IRVINE, CA - They’re educated, upwardly mobile, socially conscious, and networked. They’ve delayed the whole getting married, having children, buying a house and moving to the suburbs deal. They’ll do all of that someday, but what’s the hurry. There’s a lot of life to live before all of that. Meet the “dawdlers”...They’re waiting, and in the process, changing the way we think about multifamily development.
Until recently, the market segment eschewing family for fun, or career was negligible. But, we can’t ignore them anymore. In fact, this group of Millennials is shaping some of the most vibrant and exciting developments across the country and their numbers are growing...fast.
You surely can’t lump all of Gen Y together. After all, there are 80 million of them. The leading edge is well on their way to family and life in the suburbs; worried about school districts and soccer fields. The trailing edge is just leaving high school and thinking more about college than IKEA. But, those in the middle; those between 22 and 30, are making choices and pushing lifestyle boundaries unlike any generation in history. The result, in development patterns and built form, is pretty remarkable.
Location. When family comes later, priorities shift. These dawdlers aren’t concerned about the quality of the schools, or the number of playgrounds in the neighborhood. Instead, they’re thinking about how to be close to the action. They’re thinking about neighborhood as an amenity. They realize that there are a limited number of hours in a day. To get ahead in their careers, they’ll need to spend a lot of them working, and they’d rather not spend the rest in a long commute, or slogging through traffic to meet with friends after work. So, all over, fringe neighborhoods within walking distance to restaurants and entertainment are coming to life. This portion of Gen Y will sacrifice a lot to be close to stuff. They’ll live in small units, they’ll take on roommates, and they’ll do without some typical luxuries, like clubrooms and fitness centers, if they can feel like the world is at their doorstep.
Hotel Style. When you’re in the heart of the action, development is expensive. While this group wants a lot, they can’t, yet, afford a lot. So, when it comes to building amenities, doing more with less is key. Gone are separate spaces for the club room, theater, game room, and business center. The formal leasing center has vanished, too. In their place are multi-use spaces that flex based on the time of day and the day of the week. Looking more like the lobby of a hip hotel, the space can function as a leasing center during the day, with leasing agents milling about with iPads and working at communal tables. Later, the DJ comes in and it becomes the in-house night club. Business by day / party at night…
Forward Looking. The dawdlers consider themselves fiercely independent. They’re not interested in anything that resembles their parents’ homes. They live a progressive lifestyle and want their living space to reflect it. From the skin to the interior, they’re looking for the edge. This is the most design savvy generation ever. With the proliferation of design-based television programming and the ease of access to current trends, this group is up on the latest, and isn’t interested in settling for second rate knock-offs. It is important to them to be authentic. They can see through a phony in a minute. Originality, creativity, and quality resonate. No historically driven, facades for them. They’re looking at their dwelling as a reflection of their personality. It’s about the image, but there’s got to be substance behind it.
Sustainability. There is a vein of social consciousness running through Gen Y. Their level of connectivity and ability to mobilize and communicate has them very aware of their place in the world and they have strong opinions about it. Unfortunately, they can’t always put their money where their mouths are. It leaves developers in a tough spot. This group expects green building practices, but they aren’t necessarily willing to pay more to get them, so finding ways to get the biggest bang for the buck is important. Sometimes the splashiest green features aren’t the most sustainable, but showing them off matters. Incorporating features like photovoltaic panels or sustainable building materials as design elements where the user can see it and feel it can do more to attract this group.
Technology. In surveys of Gen Y renters, internet speed and connectivity run a very close second to location in determining where they will live. It is extremely important that the building be able to keep up with them as they surf the internet, stream video, and chat with friends and family around the world. They don’t want to experience a slowdown at night when everybody is competing for bandwidth, or have outages or hiccups. Whole building Wi-Fi and super fast speeds are as expected as running water. Other features like charging ports, docking stations, and integrated flexibility for the placement of electronic devices are all becoming the norm.
Personalization. The independent spirit of the dawdler can be seen in many ways. In every aspect of their lives they are trying to have control, make it their own, and be different. Offering various ways of personalizing a space is a great way to attract this renter. Allowing them to pick the color of their apartment, change the hardware on their cabinets, or providing a place to decorate in the hallway outside of their unit are all ways to play to this independent spirit. Simple open floor plans that allow for various furnishing options and don’t dictate a particular lifestyle have become important for this group. To live near the action, they’re willing to go small. But, if they do, they want to do it in their own way.
It isn’t often that a new market segment emerges in multifamily housing, but we’re seeing it with the dawdlers. This generation, dragging its feet toward adulthood, is reshaping the American city.