Apartments are a hot commodity right now. Occupancies in the market-rate sector are fully stabilized in most areas of the country. An emerging trend in the market-rate space is that of creating a lifestyle experience. No longer are we just providing housing‑our residents want their homes to be part of a larger life experience. This is being accomplished through a wide array of amenities, unit interior features, programs, and services.
The experiential economy is all around us, but affordable housing is often left out of the discussion. While there’s no doubt that the cost of extensive amenities and high-dollar interior finishes is not financially feasible for affordable properties, opportunities can be found to deliver a lifestyle experience for residents. And there is a serious incentive to do so. Reducing turnover translates into a bigger bottom line through lower expenditures for redecoration, advertising, marketing, and concessions, not to mention eliminating vacancy loss.
Here are 5 best practices that can enhance the experience lifestyle in affordable communities.
1. Cater to Convenience
Start with an understanding of what residents value. The millennial generation occupies a large percentage of apartments with Generation X not far behind. People want convenience, and they desire a sense of community. From a physical standpoint, a few electrical outlets in an apartment can be changed to include USB charging ports. The cost for this is nominal (about $8 per outlet) and speaks to the convenience factor.
2. Create Gathering Spaces
Many properties have an abundance of common areas and even clubhouses or clubrooms. Often this space is sparsely furnished and may not even be available except on a reservation basis. This is a great opportunity to create gathering spaces‑something that promotes the sense of community. Comfortable furniture can be added and club facilities can be opened for use throughout the day, evenings, and weekends.
3. Pander to Pets
People are crazier about pets than ever before. Our firm has moved from a “no pets” policy to welcoming pets (within certain weight limits). As carpets need replaced, we’re using plank-style flooring that helps reduce the ill effects of pet messes. Our firm also is installing dog parks at nominal cost where space is available to do so. On one mixed-income property, a number of residents purchased dogs after the dog park was built. These folks can be counted on for renewing their leases as there aren’t any other communities—affordable or market-rate—that has this feature. The interaction between dog owners also promotes the sense of community.
4. Provide Resident Goodwill
Market-rate properties also can be emulated from a “feel-good” standpoint. Scheduling property personnel to provide Saturday maintenance is a big plus. Recognizing residents on their birthdays is as simple as it gets. Offering coffee and donuts at the property entrance as residents leave for work is easy and much appreciated. Delivering resident packages received at the property office is a huge service that requires some logistical creativity, but it generates enormous goodwill (and there’s that convenience factor again).
5. Grow Sense of Community
Finally, our firm has developed several community gardens that are a big hit with our residents and further enhance the sense of community. We identify underutilized green space and work with local vendors to provide topsoil, railroad ties, tools, fertilizer, seeds, mulch and other materials. Residents are encouraged to reserve their own plots and can grow whatever they desire. It’s heartwarming to see a number of residents working together among the flowers and vegetable plants on a sunny summer day. On one of our properties the vegetable gardens are so extensive that our immigrant population actually sells the excess produce that they don’t consume.
Creating a lifestyle experience requires focus and planning. Residents of affordable properties will benefit and so will as the owners and operators as we differentiate our products in a substantive manner.
R. Lee Harris is president and CEO of Cohen-Esrey, LLC, a Kansas City–based multifaceted real estate firm that has been involved in affordable and market-rate housing since 1970. His e-mail is [email protected].