Get Your ‘A’ Game On

The race is hard—so don’t neglect cosmetic improvements and lifestyle community trends

The multifamily industry is certainly feeling the effects of increased competition. It’s hard to imagine anything you would want to invest in these days, but smart money places its bets on creating opportunity with cosmetic improvements.

We are fortunate to be aligned with an industry that maintains extremely strong fundamentals and prospects for long-term growth. With the right tools and right attitude, any space can be transformed into a more comfortable, relaxing and competitive environment.

Capitalizing on renters’ desires for urban-style living is a fundamental decision many owners/operators are making. Apartment homes need to live up to the expectations they set, since renters today have their pick of living situations. Market conditions change, but confident management decisions do not.

By developing methods in a thoughtful manner to better understand what residents need beyond what they articulate, we find the opportunities that will create real value. Some developers provide market studies with focus groups to determine what the needs are for potential residents. Management also bases this on the response of residents, both verbally and by use.

We need to create community, strengthen it and appeal to consumers’ need for it. The excitement and appeal of an urban mixed-use neighborhood influences new design trends in multifamily, with the ultimate goal of enhancing attractiveness to new occupants and increasing lease retention for existing ones.

Basic cosmetic improvements

Budget prioritizing is key. Less money means fewer choices, so select the rooms and elements that are most significant. Analyze your current conditions to determine if you should replace furniture or start with minor construction details. Improve what you already have instead of completely starting over.

Paint is truly your best friend; it creates dramatic change for little money. Update cabinets and built-ins with paint—you will have a clean, fresh space.  Hide the clutter—nothing improves the look of a space more than neatness and organization. Remove silk plants that are lifeless and dusty, and replace dated window treatments. Recover fabrics if they are worn and tired.

Removing walls is also an inexpensive technique to open up a room that is tired, dated and/or closed in (be sure to consult your architect or professional contractor). If finishes are your priority, select a ceramic or porcelain tile that has a large format if your rooms are small, and use the same material throughout, as floor changes will break up a space and make it appear smaller. If you have a fireplace, fix it up with paint, a new mantle and a large mirror or artwork.

Lighting is always an overlooked element that can improve any space. And don’t forget to add artwork. It’s a symbol of quality; think of it as adding cosmetics to your space.

Creating a community

Every area of a clubhouse requires finishes to be specified, and every space needs attention in creating a desired concept. The creation of a stylish interior within a fixed budget is possible, though. By creating a strong architectural framework of relatively inexpensive materials, the interior scenes can be crafted using rich materials and textures to draw the eye through the space.

Color selection is also critical. People enjoy being surrounded by a palette that is soothing and makes them feel comfortable. A range of local colors can be blended and sparked by hot “new” hues for an appealing, nurturing backdrop.

The best lobby design is one with simple, clean lines, with quality soft seating and communal tables for gathering. Illuminated commissioned museum-quality art, whenever possible, lends an air of drama and discerning taste, drawing the eyes of passersby on the street.

A special focus on maximizing the clubhouse is also effective. Create a luxury boutique-hotel atmosphere with spaces for innovative activities and services provided in the clubhouse. The result is inevitable interaction among residents due to the very shape and configuration of the space.

The clubhouse also offers an upfront spot to greet potential residents, with a clear picture of their apartment choices. Evoking the atmosphere of a boutique-hotel lobby can be highly attractive in a clubhouse, given that multifamily developers are increasingly marketing to people who are highly educated, well-traveled and have clear expectations of the quality of their home environment.

The Carlton, a Houston property owned and operated by Martin Fein Interest, is an example of a community that had good, but under-utilized, spaces. We created an amenity package the residents were excited to use and provided a marketing factor for prospects. The clubhouse is now an ideal place for gatherings and activities of all kinds. It has great potential to bring together residents for a variety of reasons, in turn giving them a stronger sense of community.

Upon entering the lobby, prospects and residents are greeted by a sophisticated color palette and a leasing specialist at a gracious concierge desk, signaling to the visitors that the clubhouse will offer a multitude of services. The lobby walls are designed with a subtle tone-on-tone paint pattern with glass and stainless stairs and overhanging walkways, intended to evoke the spirit of glossy and modern.

The property features breathtaking views and gorgeous interior finishes. The amenity package has expanded to include a new, state-of–the-art, 24-hour fitness center, giving residents the convenience of being able to work out in their own community, and it is a strong incentive for adding appropriate fitness facilities to the clubhouse.

Other exciting amenities are a fully equipped executive conference center with TV, computer, phone and copier/printer/fax capabilities, as well as a library and reading room, and a game lounge with billiard tables, shuffle board and a refreshment lounge. Large-screen plasma televisions are displayed in the game lounge and the new Wii gaming area. High ceilings, up to 20 feet, along with expansive window treatments and vibrant lighting further enrich the theatrical flavor of the clubhouse’s overall appearance. The goal is to create an experience for the potential resident that will be remembered and retained, leading the individual to choose to live in that community.

These approaches—creating a luxury boutique-hotel atmosphere, planning spaces for innovative activities and services provided in the clubhouse and offering a powerful presentation of these options from the moment a potential resident steps foot on the property—can positively impact the multifamily bottom line through strong resident attraction and high retention.

Stephanie Moore, ASID, is founding principal of Dallas-based Moore Design Group.

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