Lifestyles Communities is totally focused on the Generation Y demographic. The Columbus, Ohio-based developer, owner, and operator of 4,000 apartment and condo units across eight Ohio and Kentucky properties caters almost exclusively to upwardly mobile, recent college grads. Residents typically have just graduated out of a student housing environment where amenities and necessities such as game rooms, computer labs, coffee bars, fitness rooms, and laundry facilities were blended together in great room concepts in which students could live, work, and most importantly, socialize. At Lifestyles Communities, residents enjoy pretty much the same. There are on-site pools, fitness centers, restaurants, bars, and planned social activities. As for the common area laundry room, there isn't one.
“Our renters constantly want to socially activate, so we're doing a lot of event programming: beer tastings, wine tastings, Grey's Anatomy nights, euchre nights, Wii bowling leagues—just a constant schedule of activities,” says Lifestyles director of marketing Tom Roberts. None of those activities, however, involve meeting the resident next door over a spin cycle. “The laundry room is just not where they want to socialize. Laundry is about convenience, and it's done in the privacy of their unit.”
So, like the vast majority of market-rate multifamily firms, Lifestyles has responded to overwhelming resident demand for in-unit washers and dryers with a simple game plan: installing in-unit hookups and outfitting them with machines. According to exclusive research conducted by Parks Associates for the 2008 MULTIFAMILY EXECUTIVE Conference, in-unit laundry is the No. 1 amenity driving renter decisions on where to live. And for developers that fed into a decade-long condo boom, forget it: Buyers want in-unit, or they are out the door. “It's very simple,” explains Manny Gonzalez, a principal for Irvine, Calif.-based design and architectural firm KTGY. “If you've got for-sale multifamily product or market-rate rentals, you're going to have in-unit laundry. There are few exceptions.”
PASS THE DETERGENT
With increasing concern among residents and property owners alike about water and energy consumption, however, the common area laundry room just might make a comeback, albeit with a tricked-out, well-lit, coffee bar-type ambience. If that occurs, expect the trend to be driven by the affordable and seniors housing sides of the industry, where common area laundry facilities continue to thrive.
“Our clubhouses are a central focus point to our senior communities. They are 5,000 [square feet] to 6,000 square feet with a fitness center, business center, and laundry facility,” attests Art May, a senior vice president at Roseville, Calif.-based USA Properties, a market-rate and affordable housing developer with properties in California and Nevada. “Laundry seems to be the excuse to come out and interact. They dump their wash and then stick around the community center.”
In contrast to Gen Y, for the 55-plus market, laundry seems to become a social event, and the laundry room is a neighborhood gathering place much like the mail room. “You wouldn't think of it as being very special, but people have a routine. They go there to meet a certain group of people,” Gonzalez says. “In affordable, laundry generally involves watching kids, so you'll often see adjacent tot lots and line-of-sight play areas. You do your laundry; you watch your kids.”
Turning common area laundry rooms into better resident destinations is becoming more and more the norm, says Mike Stankey, chief operating officer for Plainview, N.Y.-based laundry services provider Coinmach, which has more than 850,000 washers and dryers deployed in apartments, condos, and college dorms across the country. “The more socially activated laundry room is a small but developing trend,” Stankey says. “The newer laundry room is nicer and upscale. It is tiled and well lit, and, in some cases, locked with access. You see a lot of WiFi-enabled laundry rooms, and we're seeing them located around the pools or even around playgrounds.”
WIRED, CLEAN, AND GREEN
Companies such as Coinmach and Waltham, Mass.-based laundry services firm Mac-Gray are also hard at work making laundry rooms environmentally smart and technologically enabled.
Energy-efficient Energy Star and front-load washers are now specified in virtually all new construction and property rehabs, and Internet-enabled machines allow residents to check status and availability of the appliances online before hauling their wash down to the laundry room. Wired machines also report service issues directly to the service company, significantly improving repair cycles and minimizing downtime.
“Connecting common area appliances to the Web enables people to have the convenience and control within their apartment comparable to the in-unit machines,” says Mac-Gray vice president of sales Kevin Fahey. “Card-reading machines, Web-enabled machines—all of the automatic technologies are where the apartment markets are leaning. And then you've got energy efficiency. The demand for it has increased significantly.”