How well do we really know the renter of tomorrow?

The next generation of apartment renter

­­This week I had the opportunity to host a discussion that I have been wanting to facilitate for almost 10 years now.  A discussion with recent and soon to be college graduates and what their expectations are of their first conventional apartment…away from school….away from their parents… the ‘Real World’.  I first had the idea of this session at the Interface Student Conference when the absence of any multi-family developers was palpable.   I just could not believe that all of the leaders in the space where their next renter would be coming from were getting together and not a single multifamily developer whas there to learn their next renter’s expectations.

It literally shocked me.

And then again, it didn’t.  I mean we know our renters and we know our kids.  The ones who game all day, live their lives on mobile, value connectivity above all and never want to step foot in a leasing office or talk to an actual person.  Right?

Except we don’t.  We know the stereotype and have never really asked if the stereotype is accurate or not.  Enter RealWorld 2021 – the annual User Conference for RealPage clients and the first ever session focusing on the expectations of tomorrow’s renter.  A session that both confirmed some biases and blew others out of the water.

Through a combination of survey and live interview, I think we confirmed three assumptions we thought were true and exposed three assumptions that we totally got wrong.

So let’s start with what we actually got right:

  • Connectivity is everything
    • This generation has never interacted with a world without WiFi – and it shows. Almost to a person, connectivity speed and WiFi availability were are the top of their ‘must haves’. Even those on the panel who were not into gaming wanted a signal strength strong enough to ‘watch Netflix and my Zoom meetings without glitching’. But beyond just the speed, they expect it to be at least an available amenity with them having the choice of getting service from another, faster, provider.
  • Mobile really matters
    • Duh. Did we expect anything less on this one? This generation executes crypto trading from their mobile device. You better believe they expect to be able to pay their rent, reserve a visitor parking space and enter a workorder from the same platform.
  • They expect to be able to do business differently
    • Example after example were provided by our panelists on how communities were making it more difficult to conduct business with them. Increased deposit requirements for a lack of credit history vs. offering deposit alternatives. The inability to split a payment online under a single lease. The unwillingness of the building access system to have multiple residents to be contacted for a single unit. Electric vehicle charging stations outside the gated perrimiter at the club house where they would be towed for overnight parking.
The next generation of apartment renter

And now to where we were totally wrong:

  • They never want to actually see an onsite staff member.
    • When asked the importance of having the ability to take a guided, inperson tour of their next apartment home (on a scale of 1 – 10 with 10 being Absolute Must), EVERY SUREVEY RESPONDENT RANKED THIS A 10. Every. One. Now they also expect to be able to tour virtually but those goals of getting our staffing models to 1:1000 may be a bit ahead of themselves. This generation desires efficiency but not at the cost of quality.
  • Social media really matters
    • An audience member asked the panel if they started their search on Social or via Website and the answer that all panelists provided suprised everyone. While social for their student housing decision was a critical search component, it really did not factor in at all for our panelists first ‘real’ apartment. I almost got the feeling that they saw stepping away from the TikToks and Instagram Reals as a way to show they were maturing in their housing search.
  • They rely on first party web content to become educated
    • This upcoming group of renters has an inherent distrust of anything a brand puts forward as reality. Instagram influencers, filters and selective messaging have jaded this group to the point that they expect pictures to not reflect reality and to only trust the impression of referrals or the mob.

In short, the renter of tomorrow is a bridge between the future and the past. They lead the way in the use of technology but still desire the relationship an onsite team brings. They are smart, saavy and optomistically cautious.

Which leads us to the ultimate question – how do we serve them well and maximize efficiency and profitability. Can’t wait to see how the industry takes on that challenge.

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