Richard Borge

When Stamford, Conn.-based Collins Properties opened Hudson Park, a 560-unit luxury apartment development on the Hudson River in Yonkers, N.Y., the firm wanted to provide a community feel for new residents. But Collins didn't want Hudson Park, a part of Yonker's waterfront renaissance, to be a sterile atmosphere for the urban pioneers settling in the community just 25 minutes from downtown Manhattan.

“It was really important that we create an environment where people could meet new friends and find someone to walk, run, or bike with,” says Rona Siegal, vice president of operations at Collins, which owns and operates a $200 million portfolio of commercial and apartment assets in New York, Connecticut, and Virginia. “In a new area, that's hard to do.”

To help, Collins turned to LifeAt, a New York City-based social networking company that focuses on creating private, online communities for apartment, condo, and single-family developments. Now, with a user name and password, residents can log on to a customized LifeAt Hudson Park Web site and view profiles of other residents, check out items their neighbors have for sale, or peruse the neighborhood guide for the best local stylist or closest hospital. More than 60 percent of residents are registered on the Hudson Park site, making the most of their new locale—and connecting with their neighbors.

“It's really become our Julie McCoy,” Siegal says, referring to everyone's favorite matchmaker from television's The Love Boat. “It's our new electronic social director.”

In Texarkana, Texas, online social networking is having a similar effect at the Legacy at Pleasant Grove, a 208-unit luxury apartment community managed by Winter Park, Fla.-based third-party manager Epoch Management. Pleasant Grove property manager Sherry Cheek says resident interaction has increased since Epoch signed the community up with Houston-based AptConnect's social networking and resident portal application this spring. “It's a great tool,” Cheek says. “It really helps connect us with our residents, and residents with each other.”

Indeed, as mainstream social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have exploded across the Internet, the multifamily industry has followed suit, launching narrowly focused, property-oriented networks. But the portals—with their inherent connectivity benefits—also pose distinct liability and safety challenges.