“Light My Fire,” released by The Doors in 1967, is an iconic piece of music from a time when many members of the baby boomer generation were coming of age. So it’s fair to ask, what exactly would it take, today, for apartment marketers to “light the fire” of the nation’s second-largest demographic cohort, estimated at 76.4 million? 

According to the 25,099 respondents to an exclusive survey of renters nationwide by J Turner Research in partnership with MFE, apartment marketers need to pay close attention to the growing significance of online ratings and reviews, for one thing.

More than half (63%) of baby boomers conducting an apartment search use online ratings and reviews to gather information about the communities they’re interested in. And these reviews have a compelling effect on boomers’ rental decisions, as evidenced by the 6.65 rating (on a scale of 1 to 10) the group gave them. 

Yet, despite the popularity of review sites, only 18% of multifamily renters as a whole, and 21% of baby boomers, have ever been asked to post a review. 

The data demonstrate that the majority of prospects are narrowing their search first by location and then by how residents rate the property. Yet despite the increasing influence of online ratings and reviews in the rental process, the industry seems to be missing the opportunity to gather and utilize resident opinions to market their properties. 

In describing the ideal apartment community, survey respondents across the generations cited the top three features as safety and cleanliness (both tied at 90%), evidence the property is well kept (79%), and quiet (73%). Boomers, perhaps not surprisingly, place notably more importance on the issue of quietness (82%) than do millennials (69%). 

Specifically, the survey report, Marketing to Different Generations: Emerging Online, Language, and Lifestyle Trends, investigates how generations—especially baby boomers—compare in their rental-search patterns, including social media usage; ratings and reviews; preferred devices and search sources; buzzwords used to describe lifestyle, community, and neighborhood preferences; website expectations; and choice of channels to communicate with the property management. 

Survey responses came from residents of 18 apartment companies representing more than 500 properties. The majority (54%) of the respondents were millennials (18 to 34 years), followed by Gen Xers (35 to 50 years), at 27%; baby boomers (51 to 70 years), at 17%; and the Silent Generation (71 years and older), at 2%. 

Based on the responses the research team received, several trends emerged that marketers should be cognizant of while courting boomers:

Nearly 25% of baby boomers don’t use social media
Of those who do, most (69%) prefer Facebook, which, at 77%, continues to be the most favored social media channel across all generations. Second on boomers’ list is LinkedIn (23%), which differs notably from millennials, whose second choice is Instagram, at 40%. 

Preferred apartment-search channels depend on user age
Among all generations of renters, the top three search channels continue to be Internet listing sites (ILSs), at 64%; drive-bys (41%); and word-of-mouth (24%). These figures haven’t changed since 2012. But whereas 55% of boomers rate ILSs as their top choice of channels, a notably greater percentage of millennials (70%) prefer the sites. Next-most popular for both groups are drive-bys (44% among boomers; 39% among millennials).

Ratings and reviews are more popular than ever
More than three-fourths (78%) of the survey respondents reported using online ratings and review sites to gather information about the community they were interested in, a 5% increase from 2012. Among websites used for this purpose, Google+ has risen from being statistically negligible in 2012 to garnering a 17% usage rate among residents this year. At 7.54 on a scale of 1 to 10 , Google + was also the most trusted site across all generations, surpassing 2012’s top choice, Yelp. 

Overall, across all generations, the number of residents posting reviews has increased by 26% since 2012, with positive reviews up 44% in that time. In 2015, nearly a quarter of the boomers (23%) said they posted reviews and ratings online, with 74% being positive and 21% a mixed bag. 

The correlation between customer service and ratings and reviews, too, has strengthened over time. As indicated in another 

J Turner Research survey, a satisfied resident is more likely (53%) to post a review versus a dissatisfied resident (7%).

Boomers really like considerate neighbors

All respondents described their ideal neighbor as considerate (77%), but 84% of boomers chose this quality compared with only 75% of millennials.

A swimming pool and gym are must-haves
All generations unanimously rated the same three community features as key: a gym (81%), a pool (80%), and private outdoor space (55%), but the importance of each varies by generation. Boomers rate the pool as tops (73%), while millennials have it as No. 2. Conversely, millennials’ first choice—a gym, at 85%—is second on the boomer list (70%).

Safety is paramount
Safety (24-hour security, at 73%) is among the top three community services most important to all residents, the other two being online payments (73%) and 24-hour service-request guarantees (72%). Among boomers, 74% said 24-hour security is the most important service, followed by 24-hour service-request guarantees (68%) and the ability to pay rent online (60%). Least important to boomers are fluff-and-fold services (3%) and on-site volunteer opportunities (9%).

Home is where the kitchen is 
The three most-important qualities for all residents in an apartment unit are a full kitchen (58%), natural light (43%), and storage (37%). Boomers rated the three almost exactly as all residents did: 55% for a full kitchen, 42% for natural light, and 39% for storage. Least important to boomers are a guest area (2%), deluxe finishes and materials (11%), and a bathtub (12%). 

The largest difference in an in-unit feature’s importance between boomers and millennials is in regards to the floor plan: 23% of boomers rate a one-level plan as an important apartment quality, versus 5% of millennials who do.

The complete results of the survey will be unveiled at the 2015 Multifamily Executive Conference, Oct. 5–7, in Las Vegas. The data will also inform the 2015 Concept Community, “Baby Boomerang,” being designed by ­David Baker Architects. For more information, visit the ­Concept ­Community website.