What Today’s Renters Want

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In what was called “definitely a trend to watch,” almost half the respondents to the latest bi-annual Renter Preferences Survey Report by the National Multifamily Housing Council and Grace Hill, said they’d be open to the idea of being able to move at will between communities within an apartment community’s brand.

Several major apartment owners are looking into the vacation club concept for their properties, according to Rick Haughey, the NMHC’s vice president of Industry Technology Initiatives, who previewed the poll’s findings at the National Association of Real Estate Editors conference in Miami, moderated by Multi-Housing News’ Editor-in-Chief Jessica Fiur.

Leasing Flexibility

It’s the first time residents living in professionally managed properties were asked the question, and 46 percent of the 221,559 respondents—”Not an insignificant number,” Haughey told the assembled real estate writers from throughout the country—replied in the affirmative. He called them “digital nomads.”

“Interesting enough,” the NMHC executive said, “those who moved during the pandemic—especially those who were able to totally untether thanks to remote work policies—are especially open to different types of leasing agreements.”

Those who didn’t move during the pandemic weren’t keen on the club concept.

Haughey said he expected only a little bit of interest in the idea. But the survey found otherwise, especially among those in the 35-44 and 45-54 age groups. In these middle-age cohorts, about 60 percent of those who moved because of a shift to remote work gave the idea a thumbs up.

The full survey results will be released at NMHC’s annual meeting in January. With such robust results, pollsters will be able to cut the data base—”The largest in the country,” Haughey said—into reports for 79 cities and surrounding areas, with the heaviest concentration on the coasts.

The research covers residents in every type of multifamily unit in both urban and suburban locations. They were polled in September and October.

Report Details

The NMHC staff is still parsing the results. “There’s a lot more data to dig into,” Haughey said. Still, he was able to give the audience a fairly detailed report.

For example, a total of 60 percent said they had moved since the start of the pandemic 18 months ago. And of those, 25 percent did so because they shifted to working remotely. To put the 60 percent figure in context, only 26.7 percent of apartment households move in 2019, according to Census Bureau data.

In a finding that has implications for future design, only 35 percent indicated an interest in a shared workspace area within their apartment communities. Yet, 64 percent said they expect to continue working remotely at about the same amount as they have been. So apartment operators must decide whether to design co-working spaces or add extra space to individual units.

Also, the same group who moved within the last 18 months showed some interest in being able to list their rental units on short-term rental sites like VRBO or Airbnb. About 30 percent were neutral on the idea, though, and slightly more than 10 percent wouldn’t rent in a place where short-term subleasing was allowed. At the same time, less than 5 percent wouldn’t rent if subleasing was not permitted.

Here, the most interest was among young renters in the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups. Older residents, on the other hand, seem to have only passing interest in allowing someone else to live in their spaces.

Amenity Preferences

With the explosion of the single-family rental sector, the survey looked at how renters in those properties differ from those in more traditional rental communities, with a finding that people living alone are apartment residents, two to one over single-family renters. Single parents also favor apartments, but just slightly, while couples with or without children and those living with roommates prefer single-family units.

Internet access has become more important than ever. Indeed, nearly nine out of 10 respondents said they wouldn’t rent without it. “Only air conditioning, in-unit washers and dryers and soundproof walls ranked higher,” Haughey reported.

But the survey was able to determine what residents are doing on the internet on a daily basis. Most are streaming videos and/or music, and two-thirds use it as their phones. Almost two in five use the Internet for teleconferences. But a significant 31 percent use it to play games.

Only 18 percent go online for remote learning, and just 5 percent use it for telehealth purposes. But of that latter figure, 34 percent say they connect to health services several times a year.

In another finding, 54 percent wouldn’t rent without high speed Internet, and a majority has an interest in pre-installed wi-fi, especially among older renters.

“How connectivity gets managed on site is a huge issue for apartment owners and managers,” Haughey told the audience. “There is a big debate in the industry about the value of bulk wi-fi.”

Given that, the survey asked whether respondents would be interest in one-stop technology that would allow immediate connectivity on move-in, seamless connectivity throughout and on-going support provided by their property managers.

For the most part, respondents said they’d prefer to work with providers directly. Only the youngest renters like the idea, but only if it was included in their rent.

The survey also covered smart home technologies, with these results: 60 percent wanted smart locks and that was the lowest number. The other choices, ranked in ascending order were: smart glass, 61 percent; smart lighting, 62 percent; smart security, 66 percent; water saving features, 67 percent; leak detection, 68 percent; and smart thermostats, 70 percent.

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