The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shift to hybrid and remote work have had an indelible effect on the amenities that multifamily residents want most.
Gone is the amenities arms race of the pre-pandemic era, when developers created an array of specialized offerings to attract young professionals. Instead, remote work dominated common space outside units, and many one-time entertainment venues, such as demonstration kitchens or theater rooms, have taken on a second life during the weekday as coworking centers.
Here, Multifamily Dive asks professionals from across the industry about the amenities that will resonate most with renters. Read on for a list of the features that renters are likely to be looking for in 2023.
Subdivided, flexible work spaces
Given the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, common spaces are not used for large gatherings as often as they once were.
“Theater rooms and things like that are kind of falling out of favor,” Ryan Kimura, senior vice president of strategic partnerships at Dallas-based design firm Premier, told Multifamily Dive. “They were somewhat used in buildings before, but now, especially with the pandemic, people are a little bit more cautious to be in a room with a bunch of people that they don't know.”
However, with many multifamily residents working from home on a permanent or hybrid basis, these rooms can gain new uses as workspaces for individuals or small groups.
Gary McLuskey, managing director of global design for Greystar, has observed a surge in demand for workspace at properties across the world. In response, he and his team have looked for ways that common areas can double as both lounges and quiet spaces.
“What we're trying to look at now with amenity space is, if you take a lounge space, could you work from that lounge space? What does it take? Do we need to run more electrical cabling, so that people can plug in laptops?” McLuskey told Multifamily Dive. “If you're thinking about designing workspace for your multifamily, you should also be thinking about, how could the lounge space be used as a workspace? How could the demonstration kitchen be used as a workspace?”
Given a large, empty common room, “what our design team may do is layer a couple of really big rugs with some tables and chairs, so it feels like I'm insulated in this round circle of friends even though there's four or five others in the building,” Kimura said.
The idea is to create the feel of a neighborhood coffee shop — a place where residents can be surrounded by others but still have their own space, he said.
Beyond the need for solitary workspace, McLuskey has observed that small, isolated pockets of amenities scattered around a multifamily building become problematic when people are worried about catching a virus. While people would like to be alone in small pockets of space, they do not want to be in small groups — particularly not with strangers. This limits both the number of people that can use an amenity at a given time and resident interaction.
Instead, he and his team focus on grouping amenities into a more open common space. “One of the things that we're focused on is trying to consolidate amenity spaces, make them bigger, more connected, less cellular,” McLuskey said. “Why wouldn’t you use furniture pieces to integrate say the post room into the lobby, and create larger spaces?”
Columbus, Ohio-based design and architecture firm MA Design is also taking this approach, according to project coordinator Caroline Kerka.
“Flexible space makes living, working and playing all in the same space possible,” Kerka said. “Tenants want to get out of their apartments and gather in more public spaces. When shared spaces are programmed correctly, they'll likely continue to grow in popularity.”
Smaller leasing offices
Years ago, leasing offices needed a whole room for paper files that had to be kept for every resident for a certain amount of time. Now that most systems are paperless, leasing agents only need a couple of private offices in case residents want to have a conversation behind closed doors and a break room for employees, Paige Byrd, co-president of Dallas-based interior design firm Thiel & Thiel, told Multifamily Dive.
“The goal recently has been to minimize the leasing footprint and the transactional experience of sitting down across a desk from someone, so as soon as potential residents walk in, they’re experiencing the club space and the co-working spaces,” she said. “At the end of the day, the manager can lock up the small leasing area, and the rest of the space is available to residents 24/7.”
At some properties, the space taken from shrinking leasing office square footage is now given over to fitness areas, she said.
One service that Kimura has found to be successful in multifamily buildings is household items available for rent, like vacuum cleaners or drills, that tenants may only need temporarily.
“A lot of times people really need to go drill a couple holes in the wall to hang some pictures but really don't need a $100 drill,” Kimura said. “Think of a concierge feel [for the service], like at a hotel.”
In certain locations — including a new project Premier is working on in Tempe, Arizona — rentable items could extend all the way to outdoor equipment, like a bike or a kayak. “[Some people] may want to own a kayak, but if you’ve ever seen a kayak in an apartment, it's typically on the patio [or] on the balcony leaning up against the wall,” Kimura said.
Renting, in this case, would solve residents’ storage issues for specialized equipment they may only use a few times a year.
Based on success in the hospitality industry, some developers have taken advantage of a growing trend by providing a small convenience market somewhere on their property, where residents can grab items and charge them to their units, according to Kimura. This provides an additional service for renters and an additional revenue stream for the property.
“Developers can't really push rents by 20% every year,” Kimura said. “So they think, ‘Can I capture some revenue from someone just walking down the street to 7-11 or something like that, then have it be sort of an amenity as well?’”
Health and wellness
Ryan Moody, vice president of creative design at Cleveland-based multifamily firm The NRP Group, said health and wellness will be an important component of amenity packages moving forward.
“We’ve found a lot of success doubling down on our fitness centers,” said Moody. “Where in the past the company had gone the more traditional route of providing cardio and weight machines, it has introduced a wider array of fitness options in recent times, including opportunities for yoga, Pilates and other fitness programs.
NRP is also looking at adding ancillary spaces to fitness centers that function as lounges for users.
“I think [of it as] a gathering space, where a lot of people interact, and having things [there] like juice bars and different hydration methods. I think this is something that has a lot of potential and opportunity within our complexes,” Moody said.
The great outdoors
Multifamily saw a surge in demand for outdoor spaces at the start of the pandemic, and residents are still looking for indoor-outdoor connections in their living experiences, according to Alex Walenta, executive vice president and head of asset management at Chicago-based developer Fifield Cos., told Multifamily Dive.
“Demand will continue for amenities that support remote work but also for those that enable residents to enjoy the outdoors, such as resort-style terraces and rooftop decks,” Walenta said. “We are seeing more designs that bring the outdoors in and establish better indoor-outdoor connections.”
In addition to standard courtyards, some multifamily properties are getting more creative with outdoor offerings, including Crossfit exercise yards and meditation gardens. Kerka emphasizes how much residents specifically value being able to enjoy outdoor spaces that are specifically close to home.
“Being stuck at home has brought everyone out. We learned the benefits of biophilia during the pandemic, but people want to get outside, not just bring the outside in,” Kerka said. “Shared courtyards, pool decks, rooftops and balconies become places that feel like the public park or other space we yearned for during COVID, but with the comfort of staying within your building or complex, and private balconies become yards and safe havens.”
Amenities for pets
Experts are unequivocal about the need for pet amenities in multifamily properties. Moody has observed a surge in the number of residents with pets since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of now over half of residents at any given NRP Group property have a furry friend living on site.
In particular, dog wash stations are almost a necessity, according to Kimura. “If you don't have one, and you cater to dogs and you're doing a renovation, you're looking for where to put one.”
Walenta echoed this sentiment — and emphasized the importance of pet amenities for resident satisfaction. “The convenience of having a place to keep one’s pet groomed, such as a well-equipped pet spa, [and] a space that gives them access to the outdoors for nature breaks and playtime is something residents value,” she said.
Connection to community
In a recent survey of 1,500 apartment residents, a vast majority expressed a desire to support local businesses, volunteer in their communities and socialize with neighbors.
Both Millennials and Gen Z — two of the main renter cohorts — value the sense that they are connected to the surrounding community, according to Brad Lutz, managing principal and residential practice leader at Orlando, Florida-based Baker Barrios Architects.
“It’s very important there be a unique identity to a building and its common spaces,” Lutz said. “This is true for both Millennials and Gen Z – the desire to be associated with a particular neighborhood/community rather than it just being a place to live. They want their address to be reflective of who they are.”
One way Lutz proposes bringing the community in is to create spaces that are accessible to the public — including cafes and co-working spaces. “This brings vibrancy to these previous under-used elements by opening them up to a broader audience,” Lutz said. “All of this points to the growing emphasis on curating a hospitality-like environment and creating spaces that residents will want to frequent (and host guests in) on a regular basis.