What do residents really want from a multifamily building?

Goodbye bad lighting, ancient laminate, and cookie-cutter apartment and condo design.

Today’s multifamily developers are answering residents’ demand for more sophisticated offerings, making amenities that were considered luxuries a few years ago, such as granite countertops, hardwood floors and energy-efficient appliances, standard.

To cater to the growing “live, work, play” crowd, developers in cities across the U.S. are serving up a smorgasborg of new amenities, from doggy day spas and HD virtual golf simulators, to private helipads and drone landing pads.

“Today’s multi-family residents aren’t inspired by four white walls and sterile lobbies,” says Christine Espenshade, Managing Director for JLL Americas’ Mid-Atlantic Multifamily team. “They’re looking for a home environment that’s more than just a background—it actively enhances their quality of life with a mix of modern, engaging features.”

The list of today’s in-demand amenities is varied, but clear themes are emerging in most recent upgrades: community, connectivity, mobility and sustainability.

Unique community spaces and events

In multifamily buildings today, residents want to feel part of a thriving community. That same instinct is, after all, a big part of why people live in urban centers.

So it follows that half of the most popular improvements in the last three years have been those that bring people together in some way, such as clubhouses, outdoor kitchens and play areas, according to a recent report by the National Apartment Association (NAA). A Multifamily Design + Construction (MB+C) survey backs up the emphasis on community spaces. Two-thirds of respondents say they’ve included a lounge in a recent project, roughly half have included a café or community kitchen, and around a third offer a community garden.

But there’s a lot more to today’s multifamily development trends than a cool clubhouse. Community-wide events help create a sense of community where neighbors can get on a first-name basis with each other. Some building owners are even hosting “yappy hours,” where human residents can sip cocktails while their pets snack on special treats and play together.

“There’s strong ROI for landlords when they nurture a strong community in their building,” comments Espenshade. “A resident is much more likely to renew a lease when the downstairs neighbor will water her plants while she’s on vacation or if her dog likes to play with the golden retriever down the hall.”

In-person engagement isn’t the only kind of connectivity on tap. Digital connectivity is a major driver of change in multifamily residence building and design.

With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), smart buildings and artificial intelligence (AI), demand for more connected living experiences is at an all-time high—and apartment and condo developers across the U.S. are working to deliver. Free, property-wide WiFi has already become pervasive—but resident appetites are quickly growing for even more sophisticated offerings.

In-unit smart home systems are growing in popularity as consumers become accustomed to using technology to manage just about all aspects of their lives. Some developers are responding with integrated systems that allow residents to control lighting, the thermostat and appliances with a handy app.

Mobility solutions for car-free residents

Transportation is a major consideration for multifamily residents—and they’re not always looking for a parking space. Nearly 1 million Americans now bike to work, making secure storage for bikes one of the most common amenities. Some buildings are going the extra mile, by introducing “bicycle kitchens,” where residents can access repair and maintenance services.

“A major appeal of living in a city is the fact that people can theoretically get from home to work more easily than if they lived further out,” notes Espenshade. “But no one wants to carry their bike up four flights of stairs only to have to hang it from a hook in their living room. Developers have seen the need for better solutions, and are responding.”

Proximity to public transit and walkable neighborhoods are also a key draw for residents. And for those who utilize car-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, many buildings are creating dedicated waiting spaces. These areas are more than just function—they contribute to community building as well. “The Uber lounge is often a very social place where residents chat with each other as they wait for their ride,” says Espenshade.

What’s next? More of the same, and beyond

As consumer expectations change in line with evolving technology and lifestyle trends, the amenities that seem innovative today soon become standard offerings.

“Developers are upping their game in terms of more sophisticated amenities supply,” observes Espenshade. “But like we’ve seen with stainless steel appliances and other former ‘luxuries,’ some of these offerings are already becoming a need, more than a want for residents. To stay ahead, developers should continually refresh their offerings.”

Yet these have to go beyond gimmicky to genuinely meet the needs of residents of all ages. “Pet spas are becoming more common, but there is a surprising lack of indoor playrooms in today’s multi-family buildings,” she says. “As more couples start their families in apartments, and empty nesters look for ways to entertain grandkids, play spaces offer a big draw.”

No single apartment block will be able to offer every amenity but those that provide residents with good connectivity, mobility and community stand to remain popular choices for modern living.

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