Christopher Lee is one of the apartment industry’s leading voices.

President and CEO of CEL & Associates, Inc., in Los Angeles, he’s helped a who’s-who list of top multifamily housing firms with their strategic and long-range planning. As a result, Lee knows what’s going on in real estate and understands the trends that are going to affect the renting of apartments.

APARTMENT FINANCE TODAY recently asked him about the issues that he’s watching and what’s coming down the road.

Q What demographic trend should the multifamily housing industry be excited about over the next year?

A Because demographic trends evolve over time, there is no single event that will occur in 2006 that will have a demonstrable difference in how apartments are designed, developed, and managed. However, there are four clearly emerging trends that are growing in impact and will shape, for many markets, the multifamily industry. These four trends are: one, a rapidly rising Hispanic population; two, a shortage of workforce and affordable housing; three, a retiring Boomer class; and four, a growth in student housing.

Q What do developers/owners need to do to get ready for this trend?

A To prepare for these four demographic trends, today’s multifamily owners must: dramatically enhance their research and knowledge regarding the preferences, needs, lifestyle characteristics, and service/amenity and design features that exceed the expectations of these emerging market segments; regularly survey and gain a greater understanding of each customer segment; change marketing, rental, and branding focus to appeal to each demographic segment; upgrade training focus to better respond to the needs of each emerging segment; and identify growing markets of opportunity and the future path of growth.

Q On the other hand, what demographic trend might be keeping the multifamily industry up at night?

A The one demographic trend that will keep every multifamily owner up at night is the pending impact of immigration reform, and the role and potential liability of renting to an illegal resident.

Q What new trends are emerging in the marketing of apartments?

A Apartment owners are increasingly relying on the Internet to market their properties; hiring leasing agents who can “connect” with prospective residents; adding features and amenities that appeal to each targeted market segment; developing a “sense of community” in each property through events, enhanced communications, and “community facilitators”; and branding. However, the predominant focus of multifamily owners is not to find new residents, but to retain valued existing residents with longevity recognition programs, length-of-stay benefits, and other “valued” resident programs.