May 21, 2018

Pet stations, cafés, bars — Apartment amenities climb along with occupancy, rents

HBJ Photos | Steve Laschever
HBJ Photos | Steve Laschever
Among his downtown Hartford apartment's many amenities, Spectra on the Plaza resident John Lundeen most enjoys relaxing in the spacious community room of the high-rise building overlooking Constitution Plaza. An on-site café, its newly opened Bar5, plus attentive management, make urban life “enjoyable,'' Lundeen says. Shown clockwise at right are Spectra's other amenities, including a mini-basketball court, lounge, game tables, and a 46-seat movie theater.
Photos | HBJ File
(Left photos, top and bottom) Residents in The Tannery in Glastonbury are shown in the community room. The Tannery also has a pet-grooming station. (Above, center and right) An outdoor fireplace, fitness center and community room at Ellington’s Deer Valley North Townhomes.
Photos | Contributed

Top amenities desired by apartment renters

The National Apartment Association surveyed renters of more than 100,000 U.S. apartment units in 35 states and identified residents' most-preferred amenities. Here are the top 10:

• Fitness center

• Business center

• Clubhouse

• Common areas for socializing

• Pet-friendly

• Landscaping in common areas

• Swimming pool

• Outdoor kitchen

• Playground or play area

• Package-holding area

Source: National Apartment Association

After a day of mind-numbing graduate coursework at UConn's School of Business downtown, John Lundeen looks forward to relaxing in the voluminous community-room space inside Hartford's Spectra on the Plaza.

The 190-unit apartment building's common areas and upper-floor community room, outfitted with stools, couches, game tables and flat-screen TVs, offer Lundeen not only a quiet refuge but also serve as an addition to his 580-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in which he has been a tenant for the last two years.

"It's brought a lot of enjoyment and value to my lifestyle,'' said Lundeen, 32, a Salisbury native who recently received his MBA degree, of amenities attached to his unit for which he pays more than $1,000 monthly.

A week ago, Spectra's owners opened Bar5, a companion to its Spectra Wired Café. Both cover 5,000 square feet, with Bar5 on the lower level and the café above.

Spectra isn't alone in adding new perks to attract tenants. Apartment landlords throughout the Hartford region and statewide say they are in a scramble to determine what tenants want beyond just four walls to lay their heads. Some landlords worry amenities, along with the costs to install, operate and maintain them, may never be enough.

"It's like a nuclear arms race,'' said Hartford landlord Martin J. Kenny, who has built or converted area spaces into hundreds of luxury apartments. "Each time a new project comes on line, there's a game-changer.''

In a market like Hartford, where apartment occupancy and rents, especially among newer properties brimming with the latest safety, convenience and energy-saving technologies, is the tightest in a decade, amenities offer a way for one landlord to differentiate its apartments from another, industry experts say. They also provide justification for the higher rents typically imposed on newer or refurbished properties.

Along with the usual draws like swimming pools, wood floors, gyms/fitness centers and free parking and Wi-Fi, some landlords are raising the marketing stakes and wooing tenants with a raft of new lures, like on-site cafés/restaurants, pet-grooming stations, golf-driving simulators, garage parking, communal work spaces or business centers equipped with printers. They, too, are expanding their concierge services to include parcel delivery/pickup stations and doorside garbage pickup.

Often, these services are priced right into the rents, so tenants typically do not pay extra for them, landlords say. However, some owners are finding that certain amenities can generate revenue beyond rents.

"I don't know that there's anything groundbreaking or unique out there,'' said Jeff Ferony, of TRIO Properties, a Glastonbury apartment management and adviser who currently works with landlords like Spectra's owners and others. "The amenities are evolving, that's for sure.''

That mirrors a National Apartment Association (NAA) study of 43 unique amenities, added or upgraded from Jan. 2014 to Sept. 2016, in 100,000 units in 35 states. Clubhouses and common areas for socializing were among the five most-desired amenities, according to NAA's online study. Swimming pools, outdoor kitchens and play areas also had appeal.

While in-house gyms and fitness classes, walking/jogging paths and Wi-Fi remain alluring, business center and pet-friendly amenities, like dog parks, trails and pet-grooming stations, are gaining in appeal, the NAA study found.

"Residents fall in love with the whole amenity package, with some leaning towards what they believe they will use most,'' said Laurie Waddell, senior property manager of Spectra on the Plaza. Among other perks offered at the Hartford apartment complex are a 46-seat theater; gym with a half basketball court; and a library-business center.

A bonus for Spectra residents, Waddell said, is that they will have access to amenities, including a rooftop patio and a bocce ball court, in a pair of former Pearl Street office buildings that Spectra's landlords — New York developers Girona Ventures and Wonder Works Construction and Development Corp. — are converting into 290 apartments, with the first due on line in 2019. Girona Ventures and Wonder Works also recently acquired the adjacent 100-unit Trumbull On The Park, now Spectra on the Park.

Latest fixtures

The Tannery, a 250-unit luxury Glastonbury community developed by Kenny, has pet-grooming and package-holding stations, and offers — for a fee — doorside garbage pickup. Similar amenities are available at Kenny's other new luxury apartment community, Windsor Station. Kenny, too, says amenities will be a big draw for his next planned apartment development, The Borden, in Wethersfield.

He has joined other U.S. landlords looking for ways to monetize their housing spaces. One is to outfit their community-center spaces with bars and café-restaurants, landlords say.

In June, a 180-seat restaurant, The Beam House, will open in 5,000 square feet of leased space at The Tannery.

"We think that will be the crown jewel when it opens,'' Kenny said. In addition to serving Tannery residents, the restaurant can be a magnet, exposing area residents to The Tannery's other amenities, he said.

"There's no better showcase for people who don't live there,'' Kenny said of the converted former mill site.

The Tannery charges dog and cat owners $450 a year, mainly to cover the cost of cleaning indoor and outdoor spaces pets frequently encounter.

Residents of the 48 units at Colt Gateway, on downtown's southern edge, enjoy free use of its fitness and game rooms, among other on-site amenities. Indeed, Colt Gateway landlord Larry Dooley said, "we've found that the most important 'amenities' for our tenants are the supporting retail like Thomas Hooker Brewery at Colt and Tom & Sam's Café."

Some developers are adding larger community spaces with bars, fixtures and kitchens as potential profit centers but Colt Gateway prefers to partner up with professionals like Hooker Brewery "so we can focus on development and project management," Dooley said.

Meantime, Bloomfield's Heirloom luxury apartments offer residents a golf-driving simulator and detached-garage parking.

Townhome perks

In Ellington, longtime local builder Santini Homes Inc. is finishing the last of its 200 luxury, two-story townhome-apartment rentals in Deer Valley North Townhomes, the second of two adjacent luxury communities there. The other is 257-unit Deer Valley Townhomes; both are nearly full, said owner Kevin Santini.

"Our main amenity is our clubhouse facilities,'' Santini said.

There, along with a lavish community room, the space offers a popular fitness center and a swimming pool manned with lifeguards that appeal to his tenant mix of young and mid-age professionals and retirees, he said.

Outdoors, the community space features a large outdoor fireplace and chaise lounges. Indoors, all Deer Valley townhomes come with washer-dryer, 9-foot ceilings, cherry cabinets and granite countertops. Some units even have elevators and all have fire-sprinkler systems.

Santini says nearly all its amenities are covered under Deer Valley's rents, ranging from the $1,475 to $2,595 a month. Each unit has attached one- or two-car garages.

"We feel like that our customers pay a good, fair rent and they deserve amenities,'' he said.

But the flip side to offering so many amenities, landlords say, is that maintenance and upkeep for them all is challenging — and costly.

For instance, in season, Santini work crews daily tend to the pool, straightening cushions for the chaise lounges and cleaning around it. As careful as pet owners try to be, treating or replacing damaged shrubbery and grass is a constant, landlords say.

Still, desired amenities, images of which often dominate apartment-communities' marketing homepages and brochures, can be the difference between a fully rented apartment community and one struggling to fill inventory, landlords say.

"So many young people, more often than not,'' Kenny said, "have no problem committing remotely to a major lease without ever setting foot inside.''

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