There are four ways to get through the door of an apartment building. Well, five, if you count opening it yourself.
Personally, I prefer to have someone else do it, as I was held up once at knifepoint and once at gunpoint in the vestibules of buildings that didn’t have doormen*.
That was long ago--probably before you were born--when New York was one giant crime scene. New York is now a very different place, the Brennan Center for Justice reports ( "New York Can Still Boast Being Safest Big City"), but those experiences persuaded me to live only in doorman buildings from then on.
A doorman certainly opens the door and provides security, but that's only part of what he does. He will also take packages, dry cleaning, laundry, groceries, FreshDirect and anything else that might arrive when you’re not home.
The doorman will have a set of your keys, so if you forget them or lose them, you’re not locked out. If you’re like me, this is very important, as I’m always leaving my keys in the pocket of whatever coat I’m not wearing.
A doorman will let your cleaning person or your cousin in if you’re not home when they arrive. He will also announce your visitors.
The security guard is another form of doorman. When you're looking for an apartment, you should note that some will be advertised as having doormen when they really have security guards.
A security guard's job is simply to guard, not to help. But security guards vary. Some will open the door for you, some will take packages and perform many of the duties of a doorman. Some will just sit and watch as you juggle your keys, packages, and whatever else you may be carrying. I know of at least one who will not move from his desk unless the building burns down.
So it's a good idea to check on exactly what the security guard will do for you if you are thinking about buying in a building that has one.
The “virtual” doorman is nowhere near your door. He is near a camera that is watching it. He will push a button that opens it and watch to make sure nobody follows you in. He can let in dry cleaning, package, or other deliveries if the delivery person knows where in the building to put them. He can notify the police if you appear to be in danger.
But he can’t let you into your apartment, so you have to remember your keys.
Then there’s video security, which only works if there’s somebody home. A camera allows the person in the apartment to see who’s standing outside, talk to them, and push a button that lets them in. Sometimes there’s no camera, just an intercom.
Some buildings require residents to go down to the lobby and admit guests in person, rather than buzzing them in. Some buildings, especially lofts, have locks in the elevator, one for each floor.
The fifth way is to open the door yourself.
If this is your preferred method, you will have to be home when packages, dry cleaning, or anything else is delivered, and when your guests or cleaning person arrives. And if you're followed through the door by someone waving an ax, you're on your own. But you do have privacy and a lower maintenance (more about that below).
Some people prefer a doorman-less building. Celebrities often prefer these, because lobby attendants can be bribed to talk.
Others feel not having somebody in the lobby is only acceptable in small town house co-ops of, say, four units, where they know everybody in the building. They want to be sure they can tell a resident from a stranger.
Security doesn’t come free, but it can be surprisingly inexpensive, depending on the size of your building.
According to indeed.com (“One search. All jobs”), the average salary for a doorman is $33,000. Let’s assume your building has three eight hour shifts of doormen. That’s $99,000 a year.
If the building has 99 units, each unit will be responsible for $1,000, or $83.33 per month. If it has 300 units, it’ll be $330 per year, or $27.50 per month. (The building also has to pay for benefits for doormen, so that's another charge.) This is part of the maintenance.
The smaller the building, if it has a doorman, the higher the maintenance will be.
It's also helpful to tip the doorman at the end of the year. The amount is of course up to you, but I generally divide three to five hundred dollars among the building staff, which includes a live-in super, doormen and a few porters, and nobody's complained.
The initial cost of an apartment with a doorman will be about 12 or 13 percent higher than that of an apartment without one, according to the real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel, but there are a number of factors at work here.
For one thing, buildings with doormen tend to have amenities like health clubs, planted roof decks, garage spaces that other buildings don't. They are likely to be in locations that are considered more desirable. All of this raises prices. So the doorman is not the only thing that makes the apartment expensive.
A security guard is somewhat less pricey, at $28,000.
The cost for a virtual doorman varies widely as installation charges differ depending on when the building was built and what security systems are already in place, but presumably, in the long run, a virtual doorman is less expensive than an actual human being.
If you’re put off by the idea of small talk as you pass through the lobby, remember that all you have to say is “Hello.” Or you can say nothing, although a smile is never a bad idea.
Personally, I have never found the small talk offensive. Bottom line, doormen are nice guys. Some keep dog treats in their desks. Some keep lollipops. If they’re not nice, they get fired.
Once my late husband was entering a building as the doorman returned from the curb, after helping somebody into a taxi (That’s another thing doormen do—they get you a cab).
My husband politely held the door open as the doorman walked through it. “Thank you,” said the doorman. “You do nice work.”
Call me at 917-991-9549 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll be happy to visit your apartment, loft, or townhouse and give you a detailed broker's opinion of what it could fetch today, supported with figures and comparable sales. Of course, there's no cost or obligation involved.
Even if you plan to stay in your home forever, it's always good to know what it's worth.
* There are doorladies, but they’re few and far between. In all my years of selling real estate, a job which involves going in and out of a lot of doors, I’ve seen exactly one doorlady.