Meg White is the managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine. You can reach her at mwhite[at]realtors.org.
Developers, owners, and managers of multifamily properties have some important choices to make when it comes to public spaces. Big-ticket amenities might draw tenants and buyers, but they also eat up a lot of space and capital.
Jong Chung, vice president of design for Avalon Bay Communities in the Washington, D.C., area, says the key is to narrow the target market for a building and not worry about what your competitors are doing. “We try not to get into an arms race with the next developer.”
More from the Builders' Show:
Chung was one of many experts in the multifamily industry to address the future of amenities during the International Builders’ Show in Orlando this month. We were there to absorb the latest musings on features that will be most in demand in 2017. Here’s what’s in, what’s out, and how to make emerging designs work in the real world.
Daniel Gehman, studio director with the Humphreys & Partners office in Newport Beach, Calif., is seeing a trend with developers of mixed-use buildings renting their first-floor retail space to an outside fitness company. He says it relieves some responsibility for property managers while also providing a popular perk for residents who seek a healthier lifestyle. “There’s this point where the retail and the amenities overlap,” he says. “You’re offloading the management to a third party.”
But some in the industry consider it a volatile model. To lessen the risk of vacancy, there are other ways to dress up proprietary gym space. Sanford Steinberg, principal at Steinberg Design Collaborative LLP in Houston, says one way to update a small workout room without bringing in a third party is to add enough serious AV equipment to turn it into an exercise theater, where everyone watches movies and events together on the big screen. “People come in and do their cardio, and they have a lot of fun,” he says.
Millions of Americans work from home, but the kinds of spaces they need to accomplish that work have changed. The inspiration for today’s designers comes from co-working spaces and business incubators, where chance encounters and funky interiors encourage creativity and spontaneity.
Chung says it doesn’t take too much to update the stuffy business space — often characterized by traditional desks and printers — that was up until recently de rigueur for multifamily buildings. “In some ways, it’s not too different from the old-school business centers,” he says. In terms of design, Chung favors a variety of different seating options over rows of desks, creating a vibe that’s “less library, more coffee shop.” He also recommends opening the space to co-working subscribers who don’t live in the building, if possible.
The problem with the traditional clubhouse — often a sort of “drawing room” space featuring a fireplace, television, and pool table, among other items — is that it feels too formal for today’s residents. “They’re more for show,” Chung says, noting spaces that foster more interaction and multiple uses are more likely to be used on a regular basis.
One popular category of amenities that seems to have this effect on residents is communal space for cooking, dining, and catering. Though many agree an outdoor cooking area is a must, Rohit Anand of international firm KTGY Architecture + Planning notes that these spaces can be perceived by residents in vastly different ways. “Millennials tend to linger and spend the whole evening there. The grilling is an experience itself,” he says. But this “causes tension with boomers, who just want to grill a burger and take it back with them.”
With the increase in online shopping, mailrooms are bursting at the seams and package theft is on the rise. Both residential developers and retailers such as Amazon are already using internet-enabled lockers that can be used to store packages until consumers are ready to pick them up.
The next step, according to Gehman, is removing humans from the equation. He says developments are already looking for ways to incorporate drone landing pads for the day Amazon figures out how to safely drop packages autonomously. He also predicts the robot bellhop, which is being used in select Marriott hotels, will eventually migrate to the multifamily sector as a way to get packages directly into residents’ hands. “Robots are able to do great stuff. If you have a Roomba, you know that,” Gehman says. “‘The Jetsons’ got a few things right on the money, and Rosie [the robot maid] is one of them. She’s coming.”
Chung says his company engages in regular exercises trying to envision where business will be 50 years down the road. One of the trends giving him pause is the way the sharing economy will change the built environment. “It’s so disruptive right now,” he says. “We have to think about shared vehicles and what that does to our parking.”
While many developments are required by law to have a certain amount of parking spots, Gehman says he enjoys incorporating new designs that will better accommodate ridesharing and, eventually, automated vehicles. “We get to design Uber lounges now, where you wait for your ride,” he says.
For any of these upgrades, the key is to think in the long term. While Anand notes that millennials make up 57 percent of the current renter population, that won’t always be the case. He suggests asking, “Is this apartment stock being built for millennials?” If the answer is yes, Anand says it might be time to get back to basics: “Good design resonates with whatever age group you’re talking about.”