Features That May Keep Your Residents

Multifamily owners can glean valuable insights from the amenities favored by first-time home buyers, writes columnist Lew Sichelman.

Lew Sichelman

Apartment builders might want to take a hint from the popular World War I song, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree),” and try to figure out what they can do to keep their residents on their rental rolls.

The 1919 ditty, which was introduced to vaudeville by Sophie Tucker and became popular after the war ended, wondered whether American dough boys from rural environs would ever want to return to the hinterlands after experiencing life in cosmopolitan European cities such as Paris.

The same goes for multifamily developers who should be concerned how they are going to keep renters after they’ve seen what their single-family counterparts have to offer—perhaps for less money. And the answer, at least partially so, might be to give them what home builders are giving them. Or at least what new buyers say they want. That way, some residents might not be so eager to move.

Which brings me to the latest edition of “What Home Buyers Really Want” published by the National Association of Home Builders. The study included the thoughts of 541 folks who purchased or were about to purchase their very first homes. Among other things, they were asked to rate more than 200 home and community features.

What Buyers vs. Renters Want

As it turns out, apartment dwellers seem to be fed up with communal laundry rooms they must share with others. How else to explain that a laundry room is first on their most desired list? A laundry room was rated as essential or must have by 45 percent of the respondents and as desirable by 38 percent.

Intuitively, then, if 83 percent of first-time buyers want private laundry areas, then giving them washers and dryers inside their apartments might just satisfy the lust to buy a place.

Second on the list is ceiling fans, essential for 46 percent of those polled and desirable for 35 percent. Number three is double sinks, by 48 percent. That’s two inexpensive features that are in high demand by more than 80 percent of first-timer buyers who are coming out of apartments.

But residents have their eyes on more than just ceiling fixtures and sinks. And they seem especially tuned in to kitchens. Indeed, of the 30 kitchen-centric items listed in the study, 23 were rated essential or desirable by more than half of the first-time buyers.

Overall, out of all 200 choices, the fifth most desired feature is a walk-in pantry. After that was drinking water filtration, and 10th is table space in the kitchen. Thirty percent or more of the respondents say each of these items are essential while 40 percent of more found them desirable.

For what it’s worth, NAHB economist Paul Emrath stated in the report the list of features most wanted by first-time buyers is similar to the list for home buyers in general, although “buyers in general tend to give the features slightly higher ratings.” A laundry room, for example, is number one on both lists, but is rated essential or desirable by 87 percent of buyers overall vs. 83 percent of the renters.

Meanwhile, another survey, one which asked residents in single-family rental homes who pay $1,000 or more in rent what matters most to them, found that having a private yard and having no one living above them tops their lists.

Apartment developers can’t do much about those items. But pets were the third-highest ranking reason people chose a house over an apartment, the New Home Trends Institute reports. So spend the money on pet-friendly designs, the research and consulting firm advises.

Don’t bother with services like dog sitting or walking, though. Only 15 percent of the respondents would even consider opting for those benefits. Rather, consider designs that pet owners might appreciated but don’t alienate those without pets.

Kitchens with premium finishes and energy efficient appliances are huge draws in the house rental sector, where 42 percent of the sample consider them a top reason why they picked a house over an apartment. “A great kitchen can be a big differentiator,” the institute said.

But kitchen floors matter less, as do healthy home certificates and smart technology. All three features ranked at the bottom of the list of draws for single-family renters.

When it comes to amenities, the survey results suggest spending more on relaxation features and less on coordinating social activities. And as you might expect, designated space for a home office or at least a den also rank highly.

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