Has the Pandemic Permanently Changed Renter Preferences?

December 15, 2021

Remote Work and Home Connectivity Now Top of the List, According to NMHC Survey

Renters have always appreciated the ease of moving from one apartment to another locally or across the country. Flexibility has become an even greater priority for tenants working at home, especially those with the ability to work remotely from anywhere. Naturally, those priorities push demand higher for technology infrastructure that makes it easier to work at home.

The 2022 Renter Preferences Survey Report by the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) and Grace Hill found that 79% of renters expect to telework the same amount as they are now or more in the coming years. The full survey of more than 221,000 renters in 4,564 communities in 79 markets will be released in mid-January. A preview of the findings was recently presented by Rick Haughey, vice president of industry technology industries for NMHC at the December National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) conference.

The survey also investigated the latest migration trend to see how many renters moved during the pandemic. Approximately 60% of renters moved between April 2020 and September 2021, compared to 26% who moved in 2019. Of those 60% pandemic movers, about 25% moved because they were able to work remotely, according to the survey. Others moved for more space or to take advantage of lower rent.

Interest in community amenities such as fitness centers and swimming pools was down in this survey compared to others in the biennial survey that began in 2013. While this could signal the end of “amenity wars” in multifamily buildings, it may also be a pandemic side effect since many of those spaces were closed in the early days of the pandemic. Renters care more about space, flexibility and broadband than they do about community amenities at the moment, Haughey said.

Future of work and apartments

The survey delves into the preferences of renters for where they work at home. While existing units can be tweaked a little to accommodate teleworking, architects and developers may want to consider the desire of two-thirds of renters for flexibility in their apartment for a home office. Approximately 35% of renters are interested in an onsite co-working space limited to residents, Haughey said, compared to just 19% who would consider working in a nearby offsite coworking space.

Renters also place high importance on the technology they need to work, relax and stay connected at home. Reliable cell phone service ranks as the number one most desirable community amenity and 90% of respondents said they want high speed internet connectivity or won’t rent an apartment without it. Connectivity isn’t just about working at home: 82% of respondents said they stream video daily, 73% stream music daily, 39% video conference for work every day and 31% are gaming daily.

There is a split among renters about whether they want pre-installed internet service provided by the apartment management or prefer to choose their own internet provider. While younger respondents in the survey preferred pre-installed internet so it is available immediately when they move into a new unit, Haughey explained that many renters prefer to shop for their own company. He also said that the FCC is interested in this issue to make sure that renters can choose the best deal for themselves.

Soundproofing is also highly desirable for renters since they want to hear their own music and videos rather than their neighbors.

Smart features that appeal to renters

While younger renters have a stronger preference for smart home features in their apartments than older renters, the majority among all age groups are interested in the following features or won’t rent an apartment that lacks them:

  • Smart thermostats (desired by 70% of respondents)
  • Leak detectors (67%)
  • Water-saving devices (67%)
  • Security devices (66%)
  • Smart lighting (62%)
  • Smart locks (60%)

The age divide was sharpest on smart locks, with younger renters preferring them and older renters preferring traditional locks, Haughey said.

Potential opportunity for multifamily communities

This year’s survey also looked into the desirability of rental housing membership programs that allow tenants to move easily from one location to another without breaking a lease. This would be particularly appealing to digital nomads who want to experience other locations. Approximately 46% of respondents said they would be interested in a membership, while 54% said they would not be interested. For multifamily developers, the advantage would be to keep these renters within their portfolio of properties.