Multifamily operators know how important it is to keep up in the amenities race. Simply having a clubhouse or laundry room might not move the needle anymore. Investing in technology and remote-work spaces will make a difference, though.
“The biggest amenities right now are outdoor spaces, fitness rooms, pet parks, pet spas, conference rooms and flexible community rooms that can be used for remote work, as well as business centers that have desks or work pods,” Bell Partners COO Cindy Clare told Multi-Housing News.
Clare oversees operations for more than 60,000 apartments across the U.S. As an industry veteran who has been through multiple downturns, she knows exactly what resonates with residents. Below, she reveals details about the amenities that are playing a key role in attracting and retaining residents as the health crisis subsides.
LISTEN TO: How Bell Partners’ Lili Dunn Made Her Mark
You oversee the operations of more than 60,000 units across the U.S. What were the most common challenges you had to overcome in the past 15 months?
Clare: The two biggest challenges were how to minimize risk for our site associates and changing all of our procedures to remote or contactless. This impacted everything from leasing, move-ins, move-outs, maintenance, package acceptance, rent collection and amenity use.
Fortunately, even before COVID-19 hit, we had been building up a robust technology pipeline and were able to move quickly when we needed to, working closely with our technology partners. We were able to make many parts of the rental process contactless, from virtual leasing to online maintenance requests and rent payment, which means more safety for residents and our staff.
Despite being tested under duress, our technology investments performed well, and we expect to keep many of them beyond COVID-19.
At the beginning of the pandemic, shutting down amenity spaces was among the first decisions many property managers made. How has the reopening process been going?
Clare: The reopening process has varied by market, based on what states and local jurisdictions have required. For example, last year, opening pools required social distancing, additional cleaning protocols and monitoring. This year, pools have largely been opened with normal protocols.
Fitness rooms and other indoor amenities required additional cleaning protocols as well as reduced occupancy. The majority of residents have appreciated the approach and have followed our protocols.
What are the top three amenities that you think will be instrumental in attracting new residents in the post-pandemic environment?
Clare: The biggest amenity will be space in the apartment. Since people have been in their homes for over a year, with limited use of amenities for much of that time, they are rethinking the size of their apartments and looking for larger spaces, and as folks continue to work remotely, we expect this trend to carry on.
In addition to raw square footage, we expect that space in community common areas to work remotely or socialize will remain popular. This includes outdoor space, as the pandemic helped many people discover the value of getting outside and enjoying the fresh air.
Finally, part and parcel to work-from-home space, we expect reliable and fast Wi-Fi, both in units and in common areas, to remain in demand. We were already observing this as a draw for working residents before COVID-19, and the pandemic has only underscored its importance.
If employers continue to allow residents to work remotely, will work-from-home spaces take precedence over swimming pools, game rooms, etc.?
Clare: I believe residents will have a baseline expectation that remote-work space is available, but I don’t necessarily see this taking precedence over recreational amenities.
Having both kinds of amenities will hopefully encourage residents to maintain a healthy work-life balance, using the remote-work space during the day and enjoying the recreational amenities on evenings and weekends, or whenever they aren’t working.
Outdoor amenities are also among the most sought-after nowadays. What kind of outdoor amenities do your residents enjoy most?
Clare: All of our outdoor spaces are popular, including outdoor kitchens, lounge areas—where residents can also work—as well as active areas with outdoor games such as bocce and cornhole. Many of our properties are also located close to bike and hiking trails, which enjoyed a surge in popularity in 2020 and are expected to remain popular as those who discovered the outdoors last year keep up their interest.
Will owners and managers need to implement capital improvement programs to reposition their properties according to residents’ new preferences?
Clare: It depends on the age of the communities. Many of these amenities are already in place, especially in newer buildings. Some communities will need to add areas for tables, desks and conference rooms, and there may also be an opportunity to add more comprehensive workspaces that residents will pay to use.
Finally, one capital expenditure we are exploring across our portfolio is sound attenuation. With residents working from home, sound and noise from other apartments and common areas become prevalent, especially considering the higher volume of meetings and conference calls.