Credit: James Provost


Whether Gen Y apartment prospects are relying on a single source to inform their selection of a rental community or tapping into a variety of channels, the Millennial approach to finding an apartment is comparatively (and perhaps not surprisingly) more tech-savvy than searches conducted by other demographics.

What Gen Y residents ultimately want from apartment community design and management, however, may not be drastically different from what the renters who preceded them desired. Apartment operators bent on Gen Y success will likely benefit from the site selection, core amenity offerings, and customer service considerations typically made for market-rate multifamily communities in the first place.

According to What Do Residents Want?: Trends in Resident Technology and Communication Preferences, a J Turner Research study conducted in June 2012, the Millennial generation is more apt to use smart phones, laptops, and tablets for apartment research. The survey, which included responses from 41,303 apartment residents (39 percent of whom were between 18 and 30 years old) showed that Gen Yers also gravitate toward social media, apartment community websites, and Craigslist more than older apartment searchers do.

In Search Of …

While Internet listing sites (69 percent), drive-bys (39 percent), and referrals from family members and friends (24 percent) were most often cited as the sources used for apartment searches, an analysis by age demographic reveals that the younger a prospect, the stronger the probability he or she will tap into ­social media and the Web.

Likewise, Gen Y apartment prospects are much more likely to be conducting their search on laptops or using mobile phones. Out of all age demographics, ownership of laptops and smart phones is highest (at 89 percent and 88 percent, respectively) among Millennials, while their corresponding ownership (and, presumably, use) of desktop computers, at 28 percent, is the lowest of all age demographics.

“They are the demographic who has forced us to become much more efficient and savvy in how we present product to the market,” says Josh McDonald, director of marketing for Vancouver, Wash.–based Holland Residential, one of 10 multifamily firms that participated in the What Do Residents Want? survey. “Specifically, with the use of responsive design technology, we’re focused on the ability to maintain a consistent message from desktop to tablet to mobile.”

Great Locations, Decent Prices

Even if the process of attracting Gen Y prospects to multifamily communities has become decidedly more tech-centric, satisfying the needs of those prospects and closing the deal on leases still seems to be an exercise driven by community location and service reputation, rather than by any specific bells and whistles in amenities or ­design.

According to a recent study, location and price were of far greater importance to Gen Y students about to migrate into market-rate housing, while flashy extras ranked extremely low as lease-signing motivators. According to the study, Survey Says: Apartment Features, Amenities, and Programs That Sell to Students and Parents, conducted by J Turner Research on behalf of the National Apartment Association (NAA), location is the second-most important factor that both parents (29 percent) and students (22 percent) consider when selecting an apartment, trumped only by parent interest in security (34 percent) and student interest in rental rate and price (47 percent).

Conducted in February of this year, the Survey Says study of 11,195 students and 3,605 parents from 159 different colleges and universities shows that beyond pricing, location, and security, 31 percent of parents were most interested in whether or not their kids would be living with friends, followed by another 27 percent most interested in professional leasing and management staff. Friends and a great management staff topped the list for students, as well, tying for the No. 1 amenity, at 19 percent.

Way down on the list were flashy extras like tanning beds (mentioned by only 2 percent of students) and pools (mentioned by only 1 percent of parents and 6 percent of students).

Hot-Wired for Service

“What Gen Y seems most interested in from a design and service standpoint is location, efficiency, and adaptability,” comments McDonald on his firm’s approach to satisfying Gen Y community expectations.

Two of Holland’s newest developments are a stone’s throw from the campus and the headquarters of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and are focused on efficiency-minded studios and one-­bedroom units that deliver most of their square-footage punch in larger-sized closets for things like bikes and outdoor gear storage. Whether incorporating additional community amenities such as wine storage or Wii-equipped clubhouses, McDonald says the overriding Gen Y amenity is the one they never see: Cat-5 wiring behind the walls and a heavy blanket of Wi-Fi availability across the community.

Indeed, Internet access and cell-phone reception remain powerful necessities to satisfy residents and their device requirements. When asked to rate the importance of speed, reception, and reliability within the apartment unit on a scale of zero to 10, respondents to What Do Residents Want? weighted speed of Internet connection (7.54), stability of Internet connection (7.44), and cell-phone signal reception (7.33) as highly rated tech amenities.

Thus wired, effective multifamily approaches to Gen Y living are those focused on allowing Millennials to customize their own living environments built on the bones of bandwidth availability, community location, and customer-service execution.

“That’s our goal,” McDonald says. “To provide an exceptional customer experience based upon where we’re building and the product type, in conjunction with the services we’re able to provide to them. We consequently think we have a great opportunity to capture a segment of this renter population.”

Joseph Batdorf is president and CEO of Houston-based J Turner Research.