Back To The Future: A Brief History of Apartment Building Design

Mike Scott of Dupre+Scott Apartment Advisors gives a tour through the last hundred years or so of apartment building design. Plus ça change….

In the accompanying article (here) Mike talks with builders and developers about current trends in apartment design and amenities. Interestingly many of these changes provide a competitive advantage to new urban buildings while making older suburban properties more desirable because the cost of replicating those floor plans and amenities today is so expensive. A few bullet points:

  • A rooftop deck with one or more barbeques, dog runs, putting greens, two-way fireplaces, lounge chairs and more, is much more than just a roof. [It’s like adding another whole floor on your building without the cost of the walls and floor- plus saving the land cost of putting these features on the ground.]
  • One clear direction with respect to floor covering is the trend toward more hard surfaces, like hardwood or tile throughout unit, except for the bedrooms. Doing this has both marketing as well as economic implications for developers.
    • Here are some of the many marketing issues. More renters want non-carpet finishes for health reasons and ease of cleaning. It is a better surface for properties that allow pets. On turnover, even though a carpet may look new and have been cleaned, there’s the perception that it’s been “lived in.”
    • Next, here are some of the economic considerations. Hard surfaces reduce ongoing carpet cleaning costs. They also cut replacement costs for carpet. However, there is a higher initial capital cost to install hard surfaces. Also, sound attenuation factors are more pronounced with hard flooring surfaces and need to be considered (acoustic-mat).
    • This is something we’re looking at right now as we put together a rehab plan for a client’s proposed acquisition. The upfront cost is +/-3x the cost of carpet or vinyl but it only has to outlive two re-carpetings to be ahead because you’ve also saved the cleaning costs.
  • Another trend is the increased use of inexpensive off-shore natural stone of marble and granite combined with domestic composites lead a trend away from plastic laminate and tile counters.
  • They [Builders and developers] suggested looking at trends in Asia, particularly Hong Kong and Singapore.
  • A smaller unit footprint is more acceptable with taller ceilings and lots of light.
  • Added garbage chutes for both recycle and rubbish.
  • Built generous bike storage, Zip car stations, and looking ahead, electric car recharging stations.

Another great point that Mike highlighted was that here in the Pacific Northwest our energy codes for new buildings are just a few steps from qualifying for LEED Silver so the additional cost of a ‘Green Building’ is minimal if it is designed that way from the start. I was just talking with a couple investors yesterday about the contrast between building codes in different apartment building investment markets in the western US and how much ‘green’ is already built into our local building codes.

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