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I'm looking at apartments and noticed that many offer amenities such as gyms, pools, saunas and hot tubs which are "free" to use by tenants (paid for by the condo fees). However, I noticed that while most of them also have laundry rooms, tenants must pay to use the machines (at the machine, on a per-wash basis).

The washing machines are an outlier in the sense that they are the only facility on the premises that cost extra to use; everything else (tennis court, barbecues, pool and gym) is free.

Why is it that washing machines seem to be treated differently?

I thought about it for a bit, here are a few of my hypotheses so far (but I don't have data to support any of it):

I can't imagine that washing machines cost much more to operate than a pool, gym, tennis court or sauna - maybe I'm wrong - but considering that the aforementioned are all included I don't think the landlords left the machines out of the included amenities because it would have been too expensive to include them. (Or too expensive to include them instead of some of the other aforementioned amenities)

Clearly, "because they can" is true, if they can make money off the machine they'll opt to do so, but they also could save money by not having a pool and gym to maintain yet they do it because they seem like good incentives to live there. Are the machines not included simply because they aren't very convincing incentives for potential customers? Either because

  • people underestimate the cost to use the machines (therefore would not see free use as a big incentive)
  • it's the norm here (North America) for machines to require payment for use and since it's not a "sexy" topic of conversation the laundry rooms are simply left out of sales discussions (making it hard to advertise it as an incentive). A landlord wouldn't gain much by giving the customer more than they expected in this case, so they don't.

I'm asking because, personally, I'd rather have free use of those machines than free access to a pool and sauna I'd never use and I'm wondering why no one seems to offer free washing machines for tenants.

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  • $\begingroup$ It could be as simple as coin operated washing machines being easily and widely available, where as policing access to the gym and other faciltiesl requires investment in terms of identification checks and staffing. $\endgroup$ – Jontia Aug 20 '18 at 9:41
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As you said, you would prefer to have free washing machines instead of free swimming pool. What does this mean? That washing your clothes is more important than having a bath in a swimming pool. Usually, it applies to almost anyone. So you could stop using swimming pool, but not washing machines.

Also, it does not seem probable that many people will use that swimming pool at the same time. But even if they do, people will not complain about massification unless it is too much and permanent (both conditions are rare to be filled).

So:

1) They know that washing clothes is more important than having a bath in a swimming pool. And even more, they know that you cannot avoid to wash your clothes (but you can avoid having a bath). 2) They do not expect the swimming pool to be always full of people, so they do not expect many complaining about it. 3) Having a swimming pool is cool. Having a free swimming pool is very cool. Marketing.

In conclusion: they use the swimming pool as part of their marketing, while they make money from washing machines since you have to wash your clothes with no potential alternative (while having a bath in a swimming pool has several alternatives, so if you had to pay for it, maybe you would not use it).

I hope it helps.

EDIT:

For those who do not know what I am talking about, take a look of these two terms: "utility" and "elasticity" ;)

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    $\begingroup$ It would be quite nice and useful if who downvoted explained why he/she did it. Like this, maybe I could notice a mistake and improve my text. It could be useful for me and for the person who posted the question. Downvoting without feedback is just useless. $\endgroup$ – Ignacio Valdés Zamudio Aug 18 '18 at 7:11
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    $\begingroup$ SE counts on users being mature, but there's always 2 o 3 haters downvoting just out of bitterness. I think that even disagreeing with a thoughtful answer (like yours) is insufficient reason for downvoting it. Although the argument of marketing is a good point(+1), my conjecture is that free access to gym & swimming pool is driven by tax deductions for which otherwise a landlord could not qualify. I believe that tenants value rent, location, and neighborhood safety more than a swimming pool which involves higher maintenance costs(and greater harm to the environment) than a washing machine. $\endgroup$ – Iñaki Viggers Aug 18 '18 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ Tax deductions would be a point, yes. However, we should check if that tax deduction applies in OP's context. I also agree with you about how tenants value location or neighbourhood safety in a higher proportion than having a pool. Nevertheless, do not you think that the fact of washing machine being an essential product in ordinary life makes it a nice candidate to be charged? I mean: while having swimming pool is not essential for a person, washing clothes is. Therefore, it makes sense to pay for it, since the landlord knows you have no many alternatives. What do you think? @IñakiViggers $\endgroup$ – Ignacio Valdés Zamudio Aug 18 '18 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ They = landlords. I think you are missing the point that we are comparing two services/products. We are not comparing all goods that exist (I say this because of your "breathing" argument). Comparing washing machines and pool, I consider quite obvious that almost anyone would prefer to wash their clothes. Also you are missing another point in your second comment. Landlords probably do make money from washing machines (in addition to the money made by the washing company). It can happen by two ways: 1) they bought machines and now they make profit; 2) they get a part of income from machines. $\endgroup$ – Ignacio Valdés Zamudio Aug 18 '18 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ @IgnacioValdésZamudio Right, that's why I can only suggest as conjecture the idea about tax deductions. And your rationale in regard to elasticity is apt. I just cannot imagine that the money a landlord can make from washing machines nearly compensates the expenses from maintaining a swimming pool. I'm not saying you are wrong, though. $\endgroup$ – Iñaki Viggers Aug 18 '18 at 16:03
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One consideration is that charging for the use of washing machines on a per-wash basis creates an incentive for tenants to use the machines efficiently by operating them only with a full load of clothes to be washed.

By contrast, if use were free - or if charges were on some other basis, eg per weight of clothes washed -, then there would be no such incentive, with the likely consequence that the average load would be less than full. This in turn would mean that the machines would be used more frequently than if operated with full loads.

That has implications for both tenants and landlord. For tenants, it increases the risk that often when they want to wash clothes they find that all machines are already in use - possibly leading to complaints to the landlord. A more direct implication for the landlord is that more frequent use implies higher running costs in respect of electricity, and (if consumption is charged for) water. More frequent use may also lead to increased need for maintenance and repairs, again with costs to the landlord.

So there is advantage for the landlord, over and above the income it yields, from charging on a per-wash basis.

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First, I've been in apartments with washing and drying included. These tend to have the washer and dryer in the apartment. So there is no conflict with other tenants who might want to use the facilities. I could run half loads, etc. without inconveniencing others.

I've also lived in apartments with no laundry facilities whatsoever. In these, I had to go to an off-site location where I could pay quarters. An on-site location where I can pay quarters is strictly more convenient than that.

I've also purchased gym and pool memberships separately from an apartment (as well as having options in the apartment). They tend to be paid monthly (like apartments) or annually. In apartments, they typically have no or limited staff (perhaps a part time lifeguard for the pool). You already pay monthly rent for your apartment.

People tend to overestimate the amount of time that they will use both pools and gyms. So someone who chooses the apartment for the pool or gym probably won't use the facilities as much as they originally thought. So the perceived value to someone looking for an apartment of a free gym, pool, sauna, etc. is higher than the actual value.

Another issue is that gyms and tennis courts are low maintenance. A little cleaning here and there. The machines last a long time. Buy new nets for the tennis court every couple years. Saunas and pools are higher maintenance, mostly more cleaning. Washers and dryers are machines, which require regular maintenance.

I suspect that the main reason why washers and dryers are usually a paid item is that there are businesses that go around selling them that way. Landlords can lease the space to external businesses that operate the washers and dryers and collect the money. Or the landlords can buy the equipment, doing some routine maintenance themselves. No one offers to sell people a turnkey sauna operation, but it's a market niche for laundry.

Finally, coin operated laundry costs don't appear in the rent. But free laundry would. So "free" laundry makes apartments look more expensive (even though they might be the same price after one figures out laundry costs).

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