During 2014, the downtown rental market as well as that in several popular neighborhoods is continuing to be the vibrant, competitive scene that marked activity last year. While demand is comparable to last year, a greater supply of units will be available. In this environment, renters will have many choices, and real estate professionals want to fine-tune their understanding of what renters are looking for. While price points are an obvious qualifying factor, there are other key influences.
Both Eric Richards and Mark Sutherland are experienced professionals who have been involved with Chicago area development and marketing for several years. Richards represents Optima, Inc., owned by award-winning architect David Hovey, who has developed condominium and rental communities since 1978, and Sutherland has built both condominiums and apartments since 1995. Optima develops communities in Illinois and Arizona, while Sutherland rehabs and develops apartment buildings in Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village and Nobel Square.
In talking with renters, we’ve seen some trends that are affecting choices. Hopefully, these may be powerful persuaders for your rental clients.
Individual renters may have different preferences in location.
Richards: Our renters tend to be single professionals in their 30s and 40s with post-graduate degrees, many of whom are transferees with major corporations. There are many international transferees, most of whom are English, French and Asian. These renters are attracted by the architecture, clean, linear look of the building with its more international flair.
While most downtown rental buildings are “convenient,” location can vary for individuals. Proximity to jobs is an important factor, but the amenity-rich environment inspires additional choices. For example, some people might want to be right on the lakefront, while others may prefer a location closer to shops, and restaurants and night-life while still having easy access to the lake. Many downtown residents find it makes sense to bicycle along the paths to lakefront sports venues, while people dressed for work or dining might prefer to be closer to these attractions.
Sutherland: As a developer who is currently building in the neighborhoods, I agree that location is a priority. Our renters want to be close to the El in particular but also want to be near bus lines. They also want easy access to the shopping, restaurants and nightlife that contribute to the neighborhood identity.
Good design results in maximum space
Richards: Most renters want as much space as they can afford, so the amount of space within a residence is important. For example, good design concentrates space in the rooms rather than overuse of hallways. A balance of wall space and window space enables residents to place furniture while enjoying scenic views. Traffic patterns that are efficient and allow for privacy are persuasive points.
Sutherland: Renters are looking for open floor plans, and they are seeking adequately-sized bedrooms and large closets as opposed to the floor plans in the original Victorian-type buildings with their tight room sizes. When we rehab older buildings, we always open up interior spaces.
An inviting sense of arrival to the building draws people in, and quality features within the residences make them feel at home.
Richards: Most downtown rental buildings have large lobbies, and these can look a bit stark if careful consideration is not given to textures, colors and other details that create a warm ambiance and make residents and visitors feel welcome. In addition, our residences have features that reflect Optima quality. . Beautiful kitchens, abundant storage and artful use of natural materials fulfill those positive first impressions.
Sutherland: My approach to my rental apartments has also been to make them top-quality in features and finishes. They include in-unit laundries, modern kitchens with dishwashers, disposals, granite countertops and modern bathrooms in contrast to some older area buildings. My success has been built on this philosophy, and my buildings have zero vacancies and lengthy waiting lists.
The differences in amenities can be key
Richards: All amenities are not alike. A renter who places exceptional value on fitness and recreation within the building after a day’s work may have specific preferences. For example, Optima Chicago Center is the only rental building that has an indoor swimming pool and spa that can be opened to the outdoors in the summer while providing year-round recreation. The various amenities have a “destination” feel, because the fitness center, Resident’s Club, and outdoor space are clustered on two of the upper floors with spectacular views and conversation areas that help residents mingle and make new friends.