Renters-by-choice who live at The Metropolitan, a practically new but recently renovated property in Arlington, Va., don't hope for high-end stainless steel kitchen appliances and fashionable granite countertops. They expect them. After all, they're paying anywhere from $1,455 a month for a studio to $5,585 for a penthouse. "These people could afford a home if they wanted one," says Karen Kossow, assistant vice president of sales and marketing for KSI Management, which upgraded the suburban Washington, D.C., apartment building. "It's important to give them that same look and feel."
Across the Potomac River in another Washington suburb, the KSI-owned Avondale Overlook sits in Hyattsville, Md., where rents are significantly lower and most residents are not ready to venture into the real estate market. Still, like their Virginia neighbors, they want the nice kitchen finishes and fixtures they see at home stores and on cable TV decorating programs.
"When you think about it," says Kossow, "no matter whether you're paying $800 a month in rent, or $1,200 or $2,000, that's a significant portion of your income, and you still want the best you can get."
In both locations, says Kossow, the company has renovated the buildings' kitchens so that they are. Top-of-the-line apartments at The Metropolitan show off trendy stainless steel refrigerators, dishwashers and ovens; new wood cabinets, smooth cooktops, hardwood floors, and granite countertops. At Avondale Overlook, the top-floor apartments look somewhat similar to those at The Metropolitan, but a close inspection reveals faux-granite laminate on the countertops and stainless-mimicking plastic on the appliance fronts.
"We duplicated the high-end look as best as we could," says Kossow, "and it really does make an impact." Indeed, the once-over on a top-floor, three-bedroom apartment at Avondale Overlook helped the company fetch more than $200 a month in extra rent for those units.
The kitchen, agree designers and property managers, should be the centerpiece of any apartment renovation. "It's a wow factor," says Kossow. "When you look at a brochure or a Web site and you have a phenomenal kitchen, it definitely makes an impact on the customer."
What makes an apartment's kitchen phenomenal? The same quality finishes and styles that residents have become used to seeing in single-family homes and condos. "A mistake in the past has been thinking that apartment [dwellers] don't want the same things as single-family [owners]," says David Springer, regional sales manager for Maytag's builder sales division. Of course, that gets expensive fast, particularly for apartment owners and managers who are only now starting to see rents rise after several tough years of competition against each other, single-family homes, and the condo market.
But Sharon Braithwaite, director of sales for interior design firm IK&F and Cache Furnishing in Chantilly, Va., says a low-cost kitchen renovation using knockoffs and affordably priced extras can look just as stylish as a luxury unit's stainless-steel-and-granite galley. Her firm has worked on a number of high-rise kitchen renovations, and she says potential residents will notice a nice chandelier in an eat-in kitchen or cabinets with the latest cherry finish rather than an outdated oak.
"It all spills over from the single-family market," says Braithwaite. "The kitchen and the family room are the main entertainment areas. In a smaller space, it's important for [the resident] to know you're upgrading the area to make it special."