Connect Texas Multifamily: In-depth with Amenities
by Amy Sorter
Apartment complexes these days consist of more than a collection of units. It’s the extras that tie it all together. But, what amenity is going to attract and retain tenants? The session “Looking Beyond the Amenities Arms Race: Attracting and Retaining Tenants,” attempted to answer this question by treating attendees at the recent Connect Texas Multifamily conference to insights from a panel of experts.
Moderator Garin Hamburger with Pinnacle threw out the first question, asking what the panelists considered as the top two amenities; responses ranged from fitness centers, to bandwidth speed, to tub showers in the master bathroom. For Lumacorp Inc.’s Ian Mattingly, soundproofing was the focus, pointing out that noises from neighbors or outside can drive renters away. “I have two boys, and I feel for anyone who lived under me,” he quipped.
Another amenity popping up is that of on-site coworking spaces and internet cafes, geared toward millennials.
However, noted Laurie Baker with Camden Properties Trust, dealing with millennials requires a balancing act. “You have to look at their interests, needs and habits,” she said. “Not ALL millennials want lounge cafes, coworking spaces or dog parks. And at some point, baby boomers or gen xers will want that lounge, or coworking space, or dog park. You have to look at all of it.”
Research and metrics have become hugely important in determining amenities. RealPage’s Andrew Bowen commented that, with 5% of rent going to amenities, on average, “you have to measure that performance, to make sure it’s working. Is the use of amenities tied to retention?”
One amenity that commanded a great deal of discussion was customer service, and charging for extra services. According to Hugh Cobb with Alpha-Barnes Real Estate Services, charging for certain services should be done carefully, noting that “we see some success in some areas, but it depends on the product type.” But the panelists agreed that, overall, customer service seems to be a lost art when it comes to apartments. That, and basic politeness.
Baker noted, for example, that when it came to researching properties, one basic thing came to the REIT’s attention, namely that employees in the leasing center didn’t stand up when people first came in. Rather, employees stayed seated, behind their computers, waiting for the resident or potential renter to come to them. “This was such a small thing, but it really impacts the residents’ experience,” she said. Added Hamburger: “We are in a service industry, but with advances in technology, that’s been lost.”
The speakers agreed that the goal was to combine the technology with better customer service. Mattingly pointed out that Lumacorp is identifying ways in which its properties can become more like hospitality properties, with what he termed “aspirational amenities that you can use,” that would include dry cleaning services or car washing. “These are the types of things that can be incorporated, which don’t cost the operator much, but create a perception of value,” Mattingly added.
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