Debating the communal kids' playroom: Do you need one?

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In most American cities, a playroom is a basement or den that serves as a receptacle for a family's extensive supply of toys and games, but few New York City apartments can boast that kind of dedicated space. Enter the apartment building playroom—a communal space filled with, well, an extensive supply of toys and games (but that may not be owned by a single family). 

Apartment building playrooms run the gamut from simple, open spaces that parents and caregivers can access with their own toys  in tow to totally state of the art with natural light, communal kitchens, security, plus a selection of toys and apparatus that rivals many of the city's swishest kids clubs. To some families, they’re essential (what better place to park the kids when the weather's frigid—or sweltering), to others, not so much. Here, the pros and cons of an apartment building playroom:


A change of scenery: “The number one complaint I hear from my clients raising families in the city is that they can’t open the backdoor and have the kids play outside. The playroom addresses that problem,” says Jason Haber, an associate broker at Warburg Realty. Indeed, a building playroom provides a place to go, without actually having to go any place.

Lori B.’s multi-purpose play-party-exercise room has been a great spot to escape to when the weather is bad or she just needs to get out of the apartment for a bit. She has used it to entertain friends and their kids and host birthday parties, too. While her three boys—11, 8 and 6—are now aging out of the room, they once took advantage of the monthly movie nights and still, on occasion, hang out there while Lori gets in a workout in the adjoining gym.

Extra space: A playroom can make a small apartment feel larger. “To parents who tire of tripping on toys, and who would like to give their children an open and free play space out of the apartment for a while, a playroom can be a wonderful asset,” says Isa Goldberg, an associate broker at Rutenberg Realty

Social networks: For some families, the building playroom provides a great place for everyone to socialize. Caroline L. and her husband moved into their downtown co-op well before they ever considered starting a family, but once their daughter was born they were grateful for both the playroom and their building’s adjacent private playground. “It made getting out so easy, and I loved, and still love, the spontaneous social time with our neighbors,” says Caroline.


Pay to play: While it's hard to peg exactly how much more you'd pay for an apartment in a building with a playroom—"I don’t see this as adding to the value as much as perhaps reducing the marketing time," says Jonathan Miller, president of appraisal firm Miller Samuel—it will factor into your monthly costs, namely your rent, maintenance fees in a co-op, or common charges in a condo. Still, a playroom likely won't add as much than an amenity like a gym or a pool, Miller says. "Common space like this that is largely equipment free ... has lower costs associated with insurance, maintenance and payroll," he explains. The more tricked out the playroom (and, by extension, the amenity package offered by your building) the more it costs, but that may vary from building to building, says Haber. 

Age-range: All good things must come to an end, including the utility of a playroom. “The playrooms I’ve seen in residential buildings target younger children, from 2 to 7-plus [years],” says Nanette Shaw, an associate broker at Rutenberg Realty. If the playroom has a flat screen TV or a few computer terminals and a basketball net, you may be able to squeeze in a few extra years of use, but most kids age out of the playroom once they hit their tweens or early teens.

The playroom in Caroline’s building has an age cap of about 6 to 7 years. As her kids are now 8 and 6, they aren’t using it much anymore, though they still consider themselves lucky for buying in a building with a playroom.

Same old, same old: Many families don’t miss the playroom at all. “I prefer having friends close by who have a playroom instead of having one myself,” says Kate C., mother of two boys, 6 and 2. “I think if I had a playroom it would be too tempting to just go every day and I would be less motivated to sign my kids up for classes or venture outside if the weather is bad,” she says.

Instead, she does what many other playroom-less parents do: Visits kid-friendly destinations like playgrounds, parks, zoos and children’s museums, many of which offer playroom-like spaces themselves. Or, she frequents one of the many membership-driven and drop-in play spaces in the city (think AppleseedsKidvilleNY Kids ClubCity TreehousePLAYTwinkle, etc.), all of which have oversized play spaces as their centerpieces. “They’re a great place to meet other moms in the neighborhood with similar aged kids, which is really important for a new mom!” she says.


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