Pet Project: How Your Policies Can Give You a Competitive Advantage

If you’re not pet-friendly, you might be missing out.

Dog washing station
Bristol Development Group included a standalone pet spa, with a dog-washing station, at The Lucile, a 221-unit apartment community in Nashville, where over half the residents have pets. Image courtesy of Marc Szabo Studios

When Philip Nesbitt searched for a new apartment for his family to call home, the retired army veteran considered several different communities before leasing a three-bedroom unit at Marshall Springs at Gayton West, a Breeden Co. development in Glen Allen, Va. Of key importance to Nesbitt were the community’s pet policies, since his family has four dogs, weighing from 10 pounds to 85 pounds, and a cat.

“We care about our animals like we care about our children,” said Nesbitt. “We could never abandon an animal to move in somewhere.”

Even before the leasing staff learned that three of the dogs were registered emotional support animals, Nesbitt said he was welcomed with open arms. So, the family has lived at Marshall Springs for the past eight months—and, more importantly, has no plans to move.

“We are hoping to stay for the long run,” Nesbitt said.

Breeden’s pet policies, which include allowing three pets per apartment with no weight limits, have given the company a competitive advantage over other communities in its markets.

“The secret sauce is pets,” said Christine Gustafson, Breeden’s vice president of marketing. “We found that people are more likely to renew because they’re happy with where they live and they feel like they’re fulfilled.”

Many apartment owners and managers allow multiple pets, some without any weight restrictions. If you’re not pet-friendly, you might be missing out. Here are some things to consider.  

Follow the data

According to the American Pet Products Association, an industry trade group, 66 percent of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 86.9 million households. Of these, 65.1 million households have a dog, and 46.5 million have a cat. Americans are forecast to spend $150.6 billion on pet food and treats, supplies, vet care and other pet-related services in 2024.

Is this really a market you want to ignore?

According to the 2024 NMHC/Grace Hill Renter Preferences Survey, 50 percent of apartment residents surveyed said they would be more likely to live in a property that’s pet-friendly, while 42 percent were either interested in or wouldn’t rent without an on-site dog park, pet-washing station (35 percent) or on-site pet services (35 percent).

READ ALSO: How to Attract Pet-Loving Residents Through Your Marketing Efforts

“In all of our communities, at a minimum, 50 percent of our occupants have pets,” said Lisa Gunderson, vice president of asset management for Bristol Development Group in Franklin, Tenn. “So, if I were to disqualify pets, I would be limiting my rental pool substantially.”

Include Pet-Themed Programming

Like other apartment companies, Breeden provides programming and events for pets and their owners, such as “Paws and Pinot” evenings or photographs with Santa Claus. They also name a “Pet of the Month” and publicize that pet on social media.

At the company’s Red Knot at Edinburgh community in Chesapeake, Va., where about 35 percent of the residents have pets, pet-centric community events are held frequently “so that this sub-demographic of the community has an added layer of positive perception values about the community which, in turn, would decrease the likelihood of giving notice to move,” Gustafson said. In other words, when residents feel welcomed along with their pets, they’re more likely to stay, decreasing turnover costs.

AvalonBay Communities launched a program in 2017 called WAG, which stands for “Welcome, Appreciate and Give Love and Attention” to its pet residents. The company includes pet amenities at its communities, engages pet owners in activities to build community and entered into a partnership with a veterinary chain to provide discounted services to residents.

“There are a lot of pet owners who need an apartment, and we want to be able to attract them,” said Kurt Conway, AvalonBay’s senior vice president of marketing and brand strategy. “It’s an advantage for us to allow pets in our communities to attract a bigger market.”

Incorporate Pet-Friendly Amenities

Bristol Development also welcomes pets at its communities, holding events such as a human-pet “Pawty” or hosting a photographer to take portraits of residents and their pets. The company also includes a host of amenities especially for pets–such as dog parks–as well as amenities where humans and pets can socialize together.

At The Lucile, a 221-unit community in Nashville, where over half the residents have pets, Bristol built a fenced-in area for pets called the Bark Park, which is connected to a separate standalone pet spa, complete with a dog washing station. The dog park also has a fire pit so that people can hang out there while their pets play, fostering not only pet socialization but human friendships as well.

“We had an incredibly fast lease-up that exceeded our expectations,” said Gunderson. “Our pet amenities help attract and promote good long-term residents because they’re excited about the opportunity to live in a place where their pet gets as much attention as they do.”

Don’t Forget Digital Marketing

If you operate pet-friendly communities, be sure to let prospective residents know. Michelle Tomassetti, senior director of new development marketing for WinnResidential, said the company emphasizes its pet-friendliness at the 75 percent of its 700 communities that allow pets. “We focus on pets in our digital marketing by showcasing lifestyle images of pets and highlighting pet amenities that are seen as a benefit to our prospective renters,” she said. 

Design with Pets in Mind

Jennifer Ganow, a regional manager for ZRS Management in Dallas, said that many prospective renters with pets ask for apartments with an attached yard. “They’re trying to not only find a home that works for them, but for their pets as well,” she said.

Ganow has also observed that first-floor apartments, which weren’t always perceived as premium floors, are now in demand by pet owners. In response, she said, new communities are being built that feature first-floor units with extended patios or small yards to accommodate pet owners. The result: Higher rents can now be achieved for first-floor units.

But pet-friendly features and amenities don’t just help attract new residents, they also enhance retention efforts as well.

“At my buildings with pet parks and functions, the dogs become friendly with each other and, in turn, the residents become friends,” Ganow said. “When you’re friends with people in your neighborhood, you don’t want to move out. So, catering to pets is a no-brainer.”

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