Not every apartment building can be surrounded by restaurants and have access to a grocery store next door. Can community spaces help make up for a boring location?
“Absolutely,” says Jay Hiemenz, president and chief operating officer with Alliance Residential Company, a privately-owned multifamily firm headquartered in Phoenix. “If residents have friends in the property it can help them push aside the lack of great location. Community spaces can create a great environment for residents to spend time together.”
Developers still say that “location” is the most valuable feature a multifamily property can provide. But amenities like great community spaces, programmed with activities, can help an apartment building attract renters even if it’s not in a busy neighborhood. Community spaces can also help apartment buildings in strong locations earn even higher rents.
Many different kinds of community space
The form community spaces take can change depending on the needs of the renters at the property.
“We take a deep dive into the neighborhood and the lifestyle of our future residents and customize our common area amenities based on what we find,” says Toni Reeves, executive director of real estate for investment and management firm Greystar. Renters enjoy hammock parks, outdoor theaters, indoor and outdoor fitness facilities, micro lounge rooms, yoga lawns and loggias at Greystar properties.
“Social interactivity in the space is hugely important,” says Hiemenz. “The old clubhouses that are big empty spaces are being replaced by package storage, Wii fitness, golf simulators, demonstration kitchens, etc.”
These community spaces can also look nicer. “We have also begun to look at other industries for inspiration, from hospitality, restaurants and single-family master-planned communities,” says Reeves. “Lighting, whether it is festive lighting, lawn orbs or two dozen twinkle pendant lights, can create a sense of place and an inviting atmosphere.”
Swimming pools still matter
Pools are still one of the most popular amenities in warmer parts of the country, according to the latest Resident Preferences Survey, conducted every year by the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC). Renters rate pools at an average of 4.39 on NMHC’s five-point scale, in which 4.0 equals “interested” and 5.0 equals “very interested.” That’s ahead of every other amenity except for parking.
“In the warmer climates such as Florida, the Southeast, Texas and Southern California to name a few, pools really matter,” says Chip Bay, executive managing director and national practice leader for construction and development at Mill Creek Residential Trust, a multifamily development and investment firm. “They’re less important in the Pacific Northwest.”
Some of the most valuable amenities turn out to be practical things. For example, renters say parking is the amenity they are most interested in, according to the survey. Renters rate parking at an average of 4.74 on NMHC’s five-point scale, in which 4.0 equals “interested” and 5.0 equals “very interested.” Secured community access, recycling and non-smoking buildings also scored above 4.0.
“Safety and security tend to continue to be important for all,” says Hiemenz.
Cell phone service is another amenity that rarely makes the lists—but for many renters, especially those who rely on cell phones, bad services can rule out an apartment. The ability to get fast Internet service is also important, and not just for younger renters. “We see many more people working from home, which requires great connectivity and a sense of place to work from,” says John W. Gray, head of investments for Lennar Multifamily Communities, a developer of luxury residential communities.
Apartment communities also benefit from serving any specific needs their renters might have. “Pet friendly communities and pet services seem important to a growing number of people. If you don’t have those services, then you aren’t capturing the pet owner,” says Hiemenz.