One of the pluses coming out the other side of the housing downturn is that the perceptions of renting and what it means to be a renter have changed and in some ways dramatically. A rising number of people have an appreciation of the flexibility and convenience of apartment living and understand that renting an apartment often is a lifestyle choice rather than necessity. But this increasing awareness of the value of apartments is also shifting resident expectations and challenging industry executives to redefine their communities.
During a panel discussion on designing and building for the new renter during the 2014 NMHC Annual Meeting, five industry executives said that to be successful in the next phase of apartment development and ownership, apartment leaders were going to have move beyond just thinking about communities in terms of product and unit types, unit mixes and amenities; they are going to have to figure out how to better leverage architecture, design, light and technology to create not just a building or community but a destination or experience that reflects how residents feel about themselves and the things they value.
Rohit Anand, a principal with architectural firm KTGY, said, “We don’t look at apartments as commodities. There’s been significant focus in development on the quantitative side of things. And that’s important. But we also need to focus on the qualitative side.”
Quoting a former CEO of Intel, Anand added, “We need to create ‘waves of lust’ for our product.”
Toby Bozzuto, president of Bozzuto Development Company, said connectivity was key to cracking that code in the future. “The next big thing is the Internet of everything,” Bozzuto said, riffing on the term “the Internet of Things.” This refers to the growing number of “smart” technology products that have sensors and tracking technology that send data through wired and wireless networks for collection and analysis. Apartment owners, developers and managers need to be thinking about how some of these next generation technologies can create a better living experience for the next generation of renters.
“Other industries are getting more savvy,” said Anand. “You can check into this hotel with your Hilton Hotels rewards card and they know what room you prefer, what floor, coffee or tea... it’s a really exciting time for our industry.”
When it comes to blurring the lines between form and function, beauty and the basics, the panel agreed Apple CEO Steve Jobs had set the new standard. Brian Dinerstein, president of The Dinerstein Companies, said, “If he would have been a developer, Steve Jobs would have created something elegant, clean and minimalist. Without a cord in sight. We’er still working on that and can’t seem to get there, but we keep trying. I think it would be a ‘plug-and-play’ kind of place.”
But while technology is one aspect of connectivity, Anand pointed out that there’s a human element to connectivity as well. Apartment communities give rise to social communities and apartment designers and developers really need to think about what kind of community fabric they are engineering as they build their next buildings.
“Sometimes I think I’m here to facilitate the mating process,” Anand joked. “I’m kidding, but when you really think about it, people live in apartment communities to meet people.”