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Free Time and Fun: the New Must-Haves at Apartments

As the Luxury Multifamily Market Approaches a Peak, Apartment Owners and Managers Turning to Social Amenities to Engage Residents at Their Properties
June 25, 2018
Boston-based National Devlopment uses an engagement manager and a tenant app to arrange events for residents.

The new must-have amenity for luxury apartment projects? Time.

During this economic growth cycle apartment developers have engaged in a virtual arms race of amenities. Most were physical goodies they could tout in property tours - features like furnished guest suites for resident’s out-of-town visitors, rooftop pools, and walk-in lobby refrigerators for food deliveries.

Now, say apartment developers and property managers, the trend is towards providing services that save residents time, or experiences that make effective use of it.

Across the country high-end apartments are now offering a host of new services to attract renters: dog-walking, wine tastings, poker nights, errand-runners.

"There’s this feeling that the amenities war has run its course - everyone has the same check list on their website," said Tom Geyer, vice president of branding at the Bozzuto Group, the Greenbelt, MD.-based developer and apartment manager.

"But I do think the battle of services is a newfound strategy to build value."

Bozzuto, which owns or manages more than 60,000 units up and down the East Coast, has become a specialist in adding these experience-based and time-saving services, and notes the appeal of service and experience-based amenities goes across all age groups.

For its part, Geyer said Bozzuto doesn't try to mold their properties to fit a certain age group - for millennials, say.

Rather, the company sees its properties and tenants in terms of "tribes." Some properties have a preponderance of bike riders, some have dog owners, and others are dominated by retirees looking for urban living experiences.

"Most of our residents are not non-social people," said Geyer. "Building amenity space is about supporting interaction, looking for a chance meeting of the tribe."

For example, Geyer said residents aren't just interested in an onsite gym, they want access to classes.

"Classes are the number one thing, group classes," he said.

That means not just adding amenities, but re-designing some of the existing amenity spaces. Gyms have to be designed to accommodate the new trends of cross-fit, PX-90 workouts. And equipment has to be placed to accommodate classes.

National Development, a multifamily developer and manager based in Boston, agrees with the new thinking. It hired a full-time marketing and community engagement manager who coordinates events for a dozen National Development properties.

"It’s not an either-or proposition," said Ted Tye, a managing partner at National Development. "There’s been a real push for physical amenities, and that hasn’t abated. Layered on top of that, as the market gets more competitive, is the social amenity."

One thing National Development has done to fill that demand is to hire Doorbell, a tech company that started as a Harvard Innovation Labs project. It provides multifamily property owners with an app their tenants can use to learn all the social amenities scheduled on site and offer discounts to local businesses.

By analyzing data from used discounts, supplemented with tenant surveys, Doorbell can give owners and managers more insight into the interests of their tenants: are they more dog owners? Or more wine tasters? Are they foodies who want to RSVP an invite to a chef’s table night at a hot new restaurant? Or do they want a running club?

Doorbell then uses that information to arrange events.

Doorbell founder Ben Pleat says a lot of the high-end physical amenities go unused while costing owners tons of money. He cited soundproof "jam rooms" where residents can play instruments without disturbing the neighbors that have been included in some luxury properties catering to younger renters.

Doorbell, and services like it, he said, are more effective in identifying amenities that will get the most bang for the buck.

"Don’t spend $5 million on a soundproof room where a few millennials can bang on a drum," he said. "Spend $100,000 to help create a community."

When residents enjoy their experiences, they are more likely to renew, said National Development's Tye and Doorbell's Pleat, and that directly affects property owners and apartment managers' bottom line.

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