Aaron Galvin is the CEO & Founder of Luxury Living Chicago Realty, a multifamily consulting, marketing, branding and strategy brokerage.
From searches to showings to a sense of community, luxury renters are coming out of the pandemic with new priorities, and developers have an opportunity to meet the needs of the new luxury renter. Having leased over 2,000 units in 2020 and 1,000 luxury apartments in the first three months of 2021, our brokerage firm has gained many insights about the pandemic’s short- and long-term impact on luxury renters, including the three following shifts in renter desires.
Virtual Tours Are Here To Stay, But Do Not Fully Replace In-Person Decision Making
When renters were forced to tour apartments virtually last spring and summer due to shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, they quickly embraced the efficiency and convenience of shopping for a new home remotely. We were able to lease over 1,000 apartments, sight unseen, to people who, often, were moving to Chicago for the first time. High-resolution photography, videography and additional virtual tools needed to be created and paid huge dividends during the pandemic.
As we move toward the later stages of this period, all of those assets still provide greater value. In the first quarter of 2021, we are still seeing 25% of all tours conducted virtually, most of them with renters moving from out of state. This allows renters to narrow down choices and be most efficient when it comes time to see properties in person. Instead of spending a weekend touring eight to 10 properties, many are still leasing sight-unseen. But if they do visit properties in person, the average number of properties is three. Virtual touring is here to stay and leasing agents, property managers and owners should continue to evolve and add to their toolbox of digital assets.
Building Community Within A Building Is Essential To Empathy, Respect and Satisfaction
Last year tested on-site property management teams’ ability to handle ever-changing safety protocols and tenant expectations. Properties able to build a true sense of community during 2020 are seeing increased retention rates and positive online reviews in 2021. Luxury rental properties that pivoted to surprise and delight their renters with virtual programming continued to build community and camaraderie. Like so many things in the pandemic, if communicated well, people were understanding and relationships strengthened.
Similar to remote tours, some of the changes mandated by pandemic safety are here to stay. For example, amenity reservation systems allow a resident to reserve an amenity space at a set time and ensure the machines or equipment they want to use are available. Looking ahead, I can see these systems staying in place post-pandemic and being an attractive service offering. Assess what changes have been made during the pandemic and those changes that improve the overall resident experience should remain in place.
Creating ‘Home’ Versus An Apartment Has Never Been More Important
With many luxury renters spending all day within their unit, the space has never been so important. The prior transient renter is now decorating, redecorating and adapting their space to be their office, gym and home.
In addition, we’ve seen many renters upgrade to larger units within the same buildings, motivated by apartments with in-unit balconies or built-in offices. If people are moving, the most common request is proximity to outdoor space, including parks, lakefront and in-building, shared outdoor amenities such as fire-pits and other semi-private gathering spaces.
For future developments, pay close attention to in-unit features such as outdoor space, work-from-home accommodations and more coworking spaces with private meeting space. Forward-thinking developers are once again considering larger floor plans, ease of access to the outdoors and the new work-from-home lifestyle of renters when renovating existing properties or planning their next development. Resident surveys, especially of those who lived in a property for six or more months during the pandemic, are a useful tool to gain insight into post-pandemic renter preferences. These insights can inform future construction or capital expenditures for stabilized apartment buildings.
Throughout the pandemic, everyone from developers to property managers to renters have shared similar experiences related to uncertainty and confusion. As we now see light at the end of the tunnel, there is a stronger feeling of hope and momentum for the multifamily industry. How we once did business has changed, just like how a renter once selected a new apartment has changed. Those who continue to innovate, pivot and listen to their residents will be poised for continued success.