Multifamily owners and managers across the country have been scrambling the past few years, trying to keep up with innovative ways to attract tech-savvy Gen Y renters. And along the way, tough questions have been raised about which tech amenities residents really want.
KTGY’s Manny Gonzalez compares this to how Gen Y sees the touchscreen interface on their car. “[Gen Y] wants to be able to purchase upgrades for their car like they do apps for their smartphone,” he says. “And if we don’t think about that in our rental communities, that we have to be able to upgrade so that we’re constantly changing, we’re going to be out of touch with this new generation of renters.”
Here’s a look at seven ideas for amenities with tech-centric Gen Y in mind:
1. Expanded bandwidth
Gen Y renters are likely coming straight from campus housing or their parents’ home into their first apartment, and they expect the same technology they had to be available once they move in. That means the wireless speed better match what they are used to. “Speed continues to be critical for Wi-Fi to Apple-centric Gen Y,” says Richard Holtz, CEO of Infinisys, a technology consulting and design firm.
And as phones, computers and televisions now require fast internet, multifamily properties will have to continue to expand their bandwidth. In fact, many REITs now view wireless connectivity to be as common an amenity as a swimming pool, or as vital a service as electricity. They also sometimes offer tech support onsite for residents.
2. Paperless Leasing Centers
Maps and brochures are out of date. Potential Gen Y residents have already seen these on your website. Gonzalez instead suggests turning the experience of the leasing office into a similar visit to an Apple store, where everything is interactive and lively and fun.
“It’s all done electronically, there’s no paper,” he says. “Even when you go in and buy a computer or an iPhone, you don’t get a receipt. They email it to you. So I think if you thought about marketing the way Apple does, I think you’ll have a hand up on everybody else that’s your competition out there.”
Plus you'll save money, not to mention a tree, by going paperless.
3. Airport-Style Kiosks
Alliance Residential had a bright idea at it’s latest Seattle property, dubbed Koi. Amongst the property’s many high tech features, airport-style kiosks will be installed in the lobby where residents can pay their rent and have access to an internal Craigslist to buy and sell furniture.
“The most important thing for renters today is to be in touch at all times,” says Suzi Morris, Alliance’s director of development for the Pacific Northwest Division. Each kiosk costs between $5,500 and $7,000 for a flat-screen TV, six-point touch-frame overlay by Screen Solutions, plus related infrastructure and software costs.
4. Charging/Docking Stations
“Everybody needs a charge, it’s like fuel,” says Kerry Kirby, founder of 365 Connect, LLC. Luckily, it’s fairly simple to put an iPod docking station in your unit now and have wireless cables going to speakers. And these stations only cost about $20 per unit.
“Most of these kids will have either the iPhone or smart phone or something that’s got their music on it. And whether [that device] is used much or not, it’s the idea that’s there: The idea you thought about it, that you understand the next generation," Gonzalez says. "[Docking stations] are one of the things you need to have in your units to let kids know this is a cool place to hang out."
5. Personalized Fitness
Gen Y residents make working out a priority, with 83 percent marking fitness centers as their No. 1 common area amenity preference, according to J Turner Research’s 2011 Evolving Resident Demographic report.
One trend seeing a resurgence, according to Holtz, is computer-based fitness equipment. That means state of the art–touchscreens and computers in each treadmill or elliptical that will personalize a fitness program for any resident and offer positive or negative feedback based on performance. But it's not cheap: They typically run about $10,000 and up for each machine.
6. Outdoor Kitchens
Downsizing unit kitchens by installing smaller appliances is an option for Gen Y units, because in the long run, they allow renters to have more living space. And an outdoor kitchen could take the place of that space, offering another area for residents to socialize.
Gonzalez likes the idea of outdoor kitchens for Gen Y renters, but wishes someone would invent an outdoor microwave because that’s how he thinks this demographic really knows how to cook. In fact, some of the Gen Y renters he sees don’t even know how to work a barbeque.
But customization comes into play with the idea of an outdoor kitchen because Gen Y renters might want to invite a group over. “The real critical thing for them is the movable furniture in that outdoor space because you go to a resort or some of these apartments and the chairs are big and heavy,” Gonzalez says. “Give them something that’s light and moveable so they can customize it to whatever their group size might be." Home Depot offers an outdoor Kitchen with grill, side burner and fridge for about $4,000.
7. Outdoor Theaters
Customization plays into the idea of the outdoor theater, as well. Outdoor theaters have replaced the old idea of complexes offering movie theaters indoors that residents really were not using. Today, some Gen Y renters might not have their own TV if they stream everything online, so this is a nice amenity that sets your community apart. And if investing in an outdoor theater is too much, just offer rooftop or outdoor movie nights. That doesn’t take a lot of technology, just a screen and projector.