With multifamily construction gearing up in many parts of the country—and older properties scrambling to stay in the game—knowing how to engage with renters has never been more important. A new crop of housing consumers enters the marketplace every year upon graduation from college, and they’re not all moving home with Mom and Dad. In fact, many Baby Boomer parents are “renters by choice” themselves if they’ve downsized due to lifestyle choices or economic factors.
The current conversation about what renters want is largely centered around the Millennial (aka Gen Y) cohort. Members of generation Y were born between 1982 and 1996. Just as they might prefer participating in a Zip Car program rather than buying a car, many Millennials value the short-term flexibility that renting provides more than they value the long-term benefits of home ownership.
Another factor driving the renter by choice phenomenon is the fact that 75 percent of 18- to 28-year-olds today have never been married, compared to 52 percent for Baby Boomers when they were at comparable age.
MHN recently partnered with Interface and Universal Fibers to produce a three-part series of panel discussions titled “What Renters Want: Development & Design Ideas that Drive Multifamily Occupancies.”
The first event was held in October at Interface’s Manhattan showroom with panelists Navid Maqami, a principal at Perkins Eastman; Rob Neiffer, director of asset management at Invesco and Anup Misra, senior vice president of Development for Wood Partners. In November we presented this popular topic at the Los Angeles Interface showroom with a West Coast panel comprising Manny Gonzalez, principal, KTGY Group; Kelly Farrell, vice president, RTKL; and Alan Dibartolomeo, chief development officer, AMF Development Inc. A third panel is being organized for the Washington, D.C. Interface showroom.
Our panelists confirmed what the MHN editors have observed for some time now: many apartment developers are borrowing from hospitality design and, when done effectively, this translates into inviting facades that reveal edgy lobbies within. A streamlined fireplace that can be seen from the street at night is a powerful curb appeal element. Since leasing agents are now using iPads and other mobile technology, they can sit with prospects in a hip, lounge-like setting with hotel-like finishes to build a sense of rapport and get the electronic documents signed as they close the deal during the property walk-through.
Smaller apartments built for singles, rather than couples, are also conducive to the Millennials market. Rooftop decks are in demand and they should be outfitted with fire pits and resort-style seating. Large windows in fitness centers that offer a view to the outside are preferable to basement fitness facilities. In the clubrooms, full kitchens, especially those that offer the opportunity to present cooking demonstrations, are desirable. Layout of the common areas should be programmed for social gatherings.
This demographic loves its pets and its bicycles, so it’s hard to go wrong with amenities geared towards these interests, such as bike repair shops and dog washing stations. Internet cafes should allow for a variety of seating and socializing styles—for example, group seating around a round table, or individual seating at a desk, etc.
A few other trends the panelists identified:
- Black box theaters are out. Outdoor theaters—where weather permits—with movable furniture are in.
- Business centers are out, but universal wireless network coverage and scattered “creative spaces” are in. Residents appreciate being able to run down to the business center to print out a boarding pass if the household printer is out of ink.
- Multimedia fitness “suites” where you can do a yoga, pilates or P-90X workout alone or with a few friends are in. Renters are more likely to extend their leases when they have friends in the apartment community.
- Some new construction doesn’t bother to wire for landline phones. Direct data connections are the alternative. Make sure cell phones have five bars.
- Though it may matter to owners, builders and lenders, green isn’t as important to residents as you think. So leasing agents should be coached on how to introduce these benefits in a way that will resonate with Millennials (and not sound as though it’s adding to their monthly rental payment)
- Arrange a designated food truck parking space and invite local trucks to visit on a regular basis. It’s a great opportunity for them that costs you absolutely nothing.
- Micro units need some kind of separation barrier between living space and sleeping space. This gives the feeling of a one-bedroom unit, even if the entire apartment is less than 500 square feet.