8 Game-Changers for Multifamily

Major, disruptive shifts stand to reshape the needs and wants of tomorrow’s renters. Can the multifamily industry adapt its approach to designing, developing and operating apartment communities fast enough to stay relevant?

We live in an age of disruption. The world as we know it is changing, ushering in big shifts in the way people approach nearly every aspect of their lives. At the intersection of all these upheavals in technology, commerce, family, work, transportation and lifestyle is housing.


The apartment industry houses nearly 39 million people today, and demand for apartment living is growing. In fact, the industry will have to build at least 4.6 million apartments by 2030 just to keep up with demand. However, anything being designed today won’t see its first resident until the early 2020s, forcing the industry to become even more anticipatory, progressive and innovative when it comes to serving the next generation of renters’ needs.

But tomorrow’s needs and wants are shaping up to be so very different, thanks to a variety of game-changing shifts. This is the premise behind the new National Multifamily Housing Council report Disruption: How Demographics, Psychographics and Technology Are Bringing Multifamily to the Brink of a Design Revolution.

In the report, we dig into the following eight tectonic shifts that we believe are poised to radically reshape our customers’ expectations and experiences, and share our thoughts on how these will challenge multifamily’s approach to designing, developing and operating our communities.


Beyond just collecting more data through networking and sensor technology, computers are taking even bigger leaps forward in analyzing and interpreting data, effectively learning from it and even predicting future results. Given the giant steps forward in robotics and artificial intelligence, technology is set to become part of the core design of apartment communities rather than an add-on accessory or appliance. Technology will not just be employed for technology’s sake but rather to enrich the resident experience.


Hyper-informed and empowered by a tsunami of personalized, networked data, today’s consumers control their own destinies and expect immediate gratification. This will become exponentially apparent as younger generations take command of consumption. As real-time and personalized purchasing experiences become the norm, a lifestyle-focused, flexible and highly personalized apartment is as important as location and layout.


Young people have historically been the age group most likely to rent, and their sheer mass today is impressive. But targeting only this generation would be a mistake. Aging Baby Boomers, immigrants and non-traditional families will leave their mark on rental demand down the road. So while staple unit plans such as the typical one and two bedroom have long been the hallmark of the apartment industry, in the coming years apartment communities and units will have to adapt to serve a greater variety of households and housing needs. This will require building adaptability into physical components of unit construction.


Mobile technology, growth in non-traditional job sectors and increasing participation in the gig economy are disrupting where, how and for how long people work, impacting their housing priorities, their preferences, and ultimately, their decisions. Residents will favor having work in close proximity to—and even provided within—their apartment communities. The old home office, typically crammed into a den or spare bedroom, is ripe for a makeover.


Car dependency is under siege as massive tech advancements erode our reliance on personal vehicles. The rise of ride hailing and sharing and the pending arrival of driverless cars stand to challenge parking assumptions and free millions of square feet of parking spaces. Apartment communities will need to figure out how to adapt to a fluctuation in parking needs going forward.


Traditional retail looks to be heading toward a serious upheaval, leading apartment communities to consider how new models can best be incorporated on site. From happy hour and foodie hotspots to pop-up retail, successful retail in the future will hinge on providing an additive experience rather than just a delivery of goods.


Fitness centers have long been among the must-have amenities in apartments, but a growing consumer emphasis on 360-degree wellness means built environments like apartments will be valued by their contributions to not only physical but also social and emotional health. Responding to this movement means providing both social gathering and sanctuary space to counterbalance digital connectivity.


The sharing economy is chipping away at the divide between public and private space, requiring tomorrow’s apartment communities to be more integrated into the fabric of the community at large. Multifamily properties may also provide for spaces that can have multiple uses and be shared for neighborhood needs, creating a sense of greater community.

As these big shifts exert greater and greater influence over people’s lives, we are witnessing a departure from the classic view of housing—and especially rental housing—as a commodity of sorts. Today, housing is much less a product designed to fulfill a basic need, largely selected by budget and more a reflection of how people view themselves, a veritable extension of their values and indicative of their individuality.

We are already seeing other real estate classes—office, hospitality, retail and restaurants—start to evolve with these broader changes, so it would be a mistake to think we’re exempt from this disruption. According to results from the 2018 NMHC Consumer Housing Insights Survey, just 17 percent of people say “innovative” describes apartments very well. The apartment industry must begin thinking about how to adapt to market changes or risk facing a disconnect with their future customers. It’s already later in the game than most people think, leaving multifamily behind the power curve.

Rick Haughey

Rick Haughey

To check out the full report, as well as virtual walk-throughs of the apartment of the future, go to www.nmhc.org/disruption.

Rick Haughey is vice president of industry technology initiatives at the National Multifamily Housing Council. He can be reached at [email protected].

You’ll find more on this topic in the April 2018 issue of MHN.

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