What’s to Come for Multifamily Development, Design

7 min read

Experts at the International Builders’ Show forecast demographic and aesthetic trends for the year ahead.

Walter Hughes, vice president & chief innovation officer, Humphreys and Partners Architects; Richard Gollis, founding principal, The Concord Group; Brooke Collins, regional manager Florida, Builders Design; John Zeledon, founder & chief executive, OneEleven Residential. Image by Diana Mosher

There’s no doubt multifamily design has changed since the pandemic. Renters want more square footage—at lower price points—and they are willing to relocate for both. Increasingly they are opting for single-family rentals instead of apartments.

During “Multifamily Product, Unit and Amenity Trends,” a session moderated by Walter Hughes, vice president & chief innovation officer, Humphreys and Partners Architects at NAHB‘s International Builders’ Show in Orlando, panelists discussed the features shaping successful multifamily development in 2022 and beyond.

New Demographic Patterns

One factor that will continue to drive design decisions as well as operations is the changing renter demographic, according to Richard Gollis, founding principal, The Concord Group.

“When we start to think about programming and amenities, you need to understand the composition of this growth in your local market,” he said.

Some are renters by choice, but others are only renters until they can afford a down payment to buy. Also, when apartment prospects migrate from the most expensive cities like San Francisco and New York to more moderately priced markets, their housing budget goes much further. So they may be looking for enhanced amenities.

Gollis added that future multifamily growth is coming from older profiles, because there are fewer young people coming through the pipeline than folks who are aging.

“The 35 to 50 age group is a market that’s changing over time, and they will be working their way through as the dominant factor in our housing market,” he said. Any design of a project for long term sustainability and income—and the ability to compete—has to recognize that shift. “The conversation around programming and amenities for multifamily needs to reflect prospects in their thirties, forties and fifties.”

The Amenities Race Picks Up

Lyric at Norton Commons in Louisville, Ky., offers many spaces with luxe hotel-like finishes (pictured) plus a heated saltwater pool, pet spa, lending “library” for larger kitchen items residents might need—and a makers space for crafting, furniture assembly and classes. Image courtesy of Builders Design

Deurbanization is still a large trend in multifamily product development as work from home remains popular and companies continue moving out of tier one cities, according to Brooke Collins, regional manager Florida, Builders Design. The luxury market of 55+ Baby Boomers continue to sell their homes so they can enjoy a more convenient lifestyle. They’re seeking multifamily living that incorporates retail, a coffee shop in the lobby, bike storage, pet spas and cold locker storage for meal and grocery delivery—many of the same amenities that younger apartment residents crave.

Collins also said more hotels will be taking a page from the successful Ritz-Carlton model and offering branded residences for people to buy or rent long term. Certainly, the hospitality influence is continuing to affect how Builders Design approaches the multifamily market.

“Our higher-end product gives that hotel-like feel with luxurious finishes, concierge-level services and valet parking. Residents want the boutique hospitality feel, but it’s really the connectivity that they are looking for. So we’re creating communities that are very social and active,” added Collins.

“Outdoor spaces and balconies are absolutely must haves for multifamily. Also, renters are really wanting lots of bathrooms with higher-end finishes that create a luxury spa feel,” said Collins.

Of course work nooks and other spaces that enable work from home and unit flexibility for a range of activities are super important. Larger units are much in demand. So is security technology as well as state-of-the art fitness centers offering yoga and cycling studios.

Wellness is still a hot trend. “So are juice bars, healthy grab-and-go food stations, even pickle ball—and it’s not just the 55 plus demographic,” said Collins. “Millennials statistically are the generation that spend the most time with their kids. Amenity spaces where they can have that interaction to bond with their kids will speak to them when they’re looking for a place to live.” On the flip side, sanctuary and meditation spaces provide a quiet place to get away from the family. “This is a huge amenity,” said Collins.

The water and fire concept (having a luxury pool with a fire pit nearby) is also continuing to trend. So are outdoor movies lawns and dog parks. “Every single community has to be pet friendly at this point,” said Collins.

From Robots to Podcast Studios

Technology is also changing how apartment developers plan their offerings. It does seem futuristic, Collins said, but one of her clients has signed a contract for robots that deliver packages and food to apartment units. Another tech innovation is the ability to improve spaces that do not have outdoor views or where it is impossible to place a window. It’s a tempered glass product with LED lighting that creates the feel of the outdoors.

“All of a sudden, creation is a huge trend in multifamily amenity spaces,” Collins noted. It’s being driven by the Gen Z demographic and younger millennials. “Some residents are side hustlers, TikTokers and Instagram influencers,” said Collins.

They’re creating content that’s leading to significant revenue streams, but it’s also a hobby. So developers are incorporating podcast studios, sometimes with a soundproof room, along with video and audio equipment. Music rooms as well as gaming and VR lounges are also on the rise.

Co-working continues to evolve with more options for different types of activities. In addition to lounge settings, Collins suggested incorporating phone booths, Zoom rooms, conference rooms, private spaces for people to work individually and collaboration zones.

“Really mix up the variety of furniture, and have indoor-outdoor connectivity if you can offer spaces outdoors for people to bring their laptops,” she said. “Having workspaces on each floor is a really great concept because they don’t have to pack up their stuff and head all the way to the club room area or the centralized community hub.”

Last but not least, the leasing experience is changing as new ideas trickle down from retail where experiential selling is taking off. Prospective renters don’t walk into an office to sit down at a desk with a leasing agent. Instead they grab a cup of coffee, sit down on the sofa and have a more casual conversation.

Residents Crave Convenience

Apartment units at The Lake House in Orlando draw inspiration from custom home design with real wood cabinetry, built-ins and generously sized refrigerators and freezers. Image courtesy of OneEleven Residential

“The interesting and challenging thing from my perspective is all these trends come and go,” said John Zeledon, founder & chief executive, OneEleven Residential. “I can remember when it was that tennis court or sports court you had to have. Now, if you drive up to a property and you see a sports court, you know it was built in 1983.”

Right now, according to Zeledon, you have to have a pool and you have to have fitness. At Lake House Apartments, a nine-story, 252-unit multifamily property in the trendy Ivanhoe Village neighborhood near downtown Orlando, OneEleven Residential created a distinctive fitness space with a reclaimed gym floor that had originally been installed in 1954 in a Green Bay, Wisc., high school. This unique feature, plus amazing views from the ninth floor amenity lounge, have helped convert leads to leases while also increasing the overall value of the asset.

In fact, OneEleven Residential recently sold Lake House Apartments to Lincoln Property Co. for a staggering $132.5 million—more than $525,793 per unit—setting a new record for the North Florida area. “We had the highest rents in town by a lot,” said Zeledon. “We had one resident paying almost $12,000 a month. Our rent roll was 70 percent concession free.”

In the design-driven amenities war, one of the most competitive features of all is convenience, noted Zeledon. When residents move in to Lake House Apartments, there is a loading dock for two full-size semis and a dedicated staging area.

According to Zeledon, when developers are site planning and working with their architects and other consultants, it’s important to keep in mind all the little details that create convenience for apartment residents. “If it’s a pain to park and get to their home, they are going to move.”

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