Healthy Occupancy Hinges on Winning the Apartment Amenities Arms Race

Thoughtful amenities that promote social gathering and congregation, like the resident lounge and clubroom at Vineyard Commons in Highlands, New York can pay dividends for developers in terms of increased renewal rates. Village Green manages the property.

When deciding where to live, the choice isn’t always a matter of finding the newest property on the market. Oftentimes it comes down to which property can most effectively meet and exceed your expectations as a renter.

For example, these two “blind” multifamily rental listings identified below are within the same five-mile radius in Upstate New York. They’re both firmly in the luxury rental space and offer in-unit washers and dryers and dishwashers.

In other words, they’re practically identical in terms of location and necessities. Can you guess which of the two commands a higher rental price and much more interest from renters?

Beth Janney, Village Green Management

Property A: Built in 2018, average unit size of 1,180 square feet, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, community fitness center, dog park, private patio.

Property B: Built in 2010, average unit size of 1,395 square feet, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, community fitness center, dog park, shared outdoor and indoor spaces.

If you guessed property B, you’re right. You’re also probably wondering if you’ve heard the full story about that rental property and its amenities.

That community fitness center? It’s filled with new equipment from Wellbeats and Peloton. That dog park? It’s a full-on playground for pets, with agility equipment to go along with ample water and toys. Those shared indoor and outdoor spaces? They’re the glue that holds the community together, and they feature grills, planter boxes with fresh herbs to use while you’re cooking, a community garden and a billiards room.

These kinds of “wow-factor” amenities have become key decision drivers for renters. In fact, throughout the Northeast, older properties with great amenities often command higher prices per square foot than similar units in brand new buildings.

Luckily, developers and property managers don’t need to break the bank to offer these types of  amenities. They just need to be thoughtful. Here are seven pieces of advice for devising and implementing an effective amenities strategy.

1. Yesterday’s wow-factors are today’s expectations: Free Wi-Fi, Nest thermostats and coffee in the lobby were once considered state-of-the-art amenities, but now, they’re simply par for the course. These offerings are a good place to start, but developers will need to go above and beyond the basics to woo renters.     

2. Certain amenities never go out of style: If you go high-tech with your amenities, be prepared to update them regularly. Instead, you’d be wise to consider timeless extras: community gardens, libraries, art studios, bocce ball courts billiards rooms — all of which stand the test of time. Rather than offering “free coffee” in the lobby, raise the wow factor with an espresso machine or even a resident barista.

3. Create cornerstones for your community: Community gardens, art studios, bocce ball courts and billiards rooms also have an important element in common: They’re wonderful places for renters to congregate, chat and make new friends. These amenities can elevate the quality of life for everyone living there.

4. Understand your market and community: In a 55-and-older rental property we manage, the most popular amenity is a kegerator. Each tenant has a card that treats him or her to 16 ounces of free beer every day, and that shared space has become a go-to spot for socializing. The same setup wouldn’t work as well in a building full of 20-somethings. When exploring amenities, understanding your community demographic is a must; it will determine your opportunities and limitations.

5. Cost-effective amenities can go a long way: Gardens, grill-side herb planters and bocce ball courts don’t require much overhead to implement. The same goes for tropical plants that provide privacy around the pool — and not just free coffee, but great free coffee. Still, renters consider these to be unique and helpful conveniences. You don’t need to spend much to make a big impact.

6. Simple ideas for older rental properties: If you’re looking to breathe life into an older property, there are some easy and cost-effective starting points. You can add USB ports to the power outlets and install smart thermostats in each unit. Updated furniture and paint jobs in common areas can make your property much more inviting for renters. Ultimately, you can save a lot of money by exploring small upgrades before splurging on a full renovation.

7. Make it easy to upgrade down the line: High-tech amenities are a double-edged sword: They’re often a deciding factor for renters, but they also don’t age well. (After all, that 15-year-old unit with built-in iPod docks doesn’t seem so modern now.) If you invest in high-tech perks,
consider standalone devices that don’t require complex installation, as these features will make upgrading or replacing them much less costly.

To stay competitive in the world of amenities, you ultimately need a property management firm that knows the landscape. The best management firms understand residents’ needs, pinpoint opportunities that fit within their clients’ budget and work with developers and owners to address renter needs head-on.

After all, amenities aren’t just deal-sweeteners anymore. For many renters, they deserve top billing.

— By Beth Janney, director of Northeast region, Village Green Management. This article first appeared in the November-December issue of Northeast Real Estate Business magazine. 

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