With almost 80 million potential Gen Y renters due to enter the market, developers have been creative over the past 12- to 24-month cycle to meet their demands. And this tech-savvy, massive demographic is not always easy to please.
But Rohit Anand, a design principal at KTGY and Jeff Kayce, vice president of Bozzuto Group, offered insight into what Gen Y renters can expect this year during a webinar sponsored by the NAHB on Wednesday. And for 2012, Anand and Kayce say there are 12 “must-haves” for any Gen Y-friendly apartment project hoping to stay competitive and offer the greatest return:
1. Location, location, location.
Location is the key consideration for this demographic when it comes to choosing an apartment, ranking above price point and amenities, according to data from J Turner Research. Anand says it's possible to follow the latest development cycle in Washington, D.C., along the city’s metro lines, because projects that are more than 20 minutes from business centers and recreation are not succeeding as well as those that offer an easy commute and are within biking or walking distance to entertainment.
2. When it comes to amenities, think like a luxury hotel.
Developers should start taking cues from the hospitality industry, Anand says, where an apartment complex targeting Gen Y can foster a social environment with friendly gathering areas, sophisticated entryways, and decor that emulates a trendy hotel extending throughout the property.
3. Make the most of your space and make common spaces multi-use.
Kayce says recent Bozzuto projects, including the Gen Y–friendly Fitzgerald Apartments in Baltimore, have offered mixed-use rooms that maximize space, including a fireplace lounge that doubles as an open-style business center. “By allowing one space to bleed into the next, there’s no set prescribed use for that room,” Anand says.
4. Niche amenities are key and should be specific to every project.
A dog park and wash at one property might not work at another. Garden space might succeed at a suburban property much more than an urban one. That’s why resident surveys are key, Kayce says.
5. The leasing experience today is not what it once was.
While in another cycle, a separate, private space to sign leases might have been important, Gen Y renters don’t value that as much. Kayce says Bozzuto residents at certain properties like to use the leasing space as an available lounge where they can even socialize with potential renters. But he notes that those properties still maintain private office space to deal with other resident problems as they arise.
6. Fitness is still high in-demand for this demographic.
Kayce says Bozzuto is now designing properties with up to 2,000 square-foot fitness centers.”The fitness center has become much more than a couple treadmills,” he says. “Gen Y desire holistic, relaxed lifestyles, and we’re doing fitness with an eye to that.” That means Gen Y renters aren’t going to be satisfied with a view of the parking lot by their yoga room, Anand adds.
7. Blur the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces.
Gen Y renters want to extend their outdoor options for more months of the year, even in colder climates like the Northeast and Seattle, Anand says. That means amenities like fire pits and heat lamps are high in demand, along with canopies and other covered spaces.
8. Offer flexible unit plans, because this demographic likes to customize.
Anand compares a Gen Yer's apartment to their iPhone: They buy the basic layout but then customize it with their own apps. That’s why he says features like movable kitchen islands and flexible walls and barriers are popular with this demographic.
9. Gen Y renters like unique finishes.
With smaller units, that often means edgy features that include glass and light. But what’s edgy today is constantly changing. “Whatever interesting finish we do for one project, is not cool enough for the next,” Kayce says. But rich, clean and unfussy finishes consistently do well.
10. Gen Y renters want sustainability, but don’t want to pay for it.
Research consistently suggests that this demographic values green living, but that doesn’t mean they are willing to pay more for it. “It’s corporately critical,” Kayce says. “Most renters will not pay for it, but do expect it.”
11. Internet marketing and social media are essential.
Sixty percent of Bozzuto’s leads for leases happened online in 2011, with drive-bys ranking next at 20 percent and referrals at 16 percent.
12. Staying creative is key in a market that could easily be overbuilt in the next few years.
Staying fresh, creative and distinctive is key when targeting Gen Y, a demographic that will eventually have higher incomes and grow into the need for more space, Kayce says. That’s why innovation is so important. “We’ll all be in trouble if we start creating the same thing,” he says.