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Survey reveals Denver renter expectations

Infographic about renter expectations
A breakdown of the top responses nationally to the 2015 Apartment Resident Preferences Survey. Denver renters vary in a couple of these categories. For example, Denver respondents said one of the most important community amenities is nonsmoking buildings, bumping secured community access off of the list. Courtesy Kingsley

Kim Duty
Senior vice president, Public Affairs, National Multifamily Housing Council, Washington, D.C.

Renting is hot! For some, it’s a lifestyle choice. For others, it’s a financial decision. Whatever the motivation, the rise of renting means the U.S. added 1.6 million new renters over the past five years. These renters, from millennials to baby boomers, are driving new development and raising the expectations of amenities and services. Some in the apartment industry might say it’s sparked an amenity war in search of the answer to the question: What do renters really want?

New data from the largest-ever survey of apartment residents gives a detailed picture of what apartment residents want, and even what they’d expect to pay for it. The survey, the 2015 Apartment Resident Preferences Survey from The National Multifamily Housing Council/Kingsley Associates, analyzed data from nearly 120,000 responses across the country about renter priorities for home features to community amenities based on a variety of demographic factors. Denver falls in line on several of the requirements, but places higher emphasis on other factors than the national results.

Location, location, location. While many factors are considered during an apartment search, some of the most important factors concern location. Apartment renters overall want to walk to grocery stores, restaurants and bars, and public transportation. However, they are OK with being driving distance to work and school.

Walkability was the second most important neighborhood feature for all U.S. renters, but No. 1 for Denver renters. Nearly half – 48 percent – of Denver renters said walkability was their most desired locational amenity.

What do they want to walk to? In short: food. Seventy-three percent of Denver renters want to be within walking distance of a grocery store, and 64 percent want to walk to a neighborhood restaurant.

Pools, parking and … recycling. Looking at the community level, U.S. renters, first and foremost, want to make sure the property has adequate parking. But after that, a swimming pool is the most desired amenity, followed by a fitness center. They also are concerned about security, with secured community access a top concern. Surprisingly, rounding out the top five was recycling.

Denver renters varied slightly in their ranking of community amenities. They rate parking and pool as the top two, like the rest of the nation, but put recycling as No. 3, ahead of a fitness center. They must feel safe in the Mile High City, because nonsmoking buildings rounded out their top five, displacing secured access.

Other highly rated community amenities for Denver renters were additional storage space outside of the unit, presumably to store all our outdoor recreational gear, and sustainability initiatives and green certifications.

Technology rules. What’s outside of Denver apartments is important, but what’s inside is more important, with 72 percent saying the apartment features are more important than neighborhood features.

When it comes to what they want in their apartments, technology rules! High-speed Internet access is a must, with 94 percent of Denver renters rating it as their highest priority within the unit.

Mobile is also king with 91 percent of apartment renters, nationwide and in Denver, using a mobile phone all the time. In fact, 52 percent of local residents tested connectivity during their apartment tour. While 98 percent report good reception is important, only 65 percent said coverage in their current community is great.

Denver renters also are cutting the cord with cable providers; 53 percent said online streaming is their preferred method of getting video home entertainment, reinforcing the need for good Internet access.

After technology, the top four other apartment features Denver renters listed were washer/dryer in the unit; patio or balcony – to take in those 300 days of sunshine; walk-in closet; and soundproof walls. Two things Denver renters rate higher than renters nationally were bike storage (42 percent versus 33 percent) and fireplaces (58 percent versus 48 percent).

Packages pile up. Online shopping has grown into a more than $300 billion industry and apartment communities are seeing a corresponding increase in package deliveries for residents. According to recent NMHC/Kingsley Associates research, a typical apartment community can receive as many as 100 packages a week, which can double during the holiday season.

Currently, 88 percent of management offices accept packages for residents, and 72 percent of residents want a package storage or holding area.

When asked for their preferred solution for managing package pickups outside of business hours, Denver renters said – install package lockers (32 percent); drop packages at my door (22 percent); keep the office open later one or two days a week (20 percent); and offer a self-service package holding/pick up area (12 percent).

However, while they may want package lockers, they aren’t willing to pay for them; 90 percent said no thanks to a fee to use package lockers.

Pets need pampering. Pet owners will spend an estimated $60 billion on their pets this year. Renters are part of this spending population, as 33 percent of apartment residents own a pet. In Denver, that number jumps to 40 percent. We love our dogs, in particular; 71 percent of pet owners have a dog compared to 33 percent have a cat.

Denver pet owners in apartments report interest in amenities for their pets, including community dog park (41 percent), community pet-washing station (32 percent) and dog treats in the lobby (22 percent).

Electronic payments grow. In the digital age, writing a rent check is going out of style. Denver renters reported that 77 percent prefer paying online and 67 percent do pay online. Sixty-two percent would like to pay with a credit card, but only 4 percent of those would be willing to pay a convenience fee to do so.

Reasons for Renting

According to the survey, these are the main reasons Denver renters are choosing to rent instead of buy:

  • I may need to move and renting offers more flexibility (27 percent);
  • It suits my lifestyle (23 percent);
  • I like this neighborhood but cannot afford to buy here (15 percent);
  • I cannot find a home I want to buy (14 percent); and
  • I do not want to take the financial risk of buying a home (8 percent).

What’s interesting is that 78 percent of Denver renters said they see themselves owning within five years.

In the end, what matters most to our city’s renters when making their lease decision are location and convenience, floor plan and layout, rental rate, property appearance and quality, and community amenities.

With Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies projecting upward of 4 million new renters during the next decade, we expect the race for new amenities – and the demand for them – will only grow. The NMHC/Kingsley survey can help your firm make educated decisions about what matters the most to your residents.

Featured in CREJ’s February 2016 Multifamily Properties Quarterly.

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.