Multifamily housing experts predict an increased emphasis on outdoor amenity space, with the ability for residents to maintain social distancing, as the market moves forward in the wake of COVID-19. – Courtesy: Minno & Wasko Architects and Planners
We assembled a panel of industry experts to tackle this month’s question.
Here’s what they had to say.
Doug G. Bartels, senior vice president – development, Russo Development (Carlstadt)
Social distancing will have renters looking for locations that meet their need for more on-site open space while still providing the conveniences of urban living. 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’ right below things like proximity to public transportation for commuting to New York, Newark and Jersey City.
Our communities, which have been ahead of this curve, are designed with on-site walking and biking paths or purposely situated adjacent to existing paths or parks so that residents can enjoy a more natural setting without getting into the car. We are continuing to partner with talented landscape designers like Melillo & Bauer Associates to create pocket oases for residents to enjoy quiet moments juxtaposed to the hustle and bustle of the surrounding urban transit communities.
Joseph M. Forgione, founder and principal, JMF Properties (Whippany)
At JMF Properties we have always integrated health and wellness measures into our residential communities. Even before COVID-19, we believed this was the way of the future. Things like split-system air filtration, microbe and mold control measures and optimized window placement backed by shade studies are included in the design of our communities from day one. In 2018, we introduced the first WELL-certified residential community in New Jersey: Clarus Maplewood. There is a cost involved in all of this, and many developers feel it is not worth it, but I believe that will change in light of COVID-19. Consumer demand for residences optimized for hygiene, health and well-being is likely to increase. More developers will include these features to meet that demand. COVID-19 hasn’t changed the need for improved health and wellness, but it has made people more aware of its importance, and that’s something that will help our industry evolve moving forward.
Jeff Hendler, CEO, Logical Buildings (Livingston)
From a multifamily perspective, the most significant long-term impact of the coronavirus relates to working from home. It is widely believed that working from home will continue to a significant extent even after society reopens, and that will have a profound impact on building design. Better connectivity and WiFi capabilities will become a requirement in both individual apartments and amenity areas like business centers. We’ve already begun discussions with property owners about outfitting both new and existing buildings with these capabilities.
Because people will be home more than in years past, there will also be a greater desire for certain in-unit amenities. In recent years, there’s been a proliferation of smart home devices that help residents regulate things like thermostats, security and air quality. Best-in-class properties will increasingly look to install these in-unit devices to provide an added level of control to residents who are spending more time in their apartments than ever before.
Jack Linefsky, vice president of property management, Value Cos. (Clifton); president, New Jersey Apartment Association
The impact of the coronavirus on the apartment industry was immediate and will be long-lasting as practices implemented by owners and developers in response to COVID-19 become mainstays. Tools needed to conduct leasing remotely, including virtual tours, 3D and Zoom presentations, were in place prior to the outbreak and leveraged to maintain velocity during stay-at-home orders. These digital methods have proven effective and will have a greater role in leasing programs from application to signing. By utilizing online resources, renters will be educated before in-person visits and on-site traffic narrowed to qualified prospects.
Amenity space occupancy will be kept at appropriate levels with distancing guidelines and reservation systems used to reduce congestion in fitness centers, lounges and more. With a higher reliance on remote work there will be a need to create more space for package delivery.
Development will be refocused on flexible design with a larger percentage of layouts having versatile rooms as living space or converted into workspace.
Raphael Mandelbaum, principal, LanTree Developments (Lakewood)
Coming out of COVID-19, I believe there will be a noticeable impact on multifamily design and operations. Most notably, there will be an increased focus on creating private outdoor spaces, better unit design to accommodate working from home and the rethinking of amenity/fitness spaces to allow for limited occupancy use. Another change we will see in the multifamily space is the inclusion of efficient, low voltage internet to better handle spikes in internet traffic and user volume. The increased use of virtual leasing and virtual property management office services will also require improved building connectivity. These changes will be far easier to implement in new construction projects, but retrofitting existing properties will also need to be explored.
David J. Minno, principal, Minno & Wasko Architects and Planners (Lambertville)
As we move into a post-COVID world, multifamily designers and developers will need to address new concerns that renters and buyers will have in mind. Issues of safe living now have expanded beyond ADA issues and building security to ‘social distancing,’ ‘work at home’ and ‘no touch/sanitizing.’
Social distancing: Wider corridors, one-way circulation, larger elevators and stairways, amenity space seating separation, gym equipment spacing, larger refrigerated package and mailrooms, separate entries for deliveries, amenity reservation system, virtual apartment tours and larger private balconies/terraces.
Work at home: As more people continue to work from home, special accommodations such as: in-unit workspaces, individual working spaces in common areas, presentation areas with smartboards and webcams and stronger high-speed internet both indoors and outdoors.
No touch/sanitizing: Fear of touching surfaces used by others will be a major factor in new and renovated multifamily design. Besides the requisite hand sanitizing stations, we may see the following: ultraviolet lighting in amenity spaces, individual HVAC units that continually circulate air from the outside, no-touch entry (phone app or voice-activated), remote lighting and thermostat controls, hands-free bath fixtures in common areas and push-plate door hardware.
Debra Tantleff, founding principal, Tantum Real Estate (Jersey City)
COVID-19 stay/work from home has exaggerated the importance of quality, functional, flexible and personal spaces and has accentuated how valuable these spaces are in contributing to one’s overall mental, emotional and physical health. We will see an increased demand for slightly more square footage that offers more multipurpose function inside the home. Amenity design will see a continued emphasis on outdoor open spaces while communal spaces intended for multiple uses will be oriented to foster more intimate social interaction among smaller groups. This may also translate into a desire for more boutique-scaled neighborhood buildings, where residents can experience a sense of community without the stress of concentrated density. Operationally, the pandemic has highlighted the interdependency that exists between landlord and tenant. From routine maintenance requests like leaky faucet repairs, to the sanitization of common areas and cooperation in compromised rent payments, this experience has validated the need for a healthy relationship where both parties can work together to understand and respect each other’s needs and obligations.