On a quiet Sunday afternoon, a services delivery manager for Hewlett-Packard was hanging out with his laptop in the Southwest-style community center at Concord Mews, a luxury apartment property in Concord, Mass. Seated in a comfy chair, he tapped out e-mails as he glanced at a sporting event on the room’s large-screen TV.
Suddenly, another resident plunked himself down next to the HP employee. A discussion ensued about Mr. HP’s plans for a start-up tech-sales company. The neighbor, a marketing professional, offered his services to help promote the new business. Cards were exchanged, and the two men made a date to meet back in the community center the next week.
Meanwhile, about half an hour east, in Reading, Mass., a resident at Reading Commons stopped in the building’s activity center. He explained that he was a salesman for a tech business and used the center to do his work when he wanted human company.
Similarly, northwest of Boston, in Haverhill, Mass., tenants at The Cordovan at Haverhill Station and Haverhill Lofts are renting two-story live–work spaces or loft studios so they can conduct business from their apartment building. Since 2007, these two Beacon Communities developments have housed a wide variety of business owners, from yoga instructors to accountants, along with artists.
About 400 miles south, in Crystal City, Va., Vornado Realty Trust of New York City is collaborating with WeWork, a national network of shared office space, to create a residential–work community that will mingle living and shared work spaces. According to press reports, the collaborative residential community will include 250 mainly micro units that will provide shared communal spaces, such as kitchens, living rooms, libraries, arcades, and indoor herb gardens.
Common Areas as Business Incubators
All of these examples reflect the evolution of the apartment complex from being solely a place to hang one’s hat at night to a venue where professionals are increasingly incorporating their work into their living space. Whether they’re small-business owners, telecommuters, artists, traveling salespeople, or entrepreneurs seeking communal work spaces, this business-oriented population is having an impact on apartment developers, says Caitlin Walter, senior research analyst for the Washington, D.C.–based National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC).
Just how much of an impact is uncertain at this stage, Walter says, but she’s seeing examples of the trend in local bedroom communities, including Solaire Apartments in Silver Spring, Md. Solaire offers nine live–work units with their own entrance from the sidewalk. The apartment community even offers business plaques to its live/work tenants. “Ideal for artists, entrepreneurs, and other soulful types ... because not everyone is a nine-to-fiver,” reads the development’s website, which touts the ability to have a “unified life” as a Solaire resident.
“There are a bunch of different models for how the apartment community addresses the working-from-home trend,” says Walter. In recent years, for example, she’s noticed amenity spaces moving beyond an emphasis on entertainment to creating “large activity [areas] with business centers. I’ve been in properties in the middle of the day and seen their activity centers jam-packed with people working.”
Once someone becomes a home-based business owner, his or her business needs often drive the decision of where to live and the services he or she will demand of an apartment community. Walter says “residents are definitely driving the trend to provide business-support services in apartment communities.” She even knows of one case in which a developer built a property and afterward decided to add a business center “because the residents wanted one.”
Boomers Driving the Business-at-Home Trend
With apartment living surging in popularity at the same time many Americans are embracing business ownership, the apartment-as-work-space trend may well accelerate. Millennials seem to be getting all the attention as a target market, but Baby Boomers, too, represent a large segment of the workforce. Each year, 5 million turn 62—technically retirement age—but it’s well documented that many Boomers don’t want to stop working, not to mention the question of whether they can afford to retire.
As AARP’s magazine and bulletins reports monthly, active seniors are building their own businesses in record numbers. And as they increasingly downsize from single-family homes to rental apartments, Boomers are bringing their small businesses with them.
A Missed Opportunity?
It’s unclear how aware apartment developers are of the work-from-home trend, but interviews with roughly 20 leasing agents and property managers across Massachusetts and New Hampshire indicate that most developers aren’t clued into the small-business people hanging out in their activity centers.
Indeed, developers such as Boston-based Beacon Communities and New York–based WeWork, which have built specifically to attract business owners and entrepreneurs, may well be the exception at this point. Both companies have built spaces recognizing that there are different types of businesses whose needs create a demand for various types of spaces, facilities, and services. For example, a telecommuter or a business consultant may need Wi-Fi, while an artist requires a large, light-filled space. Hence the design of the artist lofts that Beacon built in Haverhill, Mass. (See “Beacon Communities: An Early Live–Work Adopter,” below.)
Apartment community business centers can range from simple alcoves with a few computers and a printer to enclosed spaces that contain actual cubicles. Many communities even provide private conference rooms for residents to rent or use for free. But many developers may already provide potential business spaces without even realizing it—for example, gorgeous video rooms that mimic small theaters. Often used for video nights, these spaces could also double as viewing rooms for resident filmmakers and film students.
As our earlier example of Concord Mews and its resident Mr. HP illustrates, when an apartment developer provides businesspeople somewhere to congregate, they will often start doing business together. Thus, in addition to staging poolside social gatherings for residents, development activity directors could hold (and property managers could market) business networking events by the pool or rooftop deck, as well.
As home-based businesses and telecommuting continue to grow, the potential ways of catering to work-at-home renters are practically limitless.
Now, all that’s needed is for more multifamily properties to give it a try.
Amy Zuckerman is the founder of Hidden Tech, a support network for small-business owners. She won the Small Business Administration’s Home-Based Business Champion Award in 2005. Based in Amherst, Mass., she is also a Massachusetts-licensed real estate agent. Contact her via her website, www.a-zinternational.com.
BEACON COMMUNITIES: AN EARLY LIVE–WORK ADOPTER
About 10 years ago, Boston-based developer Beacon Communities acquired two adjacent, old warehouse buildings in downtown Haverhill, Mass., thinking the structures would lend themselves to an innovative mixed-income rental housing community. Meanwhile, the mayor and others were interested in reinvigorating the downtown by increasing its supply of market-rate rental housing and ancillary commercial space. No new market-rate rental housing had been built downtown in approximately 20 years.
At the time, the concept of the “creative economy,” or using the arts to drive urban economic development, was all the rage, and Haverhill was promoting the creation of an arts district downtown. So, Beacon proposed building live–work spaces at its new properties, The Cordovan at Haverhill Station, which opened on Feb. 15, 2007, and Haverhill Lofts, which opened six months later.
Over time, Beacon CEO Pam Goodman and vice president of marketing Janice Lynch saw that many types of businesspeople, not just artists, were attracted to both spaces. Since the developments opened, tenants have spanned a wide range of professionals who want to live next to their work space, including a massage therapist, a yoga instructor, a lawyer, an accountant, and a photographer.
“The spaces in The Cordovan were designed as two-story so you could theoretically have your business on the first floor,” Goodman explains. “The lofts in the second building [meanwhile] are designed with concrete floors and oversized doors to cater to artists.”
Both Goodman and Lynch feel the live–work concept has worked well in Haverhill and would be extremely successful in large urban centers, as well. Although Beacon has no plans to replicate the experiment elsewhere at this time, Goodman says “there’s no reason we wouldn’t do it again.”
Indeed, the idea of offering business-support, networking services to Beacon’s live–work tenants intrigues Goodman. “It’s all about community,” she says. —A.Z
THE FOUR STEPS TO LEVERAGE YOUR APARTMENT-BASED BUSINESS
Any apartment manager or owner can take advantage of their hidden apartment-based business owners. Here are four steps how:
STEP ONE: Get to know your business residents. You cannot leverage this crowd without identifying who they are, what type of business they own, or work they do in your activity center. Only then will you know what they require, and may be willing to pay for, in terms of support services. For example, if you provide community-wide Wi-Fi then the apartment owner, not the service providers, gain the income generated from fees to tenants. A no brainer for any techie to install.
STEP TWO: Learn to think like the home-based entrepreneur or teleworker. These are different breeds with different work needs that may have a big impact on the design of your apartments and facilities. An accountant has very different needs than an artist, which Beacon Communities CEO Pam Goodman recognized when designing the Haverhill, Mass. properties back around 2006. WeWork, on the other hand, is catering to mainly tech entrepreneurs in the creation of its new Crystal City, Va. facility. They understand that tech entrepreneurs, in particular, thrive on collaborative business spaces.
Small business owners who want to work alone in a quiet space may not share that enthusiasm for in-your-face collaborative work spaces. Thus, apartment communities might want to develop both quiet spaces and collaborative spaces that will suit all breeds. Again, Beacon Communities recognized that artists want loft space and built live/work spaces especially for them.
STEP THREE: Bone up on advanced technologies that business owners use to work “untethered,” meaning poolside, on your tennis courts or rooftop patios, not just in activity centers. This might mean placing Wi-Fi throughout the community and ensuring cell coverage is ubiquitous.
STEP FOUR: As noted, realize that common areas are providing the most essential service any home-based business owner needs--providing community and helping them beat isolation. Business owners need to percolate ideas and rub elbows with others like them. The apartment community center allows that, but needs to develop various programs and events tailored to business owners’ needs. Ice cream socials are nice for families, but they won’t attract venture capitalists unless they are scouting for techies cooking up that latest ice cream app. The best way to pull them out is offer a networking meeting. Toss in some beverages and chips and watch them come.—A.Z..