By Ryan Kirby, Village Green
In the understatement of all understatements, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed a few things in the housing market. Supply chain disruptions, labor shortages and the astronomical rise in the price of lumber have all exacerbated the steady decline in new home construction. For more than a year, home prices have been on the rise, making purchasing a home a challenge — or even an impossibility — for many.
As a result, the rental market is booming, but that’s not entirely due to COVID. In fact, the rise in rentals began taking shape long before COVID made its impact on the world. Then, new challenges and norms created by the pandemic accelerated these existing trends.
Ultimately, more Americans are choosing to rent due to generational, financial and practical factors, not just situational factors related to COVID. That said, the pandemic has fundamentally changed what renters are looking for in a rental unit, and these preferences are likely to continue long after the coronavirus is a distant memory.
For property managers, this means playing into the trends of what today’s renters are looking for. Keeping these renter preferences in mind won’t just make your properties more attractive to potential tenants; they’ll also help you differentiate from your competition, boost your occupancy rates and make your properties a hot commodity.
A new approach to shared spaces: Communal spaces have long been designed as open, flowing areas that can be used in a variety of ways. In today’s world, there is a greater emphasis on social distancing, and the majority of Americans with white-collar jobs are still working from home.
To accommodate the “new normal,” it’s important to rethink your shared-space strategy: A modular approach that includes private work areas and high-speed connectivity will give your tenants a comfortable, safe and reliable area to work remotely if they need a change of scenery from their own unit.
Optimize live/work spaces: Along similar lines, rental units now double as home offices. As a result, more and more renters are looking for an extra room to accommodate a dedicated work space, and those that can’t afford the monthly costs of an extra bedroom are looking for creative solutions.
You might think about adding built-in workspaces to studio and one-bedroom apartments, plenty of shared spaces to accommodate remote work, free Wi-Fi for tenants and high-quality coffee in the lobby. Think about every convenience you’d want in a home office and make those features accessible to everyone.
Elevate the quality of life with amenities: In order to entice today’s renters, the quality of your amenities matters just as much as the quantity. Instead of simply having a fitness center, why not make it a state-of-the-art facility with Peloton and Wellbeats equipment? Instead of having free coffee in a self-serve dispenser in the lobby, why not go the extra mile with an espresso machine or resident barista?
You don’t need an insane budget for incredible amenities: Communal gardens, dog parks, art studios, bocce ball courts and events are all cost-effective ways to attract and retain renters.
Give renters the community they crave: If you create an emotional connection between your renters, their neighbors and your property, you’re more likely to sign existing tenants to long-term agreements. The pandemic forced property owners and managers to be more creative with community programs, often to great effect.
We provided high-school graduates with virtual commencement ceremonies in many of our properties, as most of them didn’t get to have that experience at their schools. Virtual trivia nights, virtual happy hours, delivering flowers on Mother’s Day and handing out donuts in the morning and wine in the evening are all simple ways to nurture that sense of community and connection.
What’s the common thread that runs through all these best practices for property owners and managers? It’s more important than ever to focus on the value you provide to renters.
Individually, a thoughtful approach to shared spaces, work-from-home conveniences, awesome amenities and fun community-building activities might entice a renter here and a renter there. But if you provide them all, you’re likely to attract enthusiastic new tenants and loyal long-term renters in droves. Your property will simply become the place to be.
Ryan Kirby is the executive vice president of Village Green Management. This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Heartland Real Estate Business magazine.