If your properties still feature business centers and movie theaters, then read on. Why? Those amenities are so 2007. We'll help you head into the new year knowing exactly what your residents want—and just as importantly, what they don't want.

On top of the “no” list: Traditionally designed business centers. In fact, 49 percent of the 2008 Strategies Survey respondents say residents have little desire for business centers. Savvy residents, especially the discerning Gen Y crowd, expect more than a non-descript room outfitted with a handful of computers and printers. They want what multifamily execs are dubbing “Internet cafés”—cool, hip spaces equipped with Wi-Fi, a hefty selection of newspapers and magazines, a coffee or cappuccino machine, plus a few old-fashioned computer stations (go for flat-screen monitors) with printers and fax machines.

“It's a contemporary version of going to your local Starbucks,” says David M. Hannan, senior vice president at The Morgan Group, a Houston-based developer. “We built our first one four years ago, and it is used at least 12 hours a day.”

Hannan, who keeps a close eye on amenity trends, noticed one place his renters weren't frequenting: the movie theater. Hailed as the latest and greatest must-have multifamily amenity just a few years ago, property developers and managers admit the space doesn't get much traffic, possibly because residents have their own big screen TVs—and Netflix accounts.

“I always debate [the success] of on-site theaters,” says Lynn Klug, vice president of marketing and training at Irvine, Calif.-based Sares-Regis Group. “It seems like so much space if it's not being used. I consider it a nice, but not necessary, amenity.” Here's an idea, if you're looking for a change: The Morgan Group is swapping theaters for sports bar lounges complete with billiards, shuffle boards, and of course, multiple big screen TVs.

As for hot in-unit must-haves, both buyers and renters find high-end design and finishes extremely desireable, as noted by 33 percent of respondents to the 2008 Strategies Survey (see Figure 6A, below). Such offerings don't have to be limited to new construction. The management arm of Atlanta-based Post Properties recently devised a way to offer luxury products—for a premium—at its existing communities through the creation of resident design centers. Renters can select from an a la carte menu of offerings, including granite countertops, closet organizers, 3-inch wood blinds, accent walls, and stainless steel appliances.

“This is a way to take a property built in 2001 and make it more competitive with newer assets,” says Tom Wilkes, president of Post Apartment Management. Post tested the program at several communities this year and will deploy the program in January at 20 properties. That's certainly a sure-fire way to stay on top during the slow winter leasing season.



Talking Back

David M. Hannan, senior vice president, The Morgan Group
Q: What's the latest trend in community activity space?
A: “We started building wine rooms that include storage lockers if residents choose to bring and store wine, and we host quarterly wine tastings. What triggered this? The reality that wine, for the first time, outsold beer. Gen Yers are much more discriminating when it comes to the use of alcohol.”

Source: MFE/Specpan