Not quite sure it's time to freshen up your clubhouse? Take a hint from your residents. All of last year, only one resident at the 351-unit Village Park of Auburn Hills rented out the property's drab, 1980s country-style clubhouse for a social event. But thanks to a dramatic facelift, the clubhouse's popularity has significantly increased this year. In the past several months alone, residents have rented out the room eight times. "If residents feel like money is being spent on their community, they will want to get involved and check out the improvements," says Beth Raquepau, director of visual merchandising for Farm-ington Hills, Mich.-based Village Green Cos., which owns the Auburn Hills community in Pontiac, Mich. And it's not hard to see why residents are flocking to their new clubhouse: Splashes of sage green, red, and yellow brighten the once-neutral walls, while comfy couches, a pool table, flat-screen TV, and Sirius satellite radio all create a hip, relaxing area for the 20-something resident base.
Updating clubhouses and other building amenities are a sure-fire strategy to add new life to a property and ultimately bring in higher rents and increase resident retention–regardless of whether you've just acquired an older asset or you're updating your own building stock. "We try to rejuvenate [older properties] with amenities," says Tom Flitsch, director of redevelopment at Essex Property Trust, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based REIT. "It's one of the most common solutions to make the assets perform better."
Here are a few fresh ways to jazz up tired spaces–from clubhouses and fitness centers to laundry rooms. Of course, the scope of rehab work varies greatly by property: Sometimes a gut rehab is the only answer, while other times a space simply needs new furniture and a fresh coat of paint.
An amenity-package overhaul often begins with the clubhouse, which sets the stage for the entire property. "The first impact you are going to have [on a prospect] is when they walk into your clubhouse and leasing office," says Joseph Mullen, president and CEO of Madison Apartment Group in Philadelphia, which owns about 22,000 units across the country. "From $50,000 to $150,000, you can do a nice renovation to a clubhouse and really make a tremendous impact."
Sometimes, getting a fresh look can be as easy as adding new carpeting, flooring, and furniture. Take Brantley Pines, a 1980s-era 296-unit rental community in Ft. Myers, Fla. The project screamed "Miami Vice" with its pale green walls, matching green carpeting, and plaid couches, says Mullen, whose company purchased the property in 2004. The clubhouse now says "2006" with its contemporary tan walls, plush beige carpeting with hints of red, a rich red sofa, and a big-screen plasma TV–all for $100,000 (which included a kitchen addition and the renovation of an attached fitness center). Many clubhouse upgrades, however, demand a much higher price tag. At older properties, clubhouse areas tend to be dark and closed-in, with the space divided into several smaller-sized rooms. Today, the trend is to create one large, open and airy space. You will see just that at the newly renovated Thunderbird Ranch, a 672-unit Phoenix apartment community built in 1979. The building's new owner, McDowell Properties, tore down office walls to reveal one giant room and opened up a walled-in galley-style kitchen, creating a L-shaped bar that overlooks the space. "It's that same warm, custom-home feeling where you walk into a grand entrance and you have an openness to the floor plan," says Deborah Dols, vice president, asset management of McDowell Properties, a San Francisco-based value-added buyer that owns about 5,000 apartments. The new-and-improved clubhouse is sure to score big points with both the residents and the building's owner, who hopes to see a 21 percent rent increase after the property's complete overhaul.