Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.
The must-haves for apartment and condo dwellers are changing. It’s important for property developers and managers to understand consumer expectations and have a firm grasp on which amenities will help a building stand out among a sea of similar properties.
Andrew Castraberti, assistant project manager at Cresset Development in Boston, recently finished work on the Flats on D apartments in Boston (the company remains as the managing member of the ownership entity). He spoke with REALTOR® Magazine about amenities that developers and property managers should consider in new or reimagined apartment buildings. Castraberti also discussed what makes a particular amenity work well, and how the future expectations of consumers may change the multifamily landscape.
What kind of amenities are popular in the Boston area?
Pools seem to be pretty popular right now. I’m not sure if that’s here to stay; we’ll see how that works out. They’re not necessarily all that big; sometimes just 4 feet deep. When developers can add a pool to their marketing collateral, it brings people in.
What are the most and least popular features at Flats on D?
We really stand out with a few of our premier amenities, like the 10,000-square-foot roof deck and a terrace deck. These areas provide space to play bocce, grill outdoors, sit by a fire pit, or enjoy a little field turf area. It’s a huge selling point.
A big part of it is being able to provide basic expected amenities, so you can compete with the rest of the market. You have to have some sort of gym, for example. We have a fitness center, screening room, and a game room. The screening room does really well; people rent it out to watch football games or the Oscars. The game room is less popular. It’s a nice feature to have, but we need to work on integrating it a little better.
What’s the key to making underperforming amenities more popular?
We’re definitely struggling with how we want to promote our less successful amenities. We’re trying to figure out what we need to put there to draw people in. It’s all about walking people through the space to see what jumps out at them. If you’re able to impress them with certain amenities, they remember that. Otherwise, they just think, “Yeah, the last five buildings I walked into had that.”
The best situation is when you can combine several amenities in one space. You take a shared kitchen and add on a lounge and feed that into the gaming space. The problem is you have to have that in the plan when you start out, and you have to have the space for it. Some of our buildings ended up with individual rooms that are spread out. But if we were to go back to the drawing board, I think we’d go with a more unified space.
What happens if you don’t have the space to make amenities work?
The equation is tough because, ultimately, you want to make as much rentable square footage as possible. But then your amenities sometimes tend to suffer. On the other hand, I think developers are realizing that places like the roof provide an opportunity that won’t take away from that equation. Often the rooftop is not well utilized, and it’s a great place to create an amenity.
What about up-and-coming amenities? What do you think is on the upswing in terms of prominence?
I’m seeing more shared kitchen and lounge space. That seems to be really popular. It’s a place where people can get together and cook communally, or rent for an event reception. I’m also seeing dog and pet areas becoming hugely popular. I’ve seen rooms where residents can groom their pets, and outdoor areas where people can relieve their dogs.
Working with Bozzuto Management Co. to manage Flats on D, they were telling us how important it was to be 100 percent pet-friendly. It seems strange here in the city that there would be so many dog owners, but you walk around Boston during lunchtime and you can count 30 dogs out on the sidewalk. And they’re big dogs! So, I think that’s one trend that’s only going to expand. Most people either have dogs or they’re OK with dogs being in the building. You have to be pet-friendly in order to compete. In our lobby, we have a “yappy hour” where all the pet owners have a drink and hang out with their dogs. It’s a good, highly public area to show how we’re pet-friendly.
What amenities have surprised you by how popular they’ve become?
The pool is the biggest thing that we were most skeptical about. However, the outdoor space trend is big. We’re going to see more of that. One of the buildings we’re working on might have a pool on the roof. We thought it would be a good thing to try in order to be competitive.
What’s a common misunderstanding developers have about the way tenants use certain amenities?
Every building I see has a fitness center. But the way we figure it is people are going to have outside gym memberships if that’s something they’re really into. We provide enough space and equipment for people to do cardio after work or have a quick workout in a convenient place. We don’t put our energy into providing a full-service gym.
Also, I think the idea of the business center has changed. In our building, we have Wi-Fi in all the common areas, even on the terrace. You could provide a computer for people to use, but you can also step it up from there. I’ve seen places that have individual iPads for residents to use. The ability to print remotely from a mobile device has also proven to be a seamless perk for tenants.
What about the more service-oriented amenities?
We don’t have a 24-hour concierge. We have staff available Monday through Saturday, from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. When we were in the planning stages, we needed to find a way to manage deliveries and packages. We were struggling at first. Having a 24-hour concierge to handle packages can become pretty labor-intensive. It would have required additional staffing, and we were also concerned that we’d run out of square footage in the office.
Instead, we planned ahead and installed the Package Concierge System. Basically it’s a 12- by 10-foot unit with five modules for storing packages for tenants to pick up when they can. Residents can grab their package, look through the mail, and toss out anything they don’t want. They’re out of plain view and they feel secure doing all that in one place. The UPS or FedEx guys just type in a code and the tenant gets a text or e-mail saying a package is there for them. I think it’s important for tenants, just to know their deliveries are in a safe place.