner at Dewey LeBoeuf. “They have to be involved and understand all the issues that are coming before them as a board.”

The flexibility of the conference call makes it much easier to meet. Pushing back the meeting time an hour at the last minute is less difficult when no one has to travel to the meeting place. The technology is particularly good news for the building’s property manager, who can now attend board meetings without having to leave her office.

But be warned: some are not that keen on it. “There is nothing better than being in the room with people and getting an understanding of what they mean and how they feel about a particular subject, by looking at their faces,” says attorney Mark Hankin, a partner at Hankin & Mazel. “Without that, you can miss nuance.”

Nonetheless, if you decide to go with teleconferencing, the system is easy to set up. For a monthly fee of $23, Chelsea House employs a conference call service from Spectrotel that includes an 800 dial-in PIN number and a private security code (some teleconferencing services are free, but you must operate them through computer terminals). Before the meeting, the property manager e-mails the complete meeting agenda and any related materials to all the other board members.

Chelsea House also allows its residents to do most of their business with the building over the internet, from reserving the playroom to making maintenance requests. To pay common charges, each resident has a password-protected, automatic debit account that they access through the Caran Properties website.

Residents can also log onto the MyBuilding.org website to reserve time for themselves or their nannies in the playroom. Located on the building’s first floor next to the fitness center, the playroom is a former movie screening lounge, where residents and guests used to watch movies on a 61-inch, flat-screen TV. But since the building opened, more than half of the residents have become parents, and the giant TV screen now looms silently over a large collection of well-used toys.

The residents utilize MyBuilding.org to access such important documents as the building’s bylaws and financial documents. In addition, residents can use the web to add guests to the approved visitors list (residing with the doorman) and update the list of people who are allowed to use the spare keys. Those keys are kept in a lockbox (employing the KeyTrak system; see “A Key Issue”, Habitat March 2003) in the service room behind the doorman’s desk. This adds another level of security and is only accessible by building staff using a password and code.

Chelsea House’s software package, offered by MyBuilding.org., costs about $2,500 a year, or roughly $40 per unit, according to Philliss Nappi, property manager for Caran Properties, the building’s manager. The condo pays an extra $5,000 in upfront costs to buy some optional hardware, such as a system at the doorman’s desk that scans arriving packages. It automatically sends e-mails, including a photograph, to residents and alerts them. “I get an e-mail when I have dry-cleaning delivered,” says Brandon. A large video screen next to the mailboxes also shows a list of the packages being held at the doorman’s desk arranged by the apartment number of the recipient.

Technology helps the staff, too. For example, Benny Resulani, the super, can check the security cameras for the building no matter where he is by using an application that runs over his personal iPhone. The application allows him to watch live cameras or to rewind and scan through recent recordings.

Chelsea House also uses the MyBuilding website and Resulani’s iPhone to help keep track of work. Residents can submit new work orders via the website or through an iPhone application. The condo’s website tracks these orders and immediately sends e-mails to the building’s maintenance staff.

The service has an account history section that lets Resulani check the details of the current order over his iPhone, along with all the past orders that relate to the job and any relevant complaints made by the residents.

Still, technology – no matter how sophisticated – can’t always replace the human component. When it first opened, Chelsea House was in the hands of a less talented superintendent, and, after a year, the cracks and peeling paint of everyday wear and tear began to show. Resulani took over in 2006, and he has helped make the building – and its technology – a success. Says Brandon: “Thanks to him – and the commitment of our property manager Philliss Nappi – our building runs like a fine Swiss watch.”

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