Echo Boomers Transform Multifamily Expectations

This new generation of renter poses challenges to old assumptions as well as burgeoning opportunities for multifamily housing's future.

The echo-boomer generation, born between 1980 and 1995, represents a significant retreat from the propensity-to-own mentality. Many of them have seen how their siblings or parents got caught up in the housing boom and bust, and they don’t want to make the same mistake.

Their living environments are far less tied to the conspicuous consumerism that was a trademark of the baby boomers. Those racks of CDs and shelves full of books that took up so much space in baby boomers’ homes are now stored on an iPod and a Kindle. Photo albums live on laptop hard drives. A pair of small high-end speakers attached to a computer has replaced racks of glowing audiophile components. As video-streaming technology improves, DVDs begin to go the way of the VHS cassette.

Technology is a top priority for the new generation of renter, and increasingly for renters of all demographics. Flat-screen televisions are ubiquitous in clubrooms and fitness centers, where iPod-docking stations, Wi-Fi, Wii hookups and an adequate amount of cardio machines during peak hours are mandatory.

Technology used to mean expensive hardwiring into each unit. That has become less important today than having hot spots in locations throughout the community where tenants want to use their laptops.

A key concept in unit design is “less space/more flexibility.” We are seeing smaller units with much more thoughtful design. Large computer desks with multiple shelves are not as prevalent. A decade ago we would have put fireplaces in 50 to 75 percent of units; today we might put them in 25 percent. Storage areas need to be more functional and designed with bicycles, golf clubs and (in some climates) snow skis in mind.

Community activities will continue to be an important amenity for the new generation of renter. A robust and well-conceived schedule of activities fosters relationships with staff and neighbors, creates a sense of community and helps with renewals. Cooking classes were hot activities at one time; now it might be a computer class or something based around movies. The newer generation sees value in social networking, but at some point they want to actually meet people, too.

Putting notes on apartment doors or on common-area bulletin boards to alert residents of upcoming events in today’s world is the equivalent of writing on cave walls. Now renters expect an active and dynamic social-media presence from their community. The tone needs to be immediate, informational, casual and conversational. If you place signage at nearby shopping districts to promote your opening, it needs to have a scannable bar code so potential customers can capture all your information with one click of a smart phone.

This is a generation that dines out, even in difficult economic times. At our new development, Alta Aspen Grove in suburban Denver, we are partnering with the restaurants at the lifestyle mall next door to have dinners delivered to our residents’ doors.

Easy access to mass transit is crucial, not the least because of sticker shock at the gas pump. Most of the projects we’re developing are within 1,000 feet of a mass-transit platform. That said, direct-access parking is a much-desired amenity today, and we don’t see that changing within the new generation.

Today’s renter is very attuned to environmental concerns. Our newest project, Alta Aspen Grove, is, we believe, the first LEED certified apartment community in the Denver area. That was an expensive investment, but being environmentally friendly and sustainable is going to become more important with every passing year. It matters not only to the customer, but also to investors and institutional buyers.  There are institutional funds right now that can’t buy anything without LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. In 10 years, your property is going to be physically obsolete if you don’t have LEED and ENERGY STAR designations.

Attention to environmental issues carries over to the layout of the community. People appreciate passive spaces, park benches and picnic tables with gas grills at the edges of the community where residents can read a book, work on their computer or just relax.

Creature comforts need to include creatures. This generation is very pet-centric and expects to live in a community that reflects and respects their devotion to their animals. For example, a doggie wash may soon become a standard amenity. At Alta Aspen Grove we added a large stainless steel sink with folding steps, hot water and spray nozzles, as well as an adjacent dog park.

This new generation of renter poses challenges to old assumptions as well as burgeoning opportunities for multifamily housing’s future.

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