Top Micro-Apartment Rental Trends
IndustryView | 2014
“Micro-apartments”—apartments typically no more than 400 square feet—have been a controversial topic in the last few years. Some cities, such as New York City, have made efforts to embrace them as an efficient solution for those who can’t afford the sky-high urban rent; others, such as Seattle, have experienced more pushback from communities that fear this affordable housing could attract less-than-desirable renters.
With that in mind, Software Advice surveyed U.S. renters to find out who is most likely to choose a micro-apartment and what considerations would factor into their decisions. We also spoke with Christian Nossum, a broker and 10-year veteran of the real estate industry, to uncover key trends and best practices for the property management industry. Here, we highlight the most important takeaways.
We began the survey by identifying those who would consider renting a micro-apartment—and as it turns out, it’s a small group. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they were “not at all likely” to consider a micro-apartment.
However, that leaves a combined 31 percent who said they were “minimally,” “moderately” or “extremely likely” to consider renting one.
There are several factors that could lead to varying levels of enthusiasm about these types of apartments, says Nossum; for one, they’re designed with a specific demographic in mind.
“It’s a pretty small demographic that [a micro-apartment] would work for, and within that, it’s a small subset of that demographic [who] would actually live in it,” he says.
This set of renters would include young singles without children who want to live where the action is, in the midst of a major metropolitan area.
“They don’t hang out in their apartment that often,” Nossum says. “They’re out hanging with friends and going places.”
To explore this idea, we wanted to determine whether specific age groups within our sample were more receptive to micro-apartments. In keeping with Nossum's observations, a combined 55 percent of 18-24-year-olds were either “moderately” or “extremely likely” to consider a micro-apartment. However, the 25-34 and 35-44 age groups were the least likely to do so, with 52 and 53 percent, respectively, saying they were “minimally likely.”
Moving toward older age groups, however, we found a significant uptick in interest. The 45-54 age group showed the most likelihood of all: 24 percent were “extremely likely” to consider renting a micro-apartment, and 33 percent were “moderately likely," for a combined 57 percent. “Extreme” likelihood declined slightly for those aged 55-64 and older; however, these groups still maintained a combined interest level (extreme and moderate) of 52 percent and 54 percent, respectively.
The average age at which U.S. women are having their first child is increasing, recently reaching 25.8—and a growing number of first-time mothers are now in their thirties and early forties. This could be a reason why those older than 24-years are less likely to consider micro-apartments; the 25- to 44-year-old group is more likely to have growing families that require extra space. Since younger renters are less likely to have children and less likely be financially secure, micro-apartments are a good fit.
The 45-64 and 65-plus age groups include those who are in or nearing retirement age, so the respondents in this group who were interested in micro-apartments could be looking to reduce their living expenses, or to find a smaller place that is easier to maintain as they get older.
Of those who said they were “extremely likely” to consider renting a micro-apartment, 59 percent were male, while just 41 percent were female.
Recent research by Redfin shows differences in gender preferences when shopping for a home that align with our results: it found that 35 percent of men under 35 live in a city and want to stay there, compared to 29 percent of women. This could explain why more males were receptive to the idea of living in a smaller dwelling; a micro-apartment could help them stay in a metropolitan area despite high costs of living.
If they were considering renting a micro-apartment, most respondents (50 percent) said they would do their research on online ratings and reviews websites, while 40 percent would use the apartment’s website. Only 10 percent would research a micro-apartment using the apartment’s social media profiles.
This seems to be a reflection of the fact that consumers like to see reviews and comments from other consumers, or in this case, other renters. For nearly any type of service or product, studies show that consumers trust online reviews and are using them to make purchasing decisions.
Ratings and reviews sites are perceived to have more honest information, as the content and photos are uploaded by real consumers. However, apartment-seekers might also visit the company’s website after determining a shortlist of options on review sites.
Breaking the data down by age, we found the youngest age group (18-24) are most likely to research micro-apartments on ratings and reviews sites, such as Apartments.com or Zillow, or the apartment manager's website: each at a combined 37 percent from the chart below.
While it may seem strange to see that older age groups prefer using social media to research micro-apartments, studies actually show baby boomers to be very active social media users: 60 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds now say they have a social networking account (most commonly Facebook).
“It’s the new thing for [that age group], even though we’ve been doing it forever,” Nossum says. “They might be just a little behind the curve.”
When asked what feature they would want most in a micro-apartment, renters were very closely split, with ample kitchen-counter space and a patio tying for first place. However, when we looked at what each gender wanted, we found that men preferred kitchen counter space more than women (58 percent versus 42 percent), and women preferred large closets more than men (58 percent versus 42 percent, again).
While this isn’t always the case, more data reinforces these findings as a general assumption. One real estate blog reports that men tend to seek out better kitchen spaces with plenty of counter space and new appliances, while women prefer spacious bedrooms, bathrooms and closets.
Nossum describes another reason why counter space appeals to micro-apartment dwellers (who, according to our data, are more likely to be male): cross-functionality.
“[Kitchen counters] might be the only flat surface in the place besides maybe a coffee table, so they’re using that for multiple purposes, like charging [their] computer or phone,” Nossum says.
The fact that a patio was tied for first place among renters overall and appealed to men and women nearly equally is unsurprising; it would represent a way to get out of the enclosed environment and make the space feel larger than it is.
When asked what kind of establishments they would prefer to live near in a micro-apartment, grocery stores and bus or train stations ranked at the top, each at 29 percent. Slightly further behind were cafes or restaurants (23 percent) and shopping options (19 percent).
Similar to the data about apartment features, these results seem to follow a progression of usefulness. Many of these kinds of renters don’t have vehicles, Nossum says, so a nearby grocery store is invaluable to those who must walk places. The same reasoning can explain wanting to live near a bus or train station.
“Since you’re not getting around by car, you need to be able to walk or take transit wherever you go,” he says.
Sixty-five percent of respondents said they would be most motivated to choose a micro-apartment in order to save money on rent. Another 32 percent would rent one in order to live in a desirable location.
We offered respondents the ability to add their own reason, which made up 3 percent of the responses (the “other” category); most of these included “being environmentally friendly” and to “simplify” their living situation. But overall, reduced rent is what most were attracted to, which makes sense for the demographics these kinds of apartments are well-suited for: Recent college grads and those nearing retirement tend to be the least financially stable as well as the most likely to need to save money.
“They don’t want to pay as much to live in a super-desirable location, and most of the places [micro-apartments] are located in desirable locations that you couldn’t afford if you were renting a normal apartment,” Nossum says. He adds that there’s a small portion of renters who might rent a micro-apartment in order to spend money on other things instead.
The data shows that the market for micro-apartments may be small, but increasing rent in urban areas, the increasing density of populations and the growing class of young renters should ensure that these types of apartments will increasingly have a place in most major cities.
Given all these factors, “they make so much sense,” Nossum says.
By emphasizing useful features such as kitchen space or a patio and the valuable amenities located nearby—all for a reasonable price—managers can better market these properties to those who are most likely to commit to a smaller living space.
To find the data in this report, we conducted a five-day online survey of six questions, and gathered 1,928 responses from random consumers who would consider renting a micro-apartment within the United States. We worded the questions to ensure that each respondent fully understood their meaning and the topic at hand.
Interview sources are chosen for their expertise on the subject matter, and source commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.
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