If you pick up almost any recent article about multifamily housing design, you’ll inevitably see a section on Millennials and how best to reach them. This cohort has been the focus of nearly every advertiser, marketer, and real estate developer for the better part of a decade. What those people should realize, though, is that the greatest number of millennials are no longer the archetypal 24-year-old single consumer–they’re turning 31 or 32 and might just be plotting for their next phase in life.
Many of these ideal tenants have become accustomed to an urban, transit-oriented lifestyle. We’re working hard with our clients to ensure that we are accommodating not only the single, dog-owning individual who wants to mingle with neighbors by the pool but also are including space in their buildings for another group of tenants: young families. Granted, the demand may not exist in certain neighborhoods or buildings. But in others, we’ve found it has already become an issue that merits attention.
According to a study by FutureCast, individuals between ages 25-34 now head 10.8 million households with children. Eighty percent of the four million annual U.S. births are born to Millennial parents. As the number of new millennial parents stands to grow exponentially over the next decade, builders and designers should work on how to provide suitable offerings to those households.
Here are three strategies FitzGerald is using to accomplish this:
We might not have the critical mass yet to replace dog runs with swing sets or theater rooms with playrooms, but it’s important to design today’s amenities in a way that can be adapted when market demands change.
In my own condo building – about 140 loft-style residences in Roscoe Village – we used to see young couples sell and move elsewhere before their child’s first birthday. Since the recession, however, we’ve seen an increasing number of these owners choosing to “parent in place.” This was an economic necessity for some, a conscious choice to remain in the city for others. Some have even purchased adjacent units and doubled their space.
Before we knew it, our building was home to many toddlers several families with school-aged children. Our courtyard has become a kid-friendly outdoor space, and we have converted an underutilized storage room on the ground floor into a playroom–complete with toys, a kid-scale basketball hoop, built-in storage, seats for adults, and bright murals on the walls.
As for the amenity spaces our firm is currently designing, the adult social areas still rule the day. In many new buildings around the city, it seems the amenities are designed specifically for young singles to mingle, with communal areas far outweighing spaces suited to small groups. Each one serves a certain personality style, of course, but developers and property managers that are looking to retain their aging Millennials should consider how a young family might wish to use the space, and what impact that might have on the amenity areas.
We make sure that all of our floor plans include appropriate storage areas. Depending on the unit size and especially in those two- and three-bedroom units that could attract a family, we work hard to include as much step-in and walk-in closet space as we can.
Whether it’s a single person who needs a place for warehouse store-sized packages, a young family with a growing need for space, or empty-nesters downsizing from a larger home the fact remains the same–nobody ever complains that an apartment had too much storage. But people do move when they begin to feel cramped.
The trend of shrinking unit sizes is the result of several factors, including rent per square foot and tenant preferences. Less space can mean less burden for the single renter, and they–along with the “roommates splitting a unit”–can be directed into growing common amenity areas for their relaxation and socializing time. But for the young family, the unit’s floor plan must still serve their needs. When we can provide a den space or an extra nook, that unit may catch the eye of a tenant who might otherwise believe that a different type of residence will be required.
As your next development plans come together, it’ll be important to keep an eye on which segments of the market you’re accommodating. The current market formula of smaller unit sizes and increased amenity areas continues to serve our clients and their tenants well, but we could very well see future demographic changes and shifting market demand. An eye toward flexibility today, and targeted programming for future projects, will ensure success going forward.
James A. Broughton, AIA