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Trend spotting

Developers across the city are working on apartment projects that feature similar amenities, but who starts the trends?

CHARLOTTE – Apartment development is like most other for-profit industries. When executives see that a new idea is successful, they ride the trend hoping to make money off it.

Lately, multifamily developers in Charlotte, and around the country, have been focused on increasing amenities in their projects – anything from cyber cafes to pet washing stations – aiming to attract new tenants. In many of these projects, the amenities are very similar.

But where do the apartment-industry trends come from?Motorcycle Parking WEB

The answer, it turns out, varies. Some developers are in tune with trade insiders, while others look to the major markets or to other resources for clues on the next “big thing.”

Todd Williams, vice president of investments and acquisitions for Charlotte-based Grubb Properties, said his company tends to look to some of the national leaders when it comes to spotting trends.

Avalon Bay, based in Washington, D.C., “is one of the class leaders,” Williams said. “You can look to the industry leaders to see what works.

“There are a lot of consulting groups that follow the industry. Humphreys & Partners (Architects) is a consultant that does a lot of apartment work.”

Williams said another valuable resource for tracking trends is the National Multi Housing Council, the apartment-industry trade association.

While Williams and Grubb prefer to look at large companies and the industry as a whole for trends, Scott Steinhilber said he watches the apartment activity in the country’s major markets.

“The trends are starting in all the big markets, in D.C. and New York and Seattle and places like that,” said Steinhilber, predevelopment manager of Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based ContraVest. “People are following the trends from the bigger cities and seeing what’s working and what’s not working.”

Both Williams and Steinhilber agree, though, the latest trend that’s influencing apartment amenities is renters preferring urban living to more suburban-style apartments. And this preference has changed the types of amenities offered at apartments.

Steinhilber and Williams also look into the needs of their potential tenants to gain specific ideas.

“We’ll look into what they’re identifying as needs and we’ll brainstorm,” Steinhilber said. “There’s a lot of brainstorming involved.”

Williams said his company takes a little different approach.

“A big source we’ve looked at, which is really telling, is the trends that are occurring in student housing,” Williams said. “If you think about apartments, we’re the recipients of the graduates from student housing.”

Williams said today’s college students are growing accustomed to luxury amenities in their communities, from things like high-end countertops and flooring, to resort-style pools and congregation areas.

“What you see in student housing today, is that students are getting all kinds of amenities – stuff I never had in school. A lot of students are coming out and expecting that type of product.”

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