When the COVID-19 outbreak first took hold, many people assumed they'd be locked down at home for a couple of weeks, or maybe a month at most. But now, more than five months later, a lot of people are continuing to work remotely, have their children learn from home, and avoid public spaces in an effort to protect their health.
Clearly, being cooped up at home for months on end can wreak havoc on anyone's mental and physical health. But those who own or rent standalone homes may be faring a lot better than those who live in apartments.
Apartments tend to be smaller than standalone homes (though this isn't always the case, square footage-wise), and many lack outdoor spaces outside of a modest deck or balcony. As such, a lot of people who have been living in apartments since the start of the pandemic may be sick of doing so, and they may be shifting their priorities once their leases come to an end.
What will be important to apartment renters in the coming year?
While some apartment renters will no doubt seek to swap their digs for standalone homes, for many, that won't be possible. City dwellers who don't want to move to the suburbs may be limited to apartment living only, and those without their own transportation may find that suburban life is out of the question for the foreseeable future.
As such, a lot of apartment renters who want to change their living arrangements will have no choice but to seek out replacement apartments once their leases come up for renewal. And that could spark some interesting trends.
For one thing, apartment renters are likely to prioritize square footage and outdoor space in the near term. Having an extra bedroom to use as an office or school area or having a tiny deck or balcony to escape to could be a sanity-saving measure at a time when it's still not quite safe to roam around in public.
Along these lines, apartment renters are likely to place a lot less emphasis on building amenities that would normally be a draw -- things like party rooms (who's having parties these days?), gyms (which health experts warn are pretty unsafe in a COVID-19 world), and even playgrounds (since kids have a tendency to stick their hands in their mouths after touching shared surfaces). And that's something landlords need to be aware of.
Specifically, landlords ought to consider hitting pause on updating amenities and instead focus on making individual units more livable and roomy. Light-colored walls, for example, give the impression of a larger living space, so it pays for landlords to repaint and, in some cases, reconfigure apartments to at least give the illusion of extra room. And for the most part, now's not the time for landlords to upgrade their gym equipment -- equipment tenants may not even be allowed to use for the rest of the year, and possibly beyond.
Of course, another area for landlords to focus on is safety. Apartment renters might care a lot more about seeing sanitizing stations in the lobby than they do sparkling new treadmills.
That said, landlords may want to focus on updating outdoor amenities, since those may not be off limits during the pandemic. Replacing a swimming pool liner, for example, could be worthwhile.
But generally speaking, landlords should recognize that, at least in the near term, renters will probably favor larger units and outdoor access over all other things a building might have to offer. And that should, in turn, help them market and spend their money wisely.