Apartment Amenities for Authentic Living

Multifamily development is placing new emphasis on apartment amenities for authentic living. In the future, tech’s role will be clearly defined, while spaces for mindful connection—with oneself and others—will be among renters’ top favorites.
The Habitat Co. manages SixForty North Wells in Chicago, which includes a gaming lounge. In the future, residents will most likely opt to limit their screen time. Image courtesy of The Habitat Co.
The Habitat Co. manages SixForty North Wells in Chicago, which includes a gaming lounge. In the future, residents will most likely opt to limit their screen time. That’s why developers are also incorporating apartment amenities for authentic living. Image courtesy of The Habitat Co.

Of the many factors shaping multifamily design and development, one particularly powerful trend is creating apartment amenities for authentic living. The pervasive presence of technology is driving a search for experiences that are real, rather than virtual, and for genuine social contact. 

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: Sheila Byrne, executive vice president of property management, The Habitat Co. noted that cutting-edge amenities lead to an average growth in monthly rent of up to $150. Image courtesy of The Habitat Co.
Sheila Byrne, executive vice president of property management, The Habitat Co. noted that cutting-edge amenities lead to an average growth in monthly rent of up to $150. Image courtesy of The Habitat Co.

That may explain why the next generation of amenities is less about things than about intangible values. If we were to sum up the mission of these facilities in a single phrase, it might be “well being.” For residents across the generational spectrum, home is a safe, comfortable environment, but it is increasingly a place that provides the means to be healthy in body, mind and spirit.

“The type of amenities that are popular today and will continue to grow in popularity are foundationally designed around sustainability and wellness concepts that are adaptable and future-proof,” said Sheila Byrne, executive vice president of property management at The Habitat Co.  “Technology has enabled greater access to wellness information and has put personal health monitoring into the palms of our hands.”

Coworking lounges, pools, dog spas and fitness clubs are standard at many new developments, but it takes more than these features to attract Millennial or Gen Z renters. Climbing walls, squash courts, saunas and steam rooms or spectacular infinity pools provide alternatives to standard regular sports and leisure facilities. Selecting the right cutting-edge amenities is a crucial exercise, because amenities are a differentiator. The renter will choose the community with impressive, next-generation amenities over a comparable property with fewer such offerings.

“Today’s market is extremely competitive, and simple smart-home technology features, like a Nest thermostat or built-in speakers, make renters happy,” said Bentley Phillips, founder of Spaces Real Estate, a Chicago-based brokerage.

Out with the old, in with the new

Mary Cook, founder & president of Mary Cook Associates, believes that in addition to the aesthetic factor, multifamily design should also include function, livability, durability and flexibility. Image courtesy of Mary Cook Associates
Mary Cook, founder & president of Mary Cook Associates, believes that in addition to the aesthetic factor, multifamily design should also include function, livability, durability and flexibility. Image courtesy of Mary Cook Associates

As the focus turns to apartment amenities for authentic living, one community feature that developers and designers may be skipping over in the future is the theater room. “Gen Z spends so much time on technology as it is that they are in search of human interaction and experiences, rather than more screen time,” said Mary Cook, founder & president of Mary Cook Associates. Coin-operated laundries, garbage disposal units and golf simulators are likewise on the endangered list.

As for individual units, such features as radiant heat, window unit air conditioners and bathtubs will likely soon be history. It seems that not only the younger generations prefer the shower. “The preference for a shower over a tub crosses most demographics. It is more expensive to do a shower, but I believe as developers listen to residents and accommodate their lifestyle and design preferences, they will integrate showers with glass doors over tubs with a curtain whenever the target market will pay for it. The master bath should be a shower,” Cook added.

Fifield Cos. decided to not include a golf simulator at LOGAN Apartments in Chicago, one of their most recent projects, as this amenity is considered outdated. Instead the community offers a “common goods room.”
Fifield Cos. decided to not include a golf simulator at LOGAN Apartments in Chicago, one of their most recent projects, as this amenity is considered outdated. Instead the community offers a “common goods room.”

Successors to the conventional common area are taking the form of spaces that encourage social interaction and chill time. “People are really looking for connection to their community and having a service that provides both an introduction to your amenity spaces, as well as your fellow residents, is sort of that key ingredient in what renters are looking for in their living experience,” Byrne explained.

Randy Fifield, chairwoman, Fifield Realty Corp., highlights the biggest challenge for developers—being able to keep up with technology advancements. Image courtesy of Fifield Cos.
Randy Fifield, chairwoman, Fifield Realty Corp., highlights the biggest challenge for developers—being able to keep up with technology advancements. Image courtesy of Fifield Cos.

Next on the hot list are customized, curated and on-demand services that cater to residents and make their lives easier and more enjoyable. These range from on-site car-sharing centers to concierge services that offer busy residents support for housekeeping, pet care and other chores.

Fifield Cos. is making a case for “common goods rooms,” a feature of the developer’s recent LOGAN Apartments project in Chicago. “These rooms are stocked with goods that residents probably don’t want to own and store, but to which they want occasional access,” Fifield Senior Vice President Lindsey Senn explained. Examples: tools, a ladder, specialty cooking equipment, an iron and an ironing board.

Mary Cook Associates designed the 350-unit luxury community Oleander, located in Atlanta's Brookhaven neighborhood, to include meditative spaces. Image courtesy of Mary Cook Associates
Mary Cook Associates designed the 350-unit luxury community Oleander, located in Atlanta’s Brookhaven neighborhood, to include meditative spaces. Image courtesy of Mary Cook Associates

For residents, the ability to set the temperature so it’s already at the right level when you get home, check to make sure that you locked the front door before heading out, or find a dog walker on a moment’s notice will always be welcome.

“Smart technology that allows building residents to have everything at their fingertips, on their phones, through a single platform, makes their lives easier. The challenge will be obsolescence—we will all be working to keep up. Obsolete technology is worse than no technology,” said Randy Fifield, chairwoman of Fifield Realty Corp., Fifield Cos.’ development arm.

Tech me out

Lindsey Senn, senior vice president of Fifield Cos. noted the shift in focus away from scale and more toward flexibility and functionality of amenities, both equally important for today’s generations of renters. | Image courtesy of Fifield Cos.
Lindsey Senn, senior vice president of Fifield Cos. noted the shift in focus away from scale and more toward flexibility and functionality of amenities, both equally important for today’s generations of renters.  Image courtesy of Fifield Cos.

Despite technology’s central role in the home, some intriguing research hints at generational differences in how that role is perceived. A study by the cloud-based platform Vision Critical and MARU/VCR&C shows that 36 percent of Millennials “strongly agree” that science and technology can solve the world’s biggest problems; for Gen Z, that percentage slips to 30 percent. This suggests that the next cohort of renters may place somewhat less emphasis on software and hardware in the homes.

Some forward-thinking developers are planning their facilities with an eye toward giving residents a break from the constant barrage of electronic devices. Another example of apartment amenities for authentic living is the growing popularity of dedicated spaces for technology detox. These can be quiet spaces or meditation areas where noise and disruptive behavior is are not allowed. The rooms are off limits to computers and cellphones; instead, human interaction is encouraged.

“These detox spaces serve as a physical reminder to take a moment to yourself, and take a break from scrolling, so that you can refocus and sort of recharge, since sometimes our attachment to tech can be draining,” Byrne said.

Tech will be used to simplify our daily lives, while screen time will be limited in exchange for experiences that take place outdoor or focus on human interaction.

More Than Money

Bentley Phillips, founder of Spaces Real Estate, encourages multifamily developers to provide spaces that encourage interaction, community-building and socializing. Image courtesy of Spaces Real Estate
Bentley Phillips, founder of Spaces Real Estate, encourages multifamily developers to provide spaces that encourage interaction, community-building and socializing. Image courtesy of Spaces Real Estate

For developers and owners considering apartment amenities for authentic living, the question is ultimately a matter of return on capital. Is it worth investing in this new generation of amenities? Early indications are that the answer is yes. Cutting-edge amenities generate an average increase in monthly rent of up to $150, Byrne estimates, but the exact premium depends on myriad factors. And residents seem to have no problem paying more.

“Today, Millennials spend upwards of 40 percent of their income on their living expenses in an effort to create the lifestyle experience they want within their homes,” Phillips noted. Part of those expenses are amenity fees, which have become extremely prevalent in the last two years due to the high demand for cutting-edge facilities. A landlord can benefit from the economies of scale by bundling services for residents, Phillips added. “It’s really a controlled cost of sorts for both landlords and renters, typically offering a savings to each of them.”

Things might change in the future, as Gen Z constitutes become the main renter pool. The Vision Critical report shows that those born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s are more conservative spenders than their Millennial counterparts. The financial aspect will lose ground compared to other values, such as sustainability.

As Cook observes, there is no direct correlation between the biggest spend and the optimum design: “Careful consideration for who we are designing for, where they live, and what that means to how they live should include function, livability, durability, flexibility, and of course, beauty. Working together, they will drive the best amenity spaces.”

Read the June 2019 issue of MHN.