New York Post | By Sarah Ryley
It’s the rise of the cyborg doorman.
Cash-strapped developers are trying to save bucks and lure buyers with lower common charges by installing “virtual doormen” – staffers sitting in command centers as far away as Florida who can buzz guests and deliveries into buildings at a fraction of the cost of a regular doorman.
One Manhattan-based company, Virtual Doorman, saw its sales jump last quarter· with 10 new buildings, its biggest quarterly increase since· starting in Cyberdoorman, based in The Bronx, said business could double this year to 76 buildings.
Virtual Doorman provides services to 94 buildings in the city, including five that switched from human doormen this year.
Virtual Doorman can be hundreds of miles away but keep an eye on multiple buildings through a network of cameras. The staffers, earning about $15 an hour, remotely · open and close entrances, videotape people approaching or moving through a building and maintain a list of expected visitors, who are prompted to hold their IDs up to a camera before being buzzed in.
“This will become a multibillion-dollar industry,” Colin Foster, VP of sales and marketing for Virtual Doorman, told The Post. “An enormous amount of buildings between four and 100 units will select virtual doormen instead of a live one, and they do this because of cost.”
A remote-access doorman system costs about $24,000 a year for 24/7 coverage, while having a doorman on site 24 hours a day amounts to about $180,000 a year, developers said.
Jeff Bennett, the developer behind several new Harlem condo buildings, including Windowsl23 and Soho North, said he chose Virtual Doorman because it was a selling point for buyers.
“In this building, Soho North, a real doorman would be cost prohibitive, because there’s only 11 units,” he said. “It’s a great value for the money.”
Some buyers in the upscale building weren’t thrilled with the idea of turning their lives over to a system that’s little more then a buzzer, a fisheye camera and a disembodied voice. “I had some trepidations,” said Rob Merkin, 57, a music producer and composer. “But it’s been great I feel completely secure with it If I’m in my studio and don’t hear a delivery guy buzzing my door, I actually get a phone call from the command center, saying, ‘Hey, Fresh Direct is here. Should I let him in?'”
Not everyone is as enthusiastic.
The Bridges NYC North in East Harlem built a desk in its lobby for a human doorman, but the developer switched to virtual, likely saving him thousands. But the savings haven’t trickled down to tenants, some of whom pay $4,700 a month in rent but find the system “useless.”
“We’ve had a couple of emergencies with no one to turn to,” one tenant said.
“If someone is raping you out here, what do you care if it’s on camera?” she added, before hitting the call button, which played a long automated message then switched to classical music before a human attendant answered.
Longtime doorman Carlos Pellecier says there are things a virtual system just can’t do.
“If it’s 2 am. and someone is being followed, who’s supposed to help that person?” he asked.
This article first appeared in the New York Post.