Resident behaviors shifted significantly in 2021 as the pandemic led millions to remote work and rethink where to live.
Creating more space and specialized amenities enabled apartment operators to thrive, according to the Grace Hill/NMHC 2022 Renter Preferences Survey Report, which featured input from 221,000 renters living in 4,564 communities nationwide, with data available in 79 markets.
In the report, Grace Hill/NMHC provides a comprehensive look at the home features and community amenities that renters can’t live without, how much they are willing to pay extra in rent premiums, and what matters during their home search.
“It’s important to note that, beyond national trends, there are several market-level nuances affecting renter preferences,” said Kendall Pretzer, CEO of Grace Hill. “National data paints an overall picture for the industry, but it is vital for operators to keep a finger on the pulse of each individual market in their portfolios.
“Trends vary by region, by state, and by municipality and may stray significantly from national averages. A program that regularly polls prospects and solicits resident feedback is essential to successfully meet renter preferences and expectations.”
Home Is Now Sanctuary
One-quarter of all moves tracked were specific to changes in remote work, as overall, more renters are prioritizing additional space, better amenities, and in-home creature comforts. Home is now their sanctuary.
45% of respondents indicated they worked from their apartments several times a week in 2021. That’s up from 19% in 2019.
The survey showed that residents are willing to pay a premium in monthly rent for certain amenities:
- Washer/dryer in-unit (92% of renters interested/$54.73 monthly premium)
- Air conditioning (91%/$54.73)
- Soundproof walls (90%/$46.21)
- High-speed internet access (89%/$47.93)
- Walk-in closet (88%/$43.46)
Give Them Their Space
Persistent lockdowns and other restrictions seemingly led to a strong desire for additional space. For instance, 28% of renters who said they intend to move to a different rental community when their lease expires cited “additional living space” as a reason, up from just 19% two years ago.
Additional space was the third most common reason for wanting to move after “seeking lower rent” (49% of renters) and “seeking better community amenities” (29%).
Margette Hepfner, COO, Lincoln Property Company, said at a recent conference that renters want places where they can plug in and work in the community, including the common areas.
“We’ve dedicated space for that, trying to create areas like you see in a Starbucks where people are sitting near each other but aren’t speaking to one another,” she said. “Our focus for these is to be functional while creating nice aesthetics.”
While many kept their venturing out to a minimum, the need for goods to be delivered increased. The share of renters who received two or fewer packages per month dropped from 45% in 2019 to just 24% this round.
Conversely, the share who received three or more packages per month increased from 55% to 76% over the same two-year period. And the percentage of renters who received perishable items several times a month or more nearly doubled from 9% in 2019 to 17% in 2021.
Then, there’s the explosion of food delivery to apartment buildings.
While speaking at an industry conference, Julie Smith, Chief Administrative Officer, Bozzuto, said she recently visited a Chicago property with three 8-foot-long tables set up in its lobby dedicated just to food deliveries. She also said communities could benefit from faster elevators.
“Who wants fries that came with their Door Dash delivery to be cold once they get back to their apartment?” Smith said.
Survey Shares Some Quirky Local Trends
- A gear wall, for home storage and organization, is a sought-after home feature in Honolulu. There 45% of renters say they are interested or won’t rent without one.
- Rental dwellers in Savannah, Georgia, show the least interest (11%) in a gear wall but have more interest than any other market in a makerspace/DIY room (39%).
- There is more interest in hot tubs in Boulder, Colorado (70%) than in Philadelphia (41%).
- Covered parking is more important in Minneapolis (80%) than in Gainesville, Florida (47%).
Glad You Asked
Soliciting resident feedback is crucial during these times as renters consider their living arrangements.
Hepfner said, “We’re not our renters. So, what we think doesn’t matter that much. You need to ask your renters what interests them. For example, we’ve included a podcast/music recording studio in one of our communities for our residents.”
Nearly half of residents in the Renter Preferences Survey expressed interest in having a rental living membership where they paid rent but were free to move about to other communities in the portfolio in other markets – not unlike a vacation club.
Hepfner said, “Maybe this could be tied to loyalty points in some way. It might not be something I’d want. But if they are saying this, the biggest mistake would be to simply dismiss it.”
Sound-proofing scored very high. Yet, when a conference audience was informally asked how many have sound-proof units, no hands were raised.
“This would cost more money to develop, but maybe this is a benefit we could promote that would keep residents living at our communities longer,” Hepfner said.
Given the hyper-competitive apartment leasing environment today, keeping renters at your community really pays off. Just give them what they want.