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How Multifamily Can Build Smarter For Coronavirus And Beyond

The global shift to a remote workforce is over six months old now and the transition has been far from smooth. In the multifamily space, most apartments lack proper dedicated home offices, with a recent HarrisX survey of active home shoppers finding that 50 percent of respondents “work in a bedroom, kitchen, living room, or move from room to room as family needs dictate.” 

From backaches to neck pain to headaches, workers who suddenly find themselves working from home 40-plus hours a week have discovered they either don’t know how to set up optimal (or even productive) working conditions in their homes or can’t spare the time, effort, and expense to do so. And when paired with the general flight from gyms, that’s a recipe for disaster for many apartment dwellers trying to stay healthy. 

We’re quickly learning that the environments built by professionals who develop office spaces for a living are valuable, both for our health and productivity. So if we’re going to come up with work-from-home solutions that avoid some of these problems and deliver a comfortable, purpose-built experience, we’ll have to get creative.

Home Office In Every Room

What remains clear is that the amenities race, which has preoccupied many developers for years, isn’t going anywhere—it’s just evolving. Large, shared amenity spaces are out, and home offices or private office solutions are in.

For some apartment building owners, the solution may be converting shared spaces into private offices in a residential building. Where the footprint allows, this can be attractive and cost-efficient for a property owner, and also for tenants, especially when several members of a family can work from home and share the cost of the private office space. 

Other developers, such as California-based builder, Behring Co., have realized the outsized importance of creating in-unit flexibility and particularly of meeting the work-from-home needs of its residents. At the company’s Oakland luxury apartment complex, now under construction, Behring plans to feature Ori smart space products in 25 percent of its apartments. These flexible solutions include the Cloud Bed, which ascends to the ceiling at the touch of a button or voice command. When retracted, the unit’s large executive desk helps transform the bedroom to a dedicated home-office space. In Behring’s plans, the Cloud Bed is paired with Ori’s Pocket Closet, a moveable wall system that slides open to reveal storage, shelving and closet space. 

Intelligent in-home solutions like these allow developers to deploy thoughtfully devised workspaces in apartments that otherwise wouldn’t have the square footage to accommodate them, and at scale. 

Rethinking Home Gyms

And it’s not just home office solutions that are needed. Gyms, which had been one of the most in-demand amenities at luxury properties, are being rethought completely. One New York company that compared 30,000 inquiries during three-month periods before and during the pandemic recently reported that prospective resident requests for things like outdoor spaces and in-unit laundry increased while interest in in-building gyms fell 10 percent.

While it’s true that from an operational standpoint developers could space out machinery, build dividers, and add new cleaning regimens that include things like electrostatic spraying, many renters are apprehensive about group workout settings.

In order to meet residents’ unwavering desire to stay in shape, multifamily developers should look to in-unit solutions, like Peloton, Tempto, Tonal, and Mirror, which Lululemon agreed to acquire for $500 million in July. The personalized, interactive, and live streaming aspect of these membership-based services make them more appealing than a simple yoga mat or stationary bike.

And One Decidedly Low-tech Trend

We’ve also seen one amenity trend that flies in the face of this movement to technology solutions: outdoor spaces. 

Take a walk through most high-density urban centers and you are likely to see outdoor seating at bars and restaurants, closed off streets to accommodate increased foot traffic, and socially distanced gatherings at green public spaces. This trend translates neatly to the multifamily space, where developers have been talking recently about the importance of incorporating shared and private outdoor spaces into their plans.

“The spaces we’ve dedicated to outdoor amenities on our properties, like fire pits and open courtyards, which some may have considered nice add-ons previously, are now on renters’ ‘must have lists,’” Russo Development SVP Doug G. Bartels told Real Estate NJ.

That’s because of the real danger that, despite all the best intentions of designers and developers to fine tune the indoor spaces in which we live and work, the human mind desires and in fact needs to connect with the outdoors—even if it’s just a simple walking path around your apartment building to avoid becoming isolated and disconnected. 

Improve Your Return on Investment

Amenities like shared workspaces, common rooms, communal gyms, and shared breakout areas will continue to evolve or phase out of relevance. The name of the game for multifamily is surely square-foot optimization and in-unit flexibility—done without compromising yield, and ideally, increasing it.

Starting to think about these decisions now will enhance market position, decrease costly amenity retreads, and improve long-term ROI.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to test us in unprecedented ways. On the multifamily side and product side, we’ve got to adapt to meet the needs of, and create solutions for, the legions of apartment residents now demanding more from their homes. As more people choose to use their homes as an office, where we live needs to accommodate our new needs.

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