The Future of Multifamily Amenities

A new survey from NMHC reveals some surprising results about what renters really want.
The NMHC OPTECH 2019 conference. Photo by Holly Dutton

Renter preferences in the U.S. may be shifting toward tech-centric amenities like video doorbells and smart locks, but longstanding, traditional features are still just as important as ever.  

In one of the largest surveys undertaken in the multifamily industry, 373,000 renters across the country responded to the 2019 Renter Preferences Survey, created and undertaken in a partnership between the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) and research firm Kingsley Associates. Respondents came from 5,000 apartment communities owned or managed by 31 multifamily firms across the U.S.

Overall, the top amenity for renters was central air conditioning, followed by soundproof walls, garbage disposal, high-speed internet access and reliable cell reception. However, the rankings varied widely depending on the metro area.

The survey also tracked which amenity generated the biggest increase in interest from 2017, with video doorbells taking the top spot. Among the most-desired community amenities, residents ranked reliable cell reception as number one, followed by recycling, visitor parking, non-smoking buildings and modular closet systems.

AMENITIES ON THE RISE

Video doorbell products like Ring and Nest and electric vehicle charging stations are two amenities that have gained a lot of steam over the past few years. Of those surveyed, 25 percent of residents were interested in electric car charging stations at their community.

One of the more surprising revelations from the survey surrounded how prospective renters see new apartments. While most respondents still preferred to see an apartment with a person from the leasing team, 16 percent of those surveyed said they would be interested in self-guided tours.

That statistic sparked a lot of interest for multifamily executives, who were split on whether it was worth it to invest in the technology. 

“I don’t want this to be the Airbnb of seven years ago,” said Kevin Thompson, chief marketing officer for Carlisle Properties. “I think it’s great, we just need to go in with eyes open.”

For developers of multifamily communities, the timeline of when a community is first being planned to when it is fully leased up can often take two to three years, if not more. By the time a property opens, an amenity that was hugely popular a few years ago could already be obsolete.

Apple docking stations were once all the rage among multifamily properties and hotels. But when the tech company changed the way iPhones and iPods were built, the stations became useless.

“It’s not about predicting the future, but it is about understanding and leveraging trends,” said Michael Gomes, chief experience office at Cortland.

TACKLING TOP ISSUES

One of the most revealing questions asked why renters move out of communities, with 31 percent responding that they were seeking better management.

Panelists discussing the results of the survey pointed out that in many cases, maintenance workers are the only representatives from the company that actually interact face-to-face and on a regular basis with residents.

“I don’t know that we as an industry are training our maintenance staff the best way we can,” said Thompson.

Another one of the biggest issues management firms have is communication. Residents interacting with on-site teams are often set off when “they feel they are being disrespected.”

“That’s when the bad reviews come in,” said Laurel Zacher, vice president of marketing & talent development at Security Properties Residential. A large percentage of residents expect management to respond to every single online review of the community or company. According to Zacher, if a community has less than 3.5 out of a 5-star rating, they wouldn’t even bother visiting a property.