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The new look of renting

By Jonathan LansnerPublished: March 01, 2013

Rents are rising. Complexes are filling up. Still, property owners aren’t taking their high profile for granted. Landlords want to grow apartments out of temporary housing status, betting on trends indicating that more people – from younger workers to seniors looking to downsize in retirement – are finding renting attractive.

“We’re glad there’s a demand,” says Trent Brooks, chief operating officer of Newport Beach-based landlord Lyon Communities. “But [renters] clearly have choices. That’s why we’re going the extra mile.”
Brooks and Kevin Baldridge, apartments chief for Newport Beach-based the Irvine Company, gave us some ideas about how demographics and popular opinions favoring the apartment business may intersect with innovation to meet this new wave of renters.
“The renter of the future will be staying in apartments longer,” Baldridge says. “How do we keep up the livability?”
Here are nine trends that renters will likely see in the coming years – as well as one surprising trend they won’t:

1. A more vibrant look
Apartments have seemingly forever had, well, a functional blandness designed not to offend and/or be cleaned and turned around quickly for the next tenants. 
The complex of the future will push design tastes, since landlords won’t want their tenants to feel bored with where they live. Look for bold architecture and lively shapes and colors. The Irvine Company’s soon-to-open Los Olivos complex in Irvine will sport distinctive looks at each apartment cluster.

2. One-bedroom units
 Two-bedroom units have dominated local complexes, as renters sought to share costs. But the new renter will likely have once been in a roommate situation – either literally or living with a family, etc.
They’ll want their own place – the one-bedroom unit – and will be willing to pay the higher costs for a place they can call their own.

3. Customization

Good riddance, Navaho white walls. Many complexes now allow tenants to choose the color their unit is painted. And those design choices will only balloon.
Don’t expect each apartment in your complex to have the same trim – cabinets or appliances or flooring – as landlords try to rid apartment living of its sameness.
4. Tech-friendly details
We love our gadgets and our connectivity. And landlords are scrambling to catch up.
Smart landlords will be sure their complexes can handle everything, from wall-mounted flat-screen TVs to sophisticated audio systems to quick Internet connectivity – wired or not. It even comes down to electric outlets: Can they handle traditional plugs as well as USB connectors for newer technologies?
5. Flooring
 “Hard flooring” will no longer be located at the door and in the kitchen and bath areas. Expect to see extensive use of tiles, woods or laminates in the coming years – and at all price levels of apartments.
This will make apartments feel more like homes, where hard flooring has become an upscale preference. It will allow renters to further customize, if they choose to, with area rugs.
6. Pets welcome
Americans love their pets. But pets were long shunned at rental complexes – rough treatment that often gave renters another reason to own a home.
No more. Expect to see dedicated dog runs and even dog parks at complexes, as well as areas where you can wash your pet. At Lyon’s planned The Marke in Santa Ana, professional pet grooming will be offered on site.
7. Social events
Renters are typically unmarried, and when you congregate singles, well, romance does happen. Landlords have decided to take that “secret” – you know, flirting by the pool or at the laundry – and turn it into amenities.
Complexes will increase the number of events, from mixers to fitness to classes, in order to build community. The bet is that the more people like their neighbors, the more likely they’ll stay.

8. Food and services
Landlords are finding creative ways for their tenants to have their culinary desires satisfied. So complexes will beef up their barbeque areas, for example, for tenant grill masters. Various levels of food service may be offered, including an on-site eatery – as The Marke will offer – and improved food delivery.
In addition, a communal high-grade kitchen may be available, either for tenant use or for special food- and/or wine-tasting events.

9. Storage

People have lots stuff, particularly the new breed of renter coming from homeownership. Landlords will increase their offerings of storage space, even charging a premium for the use of locked spaces at a complex. It’s another service to be peddled to renters, as well as an awareness that renters are key users of self-storage yards.

The key renter demographic – young and affluent but not ready for ownership – has been strongly supportive of green technologies and policies. So expect to see modest levels of modern conservation at complexes, such as water and energy savers, and various recycling systems. Charging stations for electric vehicles may be available, too.
But don’t expect truly green complexes. For example, offering carport space for a fee – with the roofs topped with solar panels – won’t yet fly.
As the Irvine Company’s Baldridge says, renters like landlords who are green, “but they won’t pay extra for it.”