From the wide-ranging effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the increased digitization of our world to a new generation shaped by an increasingly connected society and the reality of ongoing economic uncertainty, the ripple effects of the past year on the housing market continue to reveal themselves.

As we look ahead, here are five trends to watch — and an exploration of how these trends will shape the apartment industry for years to come:

A new outlook on amenities

Apartment communities are always looking for ways to adapt and respond to residents’ changing interests and needs. While shared community amenities such as fitness centers, pools and lounges are still a priority for many residents, the focus has shifted to individual apartment amenities, such as high-speed WiFi, adaptable spaces, natural light, larger kitchens, in-unit washer and dryers and personal outdoor spaces such as balconies or terraces.

In line with the increased digitization of our world, new tech amenities such as package tracking and locker systems, smart thermostats and touchless devices in common areas are also becoming more popular.

A new approach to touring and decision-making

Virtual touring has surged over the past year, but it’s not a new phenomenon. What is new is the growing number of people conducting their entire search process without ever seeing the community or unit in-person. Previously, virtual tours may have been the first step in a search process, allowing prospects to narrow down their choices before visiting their top options in-person. Now more people are becoming comfortable with the idea of a fully virtual experience from start to finish.

The increasing emphasis on virtual tours has prompted property managers to revamp their touring process and assets. In the past, a “virtual tour” may have consisted of a photo slide show or short video clips of only the most popular unit models. As virtual touring continues to become a more widely accepted option, we will continue to see apartment communities invest in new technology, high-quality videos and specialized training to give prospects a more complete picture of the community.

More apartment communities are also upgrading other online resources and tools to supplement the touring process, such as resident portals for potential residents to complete the rental application, pay necessary fees and deposits and eventually sign the lease.

A new dynamic between property managers and residents

Before the pandemic, residents may not have even known their property manager’s name. A property manager was someone you contacted if you had a maintenance issue or a payment question. But over the past year, proactive communication between property managers and residents has significantly increased as apartment communities committed to providing regular guidance and updates on health protocols, amenity closures, ongoing maintenance, rental assistance programs and any necessary policy changes.

Trust between the property manager and resident has never been more important. As we look ahead, the communications channels and relationships cultivated through this time may set a new precedent in which apartment communities function as true communities. This could impact resident retention and even new apartment searches, as residents elevate customer service and overall community connectedness to a higher level of priority in their search.

A new perspective on location

Location, location, location is the tried-and-true rule of real estate. But, as we’ve seen throughout market history, what defines a “good” location can change depending on the times and what a particular group or individual deems valuable.

For many companies, remote work is not just a reality of the pandemic — it will probably continue to be an option and benefit for employees long after the pandemic is over. The ripple effects of this lifestyle change cannot be overstated and will probably continue to play out for years to come. In the apartment industry, one of the greatest effects will probably be what defines a “good” location. While proximity to work, transportation and culture may have previously defined a “good” or high-value location, now we’re seeing a shift in which proximity to parks, green space and even family and friends are emerging as top priorities.

In addition to rethinking location, this lifestyle shift is also pushing residents and apartment communities to rethink space, both in terms of size and overall use. For example, residents may look for an apartment with a larger kitchen and living area in which to cook, work and entertain. In other cases, a two-bedroom unit may be advertised as a one-bedroom unit with a “bonus room” that can be used as an office, project studio, classroom or home gym, flexible to the needs of the individual or family.

A new generation with its own values and preferences

Each generation has made its mark on the housing industry. Over the past several years, millennials have made headlines for their tendency to rent instead of buy — a trend that continues to shape the rental market today.

Now a new generation is coming of age, driving increased demand for apartments and bringing its own set of values and preferences, not the least of which is a high standard for high-tech integrations and amenities. Like millennials before them, Gen Z is showing early signs of high favorability toward renting. This means that the current demand for apartments is only going to increase, creating steeper competition, prompting innovations and spurring new development.

One of the greatest hallmarks of the apartment industry is its propensity for choice, flexibility and adaptability. As we witness a seismic shift in our society and economy, the apartment industry is racing to identify and respond to its residents’ changing lifestyles. For residents, it’s a critical time to communicate your needs to your property manager or leasing agent. In this way, housing providers and residents can come together to shape and influence the apartment market of the future.

Robert Pinnegar is president and CEO of the National Apartment Association.

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