The Future of Multi-Family


paper cut outs of stick drawings in houses

Julie Brown, Director of Client Services, and Jessica Greekwood, Planning Coordinator, attended a NAIOP panel on the future of the multi-family market.

Here are their thoughts:

Last Wednesday, more than 300 members of the Boston A/E/C and real estate community came together to hear a NAIOP panel discussion on the future of the multi-family market – undoubtedly, the hottest market right now. Presentations were given by Simon Butler, Executive Vice President of CBRE New England; Raymond Torto, Ph.D., Global Chief Economist of CBRE; Julie Smith, President of The Buzzuto Group; and Kent Larson, Principal Research Scientist of the MIT Media Lab.

Julie’s presentation was on the current demographics of the rental market, what the renter is looking for design-wise, and how it is shaping the industry. The sweet spot age range for the rental market is 25-40 years old. This age group is pushing the design criteria for the market; however, you also need to consider the 50-60 age group as the housing market rebounds and home equity is restored. They will be looking to sell their homes and live in more luxurious and communal apartments, where landscaping, shoveling, trash, and more are taken care of by management.

Going forward, if you are designing apartments, you need to consider the student housing experience on college and university campuses. The incoming client base has become accustomed to living in high-design student housing with lots of amenities at their fingertips. Their expectations within rental units will be the same if not greater than the experience they had in college.

The typical renter makes $50K-$80K per year. This salary range lends itself to the roommate lifestyle in a two-bedroom unit since most people in this range cannot afford to pay the rent on a single-bedroom unit. This has spurned a micro-unit trend in which units consist of about 300 sf (the size of a typical hotel room) making single living doable in dense, urban markets.

Shifts in Design: It’s All About Amenities – Lobbies

Renters are looking for apartment communities that feel more like hotels. The entrances of the apartments are starting to take the form of hotel lobbies.

Within these lobby spaces, as seen in the image above of The Ohm in New York City, renters are expecting water features or fireplaces, computers tucked into areas, genius bars, or communal tables.

Plan for Pets

Gone are the days of not welcoming pets into apartments – people will not give up their animals to live in your apartment, and you better start designing for them. This includes pet washing stations included within your back-of-the-house operations or a pet care business on site.


Renters want to use their apartments as 24/7 communities and this includes state-of-the-art fitness facilities. The last cycle of apartments included fitness facilities with an average size of 1,000 sf. The trends in apartments now are to design full fitness facilities, including yoga studios averaging between 3,000 and 4,000 sf. Some apartments even include golf simulators. Outdoor fitness could also be included, with yoga, tai chi, spin, and Zumba all offered in an outdoor space.


Rooftops are where people want to be. Even if you can’t get a pool on your roof, create a community space for people to gather, sit, enjoy the view, and even watch movies.


Spa spaces are easy to tuck into your design and are not expensive to fit out. Create a space in your building for a spa or treatment room and offer it as a paid amenity.

Private Dining

People are using their apartment facilities more and more for entertaining and business meetings. Create some flexible and transitional spaces for your tenants to rent out and use for parties or meetings.

Personal Gardens

With the explosion of the localvore movement, be prepared to offer garden spaces.

Package Storage

Plan for 1 sf for every apartment you have. Make sure to plan for a place to store packages so they don’t muddy up that expensive lobby design.

Green Features

The consumer may not want to pay for it, but they want you to provide green features. This includes energy-efficient appliances, bike shares, and electric car charging stations.

In short, renters want it all at their fingertips. They want the building to be their home and their community while being flexible enough to offer business, fitness, and spa services.