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Oct. 11, 2013

SPECIAL REPORT: Development and Design Trends that Drive Occupancies

By Keat Foong, Executive Editor

Panel Photo

From Left: Navid Maqami, Rob Neiffer, Anup Misra, Diana Mosher.

New York—What type of apartments do Echo Boomers want to live in? Some developers have the answer down to a science. At a panel discussion presented this week by Multi-Housing News, an architect, investor and developer shared what they know about the development and design features that drive occupancies in apartments today.

Among the apartment elements cited as important, or even critical, for attracting the Gen Y target market are: a low-rise, walkable, urban location; boutique hotel-level aesthetic and finishes; a resort and loft look; a first-rate amenities package; open and light floor plan with clean lines; and plenty of diverse opportunities for sociability in the common areas.

Speaking on the panel were Navid Maqami, a principal at the architecture firm Perkins Eastman; Rob Neiffer, director of asset management at Invesco; and Anup Misra, senior vice president of Development for Wood Partners. The moderator was Diana Mosher, editorial director of Multi-Housing News. The event was held at the Manhattan showroom of Interface which sponsored the event in partnership with Universal Fibers.

Invesco’s Neiffer cautioned that the risks of generalizing may be greatest in the case of Gen Y because this is the most diverse generation in American history with respect not only to race, but also education and housing preferences.

Neiffer noted 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. He also noted that a Housing Wire article reported that 62 percent of respondents preferred to live in smaller spaces alone rather than with roommates. Neiffer said that smaller apartments built for singles, rather than couples, are conducive to this market.

This young demographic group prioritizes function over size; has a preference for renting over purchasing; likes green features, “but would not pay for” them; and desires social spaces, and “lots of amenities and luxuries.” Echo Boomers do not want to live among “vertical canyons,” preferring to live in “hip” lower-rise neighborhoods such as those in Brooklyn, he said.

From left: Maqami, Neiffer, Misra

From left: Maqami, Neiffer, Misra

Invesco has assembled large portfolios of apartments in New York, and found that the largest renter profile consisted of the Echo Boomers, said Neiffer. Through its investment activities, the company found there were certain features that make an apartment community extremely popular with the 20- to 33-year-old target renter profile, said Neiffer. Young people, especially those in an urban environment, for example, wanted cabanas in the pool areas.

Wood Partners’ Misra cited a J Turner Research study that showed that location is the most important consideration for renters deciding on whether to rent an apartment (36 percent), followed respectively by the quality of the property (26 percent), price point (19 percent) and community amenities (5 percent). Parking (81 percent) and fitness facilities (81 percent) were the two most important common area amenities for all age groups, with dog wash (3 percent) being one of the least important.

Gen Y continues to favor stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and tiled back splashes, said Misra. They like clean lines and uncluttered layouts—“nothing that reminds them of their grandparents.’’ Large windows in fitness centers that offer a view to outside are also desirable, as opposed to basement fitness facilities. In the clubrooms, full kitchens, especially those that offer the opportunity to present cooking demonstrations, are a popular amenity. Layout of the common areas should be programmed for social gatherings—that is crucial, and ultra modern designs are favored by this demographic, said Misra.

In the pool areas, resort-style seating is key, noted Misra. Bike shops and Internet cafes and yoga room are also desired by Gen Y customers. 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. The days where you have business centers with a door, desk and two computers lined up are over, said Misra.

Maqami, of the architectural firm of Perkins Eastman, said that some of his clients, such as AvalonBay, have perfected the rental apartment type. These companies know what unit sizes function well, and what features appeal to the customer base. For example, renters in Queens want parking space, and penthouse duplexes incorporate wrap-around outdoor terraces.

Rooftop decks are also said to be particularly popular with the young, urban, demographic. A Toll Brothers development in Manhattan, for example, incorporates a rooftop space. Maqami said that these rooftop “oases” do not have to cost a lot: just with a little landscaping and some wood, a special space could be created.

Maqami said that there is a lot of synergy being created today between his firm’s hospitality and residential groups. Residences and hotels today are converging in appearances and the use of finishes. The “loft look” is also generally preserved: At  220 Water Street, an adaptive reuse of two former factories, a loft design was incorporated into the project, Maqami pointed out.

“Think iPads, tablets, lap tops and iphones” when designing amenity spaces for Gen Y, said Misra. Misra maintained that Gen Y may not take to direct “green” marketing, and said that it may not be necessary to incur the additional cost of obtaining green certification for the purpose of attracting this demographic. “Don’t call it green. Be very subtle about it.” He also cautioned that Echo Boomers do not like to be nickel and dimed.

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