Kai Weber spends a lot of time thinking about what unites, and divides, people. Weber, vice president of marketing at AMLI Residential, is charged with attracting and retaining two of the largest and most complex demographics in the rental pool: Baby Boomers and Millennials. The two generations present managers and owners with a difficult task—figuring out how to keep both groups happy, either separately or, more often than not, together.
"We are finding more similarities among the generations than we are differences," she says. "We have been really careful not to pigeonhole our brands or the way that we attract either generation."
Chicago-based AMLI serves about 16,000 Gen Y renters and more than 12,000 Baby Boomers across its portfolio, Weber says. Her tip for casting the widest net possible is to offer flexibility in catering to the different wants and needs of these age brackets.
"It’s not that we are necessarily presenting different options to different people, but we want to make sure that we can customize what’s available so we can tailor our needs to who is going to live at that community," she says.
Yet, it can be particularly difficult to blend the choices to satisfy both groups equally. Cindy Clare, president of Kettler Management, says deciding on what kinds of finishes to include in a unit is one of the largest conundrums for attracting both demographics.
"The Millennials grew up with the granite and stainless steel, so that doesn’t wow them," she says.
While some finishes may not excite the average Millennial, they’re a must-have to satisfy most Baby Boomers. And when it comes to amenities, Clare says the two generations often want the same common areas, but there’s a generational gap in terms of how they’re used.
"You’ll still have your clubrooms or multipurpose spaces," she says. "You may not do the gaming system for the Boomers but still want to have those spaces for social activity. They’re more likely to use them to hold social events themselves, whereas the Millennials want to come to events being hosted there."
Choosing the right unit mix in a new development can also be tricky. Baby Boomers want a little more space, meaning that more, or larger, two-bedroom units is a necessity for attracting this group.
"A 500- or 600-square-foot one-bedroom isn’t going to work for Boomers—they have too much stuff," Clare says.
Weber agrees but says buildings with heavy mixes of small units can still appeal to the older generation. The building just needs to provide storage options, and the leasing staff needs to highlight them.
"So, if we find we get lots of people who are moving from a six-bedroom home to a two- or three-bedroom apartment, then we tell them, ‘You don’t necessarily have to sell all your lifelong possessions,’?" Weber says.
Clare’s advice is to deeply research the submarket and plan accordingly. "Certain submarkets are much more geared toward Millennials•there may be more clubs and nightlife," she says. "That’s not necessarily going to appeal to the Baby Boomers, so you look at what’s going to appeal more to Millennials there. In your more suburban areas, you’re going to expect more Baby Boomers."
Two different types of deliberation
When it comes to pinning down each generation’s preferences, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
Not all Boomers want the same things, so there’s no surefire way to satisfy them all. Todd Harff, a Baby Boomer marketing expert, has worked with several management companies to try to crack the code of how to attract the widely diverse group of renters.
"There are more differences in their preferences at that age than [with] any previous generation," Harff says. "It can be that they are 55 or 60 years old and are becoming first-time parents. Or they could be taking early retirement."
Meanwhile, Gen Y is a little more unified in terms of their preferences. Glenn Brill, a manager at Baltimore-based FTI Consulting, has evaluated the New York City apartment landscape and believes Millennials will play a pivotal role in reshaping the city’s housing, a natural selection in deciding which communities will be successful and which just won’t work. In short, the Facebook generation wants to be plugged in 24/7—with both technology and each other.
"I think there’s a growing demand for new housing stock because most of it is pretty old," Brill says. "Millennials want a living environment that sort of matches their lifestyle, and the current housing doesn’t do that. You need those products that facilitate a lifestyle that is tech driven and socially driven because of Facebook."
But technology is also becoming a large factor as many empty-nesters begin their search in the rental housing market.
While working as a Baby Boomer marketing specialist at Woodbridge, Va.–based Creating Results, Harff, the firm’s president, has found that older renters are becoming increasingly tech savvy, making a development’s Internet speed and website marketing more essential to attracting them.
"Yes, they want to go and see the place, but they’re going to start their search online," he says. "They’re just not as likely to complete it online."
However, if a community’s website is subpar or not welcoming, most Boomers won’t even think twice about stopping by. In a recent study, 37 percent of renters older than 40 said they decided against visiting a community based on its website, according to Harff.
"You better have a good impression," he says. "And the imagery on the website better not just show 20-somethings. They will not even get to the point of a leasing agent if the website they go to looks like a place where they don’t feel welcome."
Once a Boomer is satisfied with the online appearance, it’s time for the leasing agent to step up and shine.
One of the biggest differences between Gen Y and Boomers is that Gen Y renters may prefer to complete the entire leasing process online, while Boomers often want to go into an office and complete a lease with an agent.
"Boomers are going to want to be more experiential," Harff says. "They want to visit and get a sense of what [the apartment is] like. They want to touch it and see it. I think that’s still very important to them."
Associates in the leasing office should be knowledgeable and ready to field any questions a potential resident may have. However, Boomers can be particularly tough and have very high expectations, Harff says.
"Their tolerance for things not being right is very low," he says. "The time they have on their hands tends to be higher, so they’ll spend three hours with a leasing agent, and if something is not right in their apartment, they will drive you crazy until it’s fixed."
Harff also advises clients that since many Boomers are moving from a house, higher-end finishes and fixtures are expected.
"If they want to go after Boomers, they need a more upgraded kitchen," Harff says.
Boomers are often more deliberate in choosing their next rental communities and are more apt to settle in for a longer haul. So, the stakes are a little higher for managers serving this demographic.
"Gen Y tends to not be as focused on the future in the sense that they’ll move to a community, and it’s not as big a deal to move after a year or so because they’ve accumulated less ... ," Harff says. "The advantage with the Boomer is, if you get them to move to your community, they’re going to stay longer. So they give the moving process a little more thought."
While a Boomer may want to scour an apartment model, a Millennial is more apt to scour the surrounding community, Brill says.
"You have to remember they’re not just renting your apartment; they’re renting the neighborhood, too," Brill says. "Your best bet is a small unit in a good neighborhood where there are lots of bars and restaurants."
Tapping into the neighborhood vibe
The first task in determining if a building should be constructed or marketed to either group is to soak in the neighborhood’s vibe.
James Thomas, founder and managing partner of Cityscape Residential, believes a new community on the north side of Indianapolis will bring Millennials and Boomers together. The community, 82 Flats at the Crossing, is located near one of the city’s premier shopping malls, a variety of restaurants, and expressways.
"[It] focuses on location-driven value," he says. "And that’s universal."
Indianapolis-based Cityscape develops communities that don’t specifically cater to one demographic but, rather, attract every age group. And, sometimes, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: Two-bedroom units seem equally attractive.
"We’re still pushing around unit mixes a little," Thomas says. "We tend to have huge absorption on the two-bedrooms by empty-nesters."
Yet, Millennials often choose those units as well. "They’re adopting, kind of, a social living environment where they say, ‘I’m happy to continue a more social way of living via roommates if it will allow me to afford this better location at this better community,’?" Thomas says.
He notes that when the company was developing a 650-unit Kansas City property in a prime downtown location, potential tenants were calling before lease-up had even started.
"No sooner did that get announced [than] we had people•Gen Y aged•contacting us wanting to know how quickly they could get in there," he says. "Then, there were empty-nesters downsizing, and they hadn’t even seen the product."
When W. Allen Morris was planning a new community in St. Petersburg, Fla., he aimed to attract an array of different residents based on the location. Professionals of all ages will be working at a new pediatric hospital in the area, and students at the University of South Florida will also be looking for convenient housing, Morris says.
So he took a look at his own family and decided to build a place where they would all feel welcome. The 62-year-old mixed his own preferences with inspiration from his six children. His kids—who range in age from 23 to 32 and are in all different stages of their lives—gave him input to find common ground between his Baby Boomer values and their Millennial expectations.
The brainstorming resulted in The Hermitage, an eight-story apartment building in downtown St. Petersburg.
"The idea is not to target a specific age group but to design it for people that like art and fitness and other common interests," Morris says. "It should attract a broad range of people."
Coral Gables–based Allen Morris Residential will develop the building on 2 acres of undeveloped land on an entire city block. Builders plan to break ground this summer and are scheduled for completion in late 2015.
The building is named after and draws inspiration from The State Hermitage Museum, an art museum located in the city’s namesake: St. Petersburg, Russia. The community’s lobby will include an art gallery, while other works will be featured throughout the building. A common area on the penthouse floor will also honor legendary Florida artist A.E. Backus with some large reproductions of his work.
The building will be fitness focused, as well. Highlighting the site’s proximity to the nearby Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail—which runs more than 30 miles through St. Petersburg up to Tarpon Springs—will be essential to attracting both Boomers and Millennials.
Each of Morris’ children said fitness is an essential part of any community. "That’s not age specific," he says. "Anyone who’s interested in fitness and wants to be near the Pinellas Trail will want to live here."
A bike service center and storage area will also be included in the development, since the trail is designed for both running and biking.
Another thing his family has in common is a love of great food, which translates across all generations. Some units will feature gourmet kitchens, and the rooftop will have a grilling area complete with a chef-ready show kitchen. "I happen to have a bunch of foodies in my family, so we’re putting in really nice stainless steel appliances," he says. "Not pseudo–stainless steel or cheap appliances, but ones I would use and my kids would want."