It’s well known that student housing is one of the leading indicators of multifamily luxury trends, with the sector's amenities often preceding those introduced at market-rate properties.
 
“What we did in student housing before the housing bust is just now starting to occur in multifamily,” says Richard Holtz, CEO of Ormond Beach, Fla.–based InfiniSys Electronic Architects. “Things like Wi-Fi in every unit, a lot of high-definition TVs.”

At InfiniSys, private student housing makes up about half of the firm’s clientele, up from approximately 30 percent when the firm started, thanks to the way the multifamily business is flowing. With more than 100 projects in the works now between the student housing and luxury niches, the company has been hard at work on producing extravagant amenities. 

Theme-wise, developers are aching to create a nightclub-like atmosphere by pools and in common areas, Holtz says. Holtz has overseen the installation of Jumbotrons by pool areas with laser light shows, as well as requests for lazy rivers influenced by water amusement parks.

A more daring, space-bending detail is the golf simulator project, in which the architects are planning to build a room at some properties with a 3-D projector system that will allow gamers to see whatever course they’d like through specialized glasses.

“[Student and luxury] developers are asking us today what can differentiate them,” Holtz says.

Over-the-top fitness centers are also being carried over from the student housing sector, with designers adding interactive treadmills and installing large HD TVs at properties. The more prosperous and growing trend so far, though, is the elite country club atmosphere.

“The amount of money spent today on clubhouses is probably more than 10 times what was spent 10 years ago,” Holtz says. “To me, it’s gone crazy.”

InfiniSys sees anywhere from $100,000 being spent on clubhouses to almost $1 million in amenities, a figure boasted by at least one of the firm’s clients. The return, of course, is occupancy—the student housing market, in particular, is becoming increasingly competitive.

Electronics aren’t made to last forever, though—property managers often will have to upgrade the amenities to keep up with trends and stay current. On average, products may require an upgrade every three years. Upgrades are the second part of the challenge of offering desirable amenities, but other properties can be just as successful as their extreme and party-themed counterparts, as long as they market their amenities correctly.

Some student housing owners have done just that and have been quite successful by pulling off quiet and peaceful atmospheres with study kiosks catering primarily to engineering students and the like.

“They do just as well,” Holtz says. “They have to know how to market to a different core group of students.” 

Which student amenities are ultimately the most suitable depends greatly on the academic feel of the university and its individual groups of students; owners can enjoy higher occupancy rates simply by staying under the radar and catering to the personalities of their students.

Still, even with more low-key options finding a place in student housing, the extreme-amenity craze is unlikely to leave the sector to any great extent. Now, even InfiniSys' market-rate clients are building luxurious clubrooms, though they’re not spending nearly as much on them as their student housing counterparts. That could be a wake-up call for some residents used to the student housing standard of living, which will take a while to become mainstream in the multifamily world, outside of some urban communities.

“I don’t know when reality [will] become reality [for the students],” Holtz says. “But the trend is that [extreme amenities] are certainly influencing multifamily.”