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Nov. 12, 2013

NMHC Special Report: Next-Generation Apartment Amenities Tailored to Suit Taste of Echo Boomer Renters

By Keat Foong, Executive Editor

Dallas—The new renter profile that has evolved over the past few years is leading to the development of next-generation apartment amenities. Panelists speaking at National Multi Housing Council’s OpTech Conference this week said that they are now serving a decidedly different renter demographic, and are modifying their approaches to apartment design and amenities.

The panelists were presenting at the session called “A New Generation of Apartment Amenities: Car and Bike Sharing, Community Farms and More.”

Panel moderator Rohit Anand, principal at the architectural firm of KTGY Group Inc., said that three years into the new development cycle, the apartment renter has changed. Developers and designers’ emphases, he said, have shifted from a focus on “demographics” to a focus on “psychographics”—an analysis of lifestyle. He said it is important to consider what this new target demographic’s favorite activities are, and how they have changed from those of previous generations.

This new renter group that is being targeted by developers in urban areas are the Echo Boomers. Jamie S. Gorski, senior vice president, corporate marketing of The Bozzuto Group, said that 40 percent of renters in the company’s suburban apartment portfolio is composed of Gen Y, compared to 60 percent in urban locations.

Residents of the company’s suburban portfolio are on average 37.6 years old, and equally likely to be in roommate, married or single living situations, said Gorski. By contrast, the urban renters are about five years younger, earn about 15 percent more in income, are less likely to own cars, more likely to have more pets and likely to average the same number of children.

Gorski said The Bozzuto Group’s new president Toby Bozzuto believes in “high design” and is changing some of the company’ s practices. She commented an examination of websites for properties in the industry was a little underwhelming, with the same amenities being repeatedly featured. “We want other industries to look to [our industry] for inspiration,” said Gorski.

Gathering spaces have acquired a new importance today as a response to Generation Y’s preference for interaction, sociability and even “people-watching.” Steve Boyack, senior vice president, asset management and business development, The Laramar Group, said that the developer aims to provide more gathering spaces for “people to be alone together. If you stay long enough, [you will see] they are checking each other out” in those spaces, he added.

Distinctiveness and individuality is another characteristic of the targeted Echo Boomer cohort. According to Boyack, this demographic is being encouraged to “develop their own brand,” “the brand of ‘me.’” Therefore, the community should be their “dream home” because it is their brand, said Boyack. Dinner parties are happening in their spaces, he said. Expectations of this group are “high,” and they are “fickle,” agreed Gorski.

Community gardens, dog parks and bike repair shops are gathering places for the next-generation apartment renters, and that may account in part for the popularity of these spaces.

Jim Davis, vice president of Post Properties, said that the company allows its residents to “own” their own plots in community gardens. Composting facilities are integral to, and a vital part, of these community farms, he said. The key is to provide the garden with the right soil, space and plants. Give the residents “the keys” to success in the community garden, and they will stay engaged, said Davis. “The worst thing that happens is for residents to lose interest in the garden” or for the gardens to become “a mess.”

Gorski pointed to an example of a successful community garden that was converted from an underutilized tennis court. Farmers’ markets and classes are also held in the garden. The “residents just love it,” she said.  Boyack added that Laramar Group disperses edible plants throughout its plantings that can be picked by the residents.

Boyack said that bike shops in which bicycles can be repaired and stored are very much in fashion now. In at least one case, The Laramar Group created a “man cave” out of a bike shop by adding, at little cost, a couch and a television, thus providing users with the opportunity to socialize as well.

Other amenity ideas discussed during the session included: food trucks—located, for example, on parking spaces; recording studios; plastic moving crates contracted with outside companies; outdoor movie spaces; coffee shops; piano lounges; apps for exercising in the fitness facilities or for sharing dinner among residents; automated Google or Amazon package delivery lockers; water parks; and artists’ lofts. Gorski mentioned that apartment communities might soon be able to provide cars to residents for car share. She said zipcar.com might be making available a program to sell cars to communities, while reserving certain responsibilities for car maintenance.

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