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3 Simple Solutions to Bring Older Buildings Into the 21st Century

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Jeffrey Burnell of Waypoint Residential shares tips on updating properties with more modern amenities to attract new renters.

It’s easier to add modern amenities in more recently constructed apartment communities because most are already equipped with the proper foundation for new technology and design. (Even better, of course, is planning what will go into a brand-new facility.) Updating older properties to compete with newer communities, however, can present a bit of a challenge. 

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or cost prohibitive. Jeffrey Burnell, Vice President of Marketing at Waypoint Residential in Boca Raton, Fla., shares some solutions Waypoint has employed at its properties to give them a new lease on life

1. Update fixtures in each apartment home.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that really make a difference. From an aesthetic perspective, Burnell notes, updated thermostats (in lieu of the old beige boxes) automatically make a space seem newer. And they help with energy efficiency, too, as can water-conserving toilets.

The kitchen also offers a great opportunity, budget permitting, to add value to each apartment home. In addition to providing stainless steel appliances for a modern look, Waypoint Residential tries to incorporate ones that are energy efficient, which can make units more marketable.

“In the beginning, as long as they had stainless steel, they were fine,” Burnell states. “But when you put ‘energy efficient’ in front of it, I think for those residents that are conscious, they really like that. It's just another little addition that they know that they're helping to reduce the carbon footprint out there in the world.”

Another low-cost value add that the company has started implementing is docking stations for residents’ myriad electronic devices. In place of a wall plate in the kitchen, Waypoint Residential installs a plate that includes not only USB outlets but also a shelf on which to store the devices as they charge. 

“That is probably the most effective thing that we've done that mentally lets the resident know that they've got something special going on,” he adds. “It just ups the ante a little bit. And it's the funniest thing because it's basically around $12 or $13, and the effect is well worth it.”

2. Provide Wi-Fi in common areas.

The company offers Wi-Fi in its common areas, including the pool and business centers. Some owners or managers may be concerned that residents will simply park themselves in these areas to take advantage of a free Internet connection; however, Burnell points out that it actually creates more of a communal atmosphere.

“Some people probably think, ‘Well, I'm just going to cut off my Internet service and just hang out by the pool, as I only need to do emails and stuff,’ ” he notes. “You probably get a couple of those. But all in all, I think most people, it gives them a sense of being in touch more so.”

Burnell attributes this sociability to having a reason to get out of their apartment homes, enjoy the common areas and meet their neighbors.

Plus, he adds, “even though we market it and say ‘Wi-Fi availability,’ it's not until they actually realize it's happening that they feel like they're getting such a better deal.” 

3. Revamp unused spaces.

Older buildings may not always lend themselves to expansive updates, but there may be ways to reclaim previously unused areas into something practical that residents will appreciate. For instance, some of the business centers Waypoint Residential provides are actually housed in old basketball and handball courts.

Burnell explains: “There were these huge amounts of spaces that were no longer being utilized. People just aren't into it as much. And so we've taken some of those spaces and made fitness centers and business centers out of them. So when you start off with an open space like that, it is much easier to retrofit that or to fit in what you need. And, of course, we know fitness centers and technology is where it is right now on that.”

Business centers don’t necessarily have to conform to a rigid design either. Rather than dedicated stations with individual desktops at each, Burnell notes, apartment communities can provide one dedicated computer station or have a sitting area that makes it convenient for residents to connect to Wi-Fi.

Tennis courts are another underused amenity that the company has revamped at its properties. To encourage socialization and meet the needs of residents, Waypoint Residential has converted these outdoor activity spaces into dog parks and barbecue pits.

Jeffrey Burnell will speak more on this topic as part of a panel at MAXIMIZE: 2015 Multifamily Asset Management Conference this October. This is the only apartment housing industry conference dedicated to NOI.