When contemplating the purchase or repositioning of a multifamily property one of the most important investment decisions you can make is to determine exactly what repairs and renovations will add value to the property. The Covid 19 pandemic has dramatically shifted resident priorities and what they are looking for in their homes. Many developers are making changes to their plans for new construction going forward. But these projects won’t come online until 2022 2023 or even 2024. You have an advantage in that you can make some alterations to your existing property and increase your rents and occupancy this year.

Since the start of the pandemic, the kinds of amenities that renters have looked for has shifted.  Outdoor space, good internet connectivity, and a positive focus on pets have become ‘must haves’ for many renters.  In addition, items such as extra space to work, better sound insulation, and even increased natural light have become more important as many renters will continue to work from home, even if on a part time basis.

You must always be asking yourself the question “what renovations or upgrades will give me the best return?”.  In other words, which amenities or other types of renovations will allow you to increase rents or other income the most compared to their cost, increasing your NOI, and thus adding the most value to your property.

Here are my current favorite amenities and upgrades that you can add to an existing multifamily community listed in no particular order. Because all buildings are different, some of these may not be applicable to your situation.

1. Outdoor Space

Access to outdoor space has become a top priority for renters.  This does not necessarily mean they need their own private balcony or patio (but if you do have that, or can create that, it is worth a premium).  Outdoor space amenities include roof decks, gardens, barbeque area, and any other place they can conveniently and safely get fresh air.

It was not that long ago when I would tour properties and the balcony or patio was an afterthought.  Now, if your property has these, you need to play them up.  Also, you might be able to create private outdoor space where there was none previously.  We’ve taken properties that only viewed the outside, converted a former window into a patio door, and opened them up to create private yards.  You can get a substantial premium for this.

Whether your units have private outdoor space or not, pivoting toward resort style outdoor spaces in your common areas will not only give a wow factor to your property but are in high demand   Whether it be a rooftop terrace (for an urban location), or high-end barbecue and seating area, these are amenities tenants use and want.  

You can add outdoor games, such as bocce or add tables and chairs to make it easier for people to ‘work from home’ in your outdoor common area amenity.  Consider re-arranging your outdoor furniture into pods and think about other ways people can be in small groups but still have the ability to interact with others.

2. ‘Work from home’ space

One thing that will probably change the most long-term is the amount of people who work from home part of the week. Given that fact, the ability to accommodate this need is critical. In the ideal world, you’d have a separate den or designated space where people could work within the apartment. 

Obviously, if you have a community with larger apartments, you are in a great position relative to your competition.  But even buildings with smaller apartments need to take this fact into account.  If you don’t have the raw square footage in your units, you must enhance the community common areas to make it easier for people to work remotely or to socialize.  

As mentioned previously, adding tables and chairs, or comfortable lounge chairs in outdoor common spaces can make them more inviting for people to work ‘from home’ without needing to be in their apartment all day.  As an essential component to working from home, your community needs to have fast internet in units and good Wi-Fi in your common areas.  This was already a draw pre-pandemic, but it has only become more important since.

3. Pet focused amenities

This is another trend that was already in existence but has taken on an increased importance post-pandemic. More than 65% of Americans now own a pet. More than 70% of renters want to own a pet.  In many cases, the pet has become another member of the family. So the more things you can offer their family member, especially when others are not doing the same, the bigger your market, and the more you can charge.

Renter surveys have shown that an apartment building’s pet policies play a major role for pet owners in their decision whether to rent or not at a particular location.  

If you have available outdoor space, converting some of it to a private dog park will get you a lot of fans amongst pet lovers (and some of your non-pet owners as well, since it will keep the dog activity to a localized area).  In addition to these ‘bark parks’, holding ‘yappy hours’ to help get resident pet owners to meet each other, and featuring pets on your website all contribute to the atmosphere of creating a pet-friendly community.  

There are renovations you can do to make your apartments more resilient to possible pet damage and increase their appeal to non-pet owners. Installing hardwood or LVT flooring in the public areas of the apartment are the same upgrades people are looking for post-Covid (hard surfaces, easier to clean, etc.).  

Some of the things that can help influence renter decisions don’t even have to be part of your community.  But your awareness of them will help attract pet owners.  Knowing the locations of nearby pet parks, veterinary facilities, and pet stores show you are ‘pet oriented’.

4. Package Centers 

If you can carve out a space for a package locker room you will should gain market share.  This is an amenity that many renters have come to appreciate.  With everything being ordered online and people sheltering in place, the pandemic truly tested the limits of many apartment communities’ ability to handle incoming packages.  And many failed.

There are now many technology solutions ranging from having a secure room where all packages are stored to individual lockers which send an email or text to the tenant when a package is placed in them.  For those that already have a package center, increasing its size and even adding grocery lockers or cold storage units to handle the flood of food and meal deliveries will all be well received by your prospects and residents.

While there was a time where management would accept the occasional package on behalf of residents, the increasing volume of packages and frequent reports of theft when left at tenant doors have become a burden to management.

In addition, the volume of cardboard and other package waste from delivery boxes caused many managers to have to reconfigure their trash areas (this was only compounded by the work from home phenomenon, which caused people to be at the building 24/7.  

5. Technology as an Amenity

Technology has now become an essential part of multifamily.  Offering online rent payments and maintenance requests have become routine.  And the use of motion and temperature sensors in common areas and utility areas has led both to energy savings and prevented catastrophic breakdowns of equipment from occurring.  But, in many cases, we are still in the beginning stages of integrating technology as an amenity into people’s homes.  

Creating increased convenience has always been a key to getting and keeping satisfied residents.  Here are a few of the top technology amenities that will impress your prospects and provide peace of mind and convenience to your current residents.

Security

People want to feel secure and safe in their home environment.  Providing doorbell cameras at each unit and discretely placed security cameras at key points in the common area of your property will add a sense of security to your property.

A video intercom at the front door allows residents to see who they are letting in rather than just responding to a buzzer.  With more residents utilizing grocery delivery and restaurant delivery services than ever, technology has the ability to make these services safer and more convenient.  There are even systems that take a photograph every time someone is let in, so you have an audit trail.  

Residents will appreciate some of the other features, such as the ability to monitor their front door even when not at home.  And, this can also help reduce or even prevent package theft.

Keyless Entry

Physical keys may soon be obsolete.  Smart locks allow residents to open their door with the smartphones or unique PIN codes.  The days of getting locked out and then having to call a locksmith will hopefully soon be gone.

Touchless access control at the community’s main door or gate also solves a number of other issues.  Mail and package delivery can now happen without needing a person on site to buzz the carrier in.  

Smart Appliances

Top smart appliances include thermostats, lighting, and even laundry machines.  

With a smart thermostat, residents can have their heat or air conditioning come on 30 minutes before they plan to come home.  By being able to control the temperature right from their smartphone, they can save money on utilities by reducing energy consumption.

Smart lighting solutions, paired with motion sensors, allow for safety while keeping energy usage to when it is just needed.  Smart appliances can let residents know when their laundry is done or if the stove was left on accidentally.

Tech upgrades provide a combination of cutting-edge accessories with comfort and convenience for residents.  If your community offers these amenities while your competition does not, they should help you rent your units faster as well as be able to ask a higher rent.  Of course, to power all of this, fast internet, good cell service, and fast Wi-Fi are all critical.

Your ability to provide sought-after amenities will not only differentiate your property for new prospects but will help ensure better tenant retention rates.  But remember, amenities alone aren’t enough to keep residents happy.  Attention to resident needs, a focus on building community, and making sure all maintenance issues are resolved to the residents’ satisfaction will ultimately build resident satisfaction, referrals, and keep your building operating at its peak.