Given the active pace of new multifamily development over the past few years, many would expect the US apartment market to begin reaching equilibrium with a gradual tapering off of new unit deliveries. While certain submarkets are beginning to experience slower absorption, others continue to outperform. Whichever side of the development pendulum you are on, it is critical now more than ever to differentiate your product to better appeal to a more discerning and selective resident base. In order to maintain a competitive edge in 2017, savvy developers must adopt creative solutions that will appeal to the resident of today and tomorrow. Here are four noteworthy multifamily trends that will emerge in 2017:
1. Rethink Amenities
Amenities should reflect the needs, wants and lifestyles of a community’s residents. These spaces, functions and features are often primary selling points for a community, but often become repetitive and can get lost among a host of competitive properties. What new features and amenities can be offered going forward? Given the increasing amount of online purchases by resident, consider amenities like refrigerated lockers for home grocery delivery and customer-centric package delivery and pick-up options. Keeping the end user top of mind and monitoring lifestyle trends will ensure a relevant, competitive offering.
2. Creative Parking Solutions
Even though we know the use of ride sharing services will continue to rise in 2017 and beyond, most new urban multifamily projects today still need to accommodate parking on site for its residents and guests. Certain municipalities are doing away with or significantly reducing the number of required parking spaces in new urban developments by incentivizing developers and residents to promote and use alternative modes of transportation or services like Uber and Lyft. As a developer in the Southeast, we know we need to design and accommodate parking for today’s needs, but we also need to do so in a way that allows us to transform the use of the space down the road as living and transportation modes change. Building a parking lot or parking garage with another future use in mind allows developers to easily adapt to these future changes. Consider ideas like retrofitting parking garage spaces into income-producing storage units or private garage space. Before building traditional parking structures, be sure to craft a plan to turn it into usable space down the road. When the time comes (and you know it will), you’ll be ready to meet the needs of your residents while creating additional value.
3. Reemergence of Suburban Living
For the past five years or so, developers have paid a lot of attention to urban development and the desire to move back to traditional downtowns. But let’s face it: it’s expensive to build in urban areas and, quite often, expensive to live there. On top of that, not every resident is a millennial who wants to live, work and play downtown. 2017 will see an increased shift toward more suburban development with urban-living amenities. The suburbs are coming back in a way that will cater to the same types of living options (studios, as well as 1–3 bedroom units) coupled with more dining, retail and transportation options in a walkable setting. In the past, multifamily living was principally a short-term living solution for many renters, but now we’re seeing more residents become renters by choice and commit to multifamily living for the long term. From the retired Baby Boomer couple seeking to live just a short walk from the grocery store and restaurants (and the grandkids), to the work-from-home millennial seeking an active community setting with opportunities to engage with fellow residents, suburban living options can cater to multiple lifestyles with the right mix of uses in a walkable setting.
4. Customer Service is Critical
Outstanding customer service is a hallmark of all great companies. As markets become more competitive, companies need to re-commit their focus toward delivering a fantastic living experience for their residents. At the end of the day, great customer service is what will lead to more leases, higher renewal percentages and long term satisfied residents.
Dan Doyle is vice president at The Beach Company, headquartered in Charleston, S.C. The Beach Company has five generations of family ownership with development projects spanning across the Charleston area and the Southeast region.