Work from home is expected to be a lasting trend, and that is informing a number of choices around the amenities a building may offer.
Amenities have always been seen as selling points for multifamily properties, providing incentives for residents to sign a lease or stay on for another year. From fitness centers and golf simulators to pet parks and movie theaters, these spaces provide opportunities for residents to interact with one another and to feel like they are getting the most for their money.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit hard in March 2020, however, many amenity spaces were quickly shut down while capacity and operating hours were curtailed at other spaces.
Over the past year, property owners and managers have had to work diligently to repurpose, reposition and revolutionize how these spaces can be used in order to keep residents interested and satisfied.
“It really comes down to convenience and flexibility,” said Frank Roessler, founder & CEO of Ashcroft Capital. “Home isn’t just a place to lay your head down at night anymore. Residents are even more focused on comfort, space and amenity packages.”
According to a survey from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, 42 percent of the U.S. labor force is now working from home full time. Additionally, the share of working days spent at home is expected to increase fourfold from pre-COVID-19 levels—from 5 percent to 20 percent. With this, amenities have become even more important, providing a much needed escape for residents from the confines of their own homes. So with the vast amount of available options, what are the wisest investments that owners and operators can make?
Although the coronavirus will be behind us someday, that doesn’t mean residents will be flocking back to the office full-time. Therefore, there is an increasing need for remote work amenities, particularly those that promote a better work-life balance. Further, amenities are now being adapted to more individualized use, ranging from scheduling formerly shared spaces to making Wi-Fi more readily available throughout the community to support higher bandwidth.
According to a resident survey conducted by SatisFacts, some of the top amenities residents claimed would assist them in working from home were faster internet speeds; wireless self-service printing, copying and scanning; outdoor working spaces; individual work pods; coworking spaces; and video chat booths.
These technology upgrades would help mitigate some of the challenges the surveyed remote workers are currently facing, including balancing the work-life schedule (36.6 percent), finding a dedicated workspace (35.9 percent) and being able to focus (33.1 percent).
Once the pandemic is over, working from home is still expected to be the favored choice amongst many workers, and, in order to keep themselves feeling productive, proper workspaces are necessary.
“The pandemic has further evolved that transformation as working from home has become the norm for more residents,” said Beth Tuttle, vice president of marketing at LMC. “Large coworking spaces have now been partitioned into smaller spaces to allow for more physical distance between residents.”
Another amenity that is highly sought after is green space such as playgrounds, pet parks or access to nearby walking or biking trails. Playgrounds and green spaces were amenities the industry as a whole had dramatically leaned away from, Roessler noted, but that is expected to change as restrictions are eased and new work-from-home routines are established.
“These spaces offer an additional place for kids to expend energy while their parents work remotely,” he said.
Having access to green space on a property’s premises will be an important alternative for people who want to enjoy the outdoors but want to avoid more public recreation spaces. Outdoor lounge and grilling areas, for example, have always been attractive to residents but maybe were not used as often.
“Before the pandemic, residents could have stopped at a local bar or restaurant for happy hour with friends,” said Tuttle. “Today, they are holding virtual happy hours in outdoor lounges instead. These spaces provide a sense of normalcy while also offering a change of pace someone may need to help unwind from the new at-home workday.”
According to the National Multifamily Housing Council and Kingsley Associates 2020 Apartment Resident Preferences Report, more than one-third of residents surveyed were pet owners. Dog owners specifically even said they expected to pay between $28 to $34 more per feature per month for amenities catering to their animals, including pet-washing stations and on-site services, like dog walking or dog sitting.
Although fitness centers were one of the first amenities to be halted at most properties, they are actually still a top want from renters. The pandemic has placed a higher emphasis on health and wellness, prompting residents to take advantage of the fitness options provided to them once they are reopened.
TECH ON TOP
Technology is playing a big role in how amenities spaces are being repurposed and used by residents. Innovations that are becoming more commonplace include: facial recognition software, room sensors and smart home access controls, like touchless elevators and Bluetooth-enabled doors. When it comes to marketing to potential residents, self-guided and virtual tours are the most convenient option to increase lease-ups. For resident retention and safety, air filtration and electrostatic spraying features are easy upgrades that can be added to a community for higher sanitation needs.
“Having the proper mechanical, filtration and HVAC strategies matter,” said Jeffrey Schoeneck, executive director of Cuningham’s Live. “It’s going back to basics in terms of thinking of design and preventing some of the higher risks with a low-cost solution. Regenerative design is improving the situation in front of us … incorporating biophilia, stronger access to daylight, better LED and blue lights; all these factors boost health and a better lifestyle.”
With these transformations, buildings will become more behaviorally healthy for residents, while still allowing for places where people can connect passively and actively.
Although it is impossible to know when the next challenge might arise, it’s important to have a plan in place to keep owners and operators flexible. “Having a generic business continuity plan for any kind of event that might limit access to office spaces or exposure to customers, forces us to think through how we can continually adjust our strategies and look towards more digital solutions,” said Jenny Schoellhorn, director of learning and development at Birchstone Residential.
While the past year has been difficult, it has also been a great opportunity for multifamily operators to demonstrate how they can listen to residents and health experts and respond accordingly.
“Yes, this will pass, but something else will always come in its place,” said Schoeneck. “We need to capture those moments and translate them into design. Look at healthy buildings. Don’t lose sight of needs that are fundamentally healthy and focus on the end user and what will be the experience for them physically and mentally.”