Selling Wellness, Whether It Works or Not

https://www.wsj.com/articles/selling-wellness-whether-it-works-or-not-11559831743

 

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.

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