Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of employees working from home has increased dramatically. A Pew Research Center survey released in December 2020 revealed that only 20 percent of employees worked from home all or most of the time prior to the pandemic. By October 2020, 71 percent or the respondents—both apartment renters and homeowners—were doing their jobs from home all or most of the time.
“The number of our residents working from home has grown exponentially,” said Alissa McClard, director of asset management at Bristol Development Group, a Franklin, Tenn.-based apartment developer and manager. “If you visited a community during the day pre-pandemic, there might be 30 percent of residents’ cars in the parking lot. Now it’s like 75 percent or more. It’s definitely a big shift.”
Landlords and property managers need to pay attention to that shift. “With unemployment so high, landlords want residents who are employed,” Stephanie Anderson, manager of industry operations for the National Apartment Association, told Multi-Housing News. “Targeting those who work from home can become a big competitive advantage.”
Many apartment developers, owners and managers are now providing amenities and services designed to appeal to prospective residents who work from home.
“We want to develop and operate buildings that are full, where we’re able to attract tenants as well as retain them,” said Jeff McDonough, president of Stiles Residential Group in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “That requires us to have offerings that meet or exceed the competitive set of properties people may be evaluating.”
Here are three ways owners and managers can attract work-from-home renters:
Provide the Tools Needed to Telework
High-speed internet service and reliable cell reception are essential for at-home workers. According to the 2020 NMHC/Kingsley Apartment Resident Preferences Report, 92 percent of residents were interested in high-speed internet access when asked about apartment features they’d like to have, and 76 percent were interested in in-wall USB ports. The top community amenity desired is reliable cell reception (91 percent of respondents). Apartment residents are even willing to pay higher rent for high-speed internet access—about $35 per month more, the survey found.
Dedicated workspace is necessary for home workers, whether it’s in-unit or an amenity. Many apartment communities offer business centers, but residents may be hesitant to use them currently due to the virus’ high contagiousness and rapid spread. So, apartment owners and operators are adapting space in existing buildings—which were designed years before COVID-19 became a public health issue—and tweaking designs in communities under development.
At Alluvion Las Olas—a 43-story luxury high-rise in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that welcomed its first residents in June 2020—developer Stiles incorporated a co-working space comprised of a central bar area with a coffee nook, large open table areas and dedicated enclosed offices.
“In the long term, this will be an amenity that people desire,” McDonough said. “This amenity was something we did with the intent of being a differentiator in the market, and it’s been very successful—in part because of people’s desire to work from home more. Our success is not just because of COVID-19, but COVID-19 accelerated it.”
At Broadway Chapter, a 242-unit apartment community under construction in Fort Worth, Texas, developer CRG has redesigned some amenities for remote workers. Instead of game rooms or social lounges, CRG’s project now includes private study offices, small group rooms and some hospitality suites for hosting small business gatherings, CRG Managing Partner J.J. Smith told MHN.
CRG announced recently the launch of a new residential development strategy that includes $1 billion in multifamily development over the next two to three years in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Dubbed “essential” housing communities, these developments will be specifically designed for the work-from-home resident, with pocket offices and what Smith refers to as “Zoom-worthy common spaces.”
Allow Potential Renters to Imagine Themselves Working from Home
Apartment owners and managers should constantly tweak their marketing strategies to adapt to current conditions. And, in the current situation, this entails marketing properties to attract renters who work from home.
Bozzuto Management Co., which manages more than 83,000 apartments throughout the U.S., recently surveyed its residents and found that 78 percent of them plan to continue working from home at least part of the time. Some of the firm’s communities have done “work-from-home” marketing campaigns and used virtual staging tools to stage balconies or workspaces in vacant apartments. On social media, Bozzuto showcased large windows for ample light, amenity spaces where residents can plug in and get to work, and rooftops and courtyards for a fresh Zoom backdrop.
When Bristol Development Group started targeting remote workers online by marketing its one-bedroom-plus-den units at Meridian at the Port in Mobile, Ala., as live/work units, page views increased by 32 percent, and the average time on page improved by 76 percent, the company said.
Bristol recently discovered a correlation between pet ownership and telecommuting, so it’s now marketing its apartments to pet owners, many of whom it expects are remote workers.
“People are getting creative,” said Anderson. “We’re seeing that people are getting pets because they’ve been forced to work from home, so now you can market to two in one.”
Work to Attract New Prospects While Meeting the Needs of Existing Residents
Don’t focus so much on attracting new residents that you forget about your current ones. Not only are they more likely to renew their leases if they’re happy at the community, but they can become an important source of referrals.
“We have so many people coming in from different states right now, and they’re talking to existing residents, going online and reading reviews,” Doreen Jaworski, co-president of Florida-based TRG Management Co., told MHN. “All of this word of mouth comes from your existing resident base.”
TRG is adapting spaces in its communities for at-home workers, converting amenity rooms and adding dividers to other spaces so people can work comfortably while social distancing. The firm also beefed up event programming, an amenity that is particularly attractive to remote workers who might feel isolated and alone. “People really are craving human interaction,” Jaworski said.
At its Icon Central community in St. Petersburg, Fla., TRG offers a robust COVID-19-friendly event schedule, including poolside yoga classes, virtual cooking classes, jazz patio parties and social media contests.
Bozzuto is offering residents the opportunity to learn, connect and thrive through its BozzutoAtHome virtual events, which include lectures, classes and other events shared live on Facebook and Instagram. Some are even geared specifically to those who work from home, such as hosting a professional image consultant, time management workshop and organization expert. “It’s a space we hope brings our residents comfort and a feeling of togetherness during this time of isolation,” said Kelley Shannon, Bozzuto’s senior vice president of marketing and customer engagement.
“If you take care of tenants, they’re going to stay,” she said.