Twenty years ago, if you were looking to rent, you signed a one-year lease for a two-bedroom in a five-floor walk-up. Since then, the rental landscape has continually evolved, and residents today have access to an increasing amount of options, such as new design and building innovations, community planning concepts and more.
With occupancy rates in the 94 to 95 percent range and rent growth averaging between 2 and 3 percent, the rental industry will remain strong in 2019. What changes will we see in the next few years? Here are a few predictions:
Evolution in amenities: According to RENTCafé, the average size of new apartments in 2018 was 941 square feet — 5 percent smaller than a decade ago. But even as the size of individual units shrinks, renters continue to seek larger common spaces within their communities. Instead of movie screening rooms or a traditional swimming pool, however, residents today are looking for home office spaces or outdoor fire pits and areas for grilling.
One of the biggest shifts in amenities we’ve started to see and will continue to see in the coming years is a focus on convenience and service. Years ago, it was popular to have a fireplace in each unit, but now residents prefer high-tech features such as window blinds operated by remote control or laundry machines that send a text when a load is finished. A desire for on-demand access to services like dry cleaning, dog walking and even wine delivery will also increase. We’ll also see more refrigerated lockers for grocery and specialty food deliveries.
Accommodating different ages: As more and more baby boomers are choosing to rent, whether as empty nesters or following a later-in-life divorce, apartment communities will continue to cater to a broader mix of demographics. Interestingly, young professionals and baby boomers often want the same things in terms of community, such as “Wine Down Wednesday” events or yappy hours for pet owners to mingle.
Generational differences are more apparent when it comes to desired features within individual units. Millennials tend to be minimalists — they haven’t yet acquired a lifetime of belongings and require less storage space — while older renters might seek out his-and-hers closets or other large storage options. Residents who have previously owned a house might also want to customize their rental space through decorative elements, such as the option to paint the walls with an accent color.
Greater flexibility: The apartment industry will continue to adopt new technologies as they become available to offer greater flexibility and efficiency throughout the entire process of finding a home. For example, prospective residents can narrow down apartment options by using online tools that match properties to their needs. Some communities even offer 360-degree virtual tours so prospective residents can “walk through” a property from the comfort of their couch.
Another innovation that offers flexibility is the option to take a self-guided tour. Some properties already offer this, and it will become more common in the future. Instead of arranging to meet a property manager in person, prospective residents can download an app that provides directions on how to get to an apartment, enter and exit with the help of automated locks and then take as much time as they need to explore the property.
Total integration: There’s an app for everything, from streaming the latest binge-worthy show, to making dinner reservations, to requesting a ride. The next step is connecting all these services and making them even easier to access.
Imagine an environment where Amazon, Yelp, OpenTable, Caviar, Netflix, Lyft and more are all available from one platform, and all connected to your rental app. A complete, integrated solution like this will allow rental properties to meet the needs of residents — not just for housing, but for all aspects of their lives.
Robert Pinnegar is president and CEO of the National Apartment Association, headquartered in Arlington, Va.