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Understanding Generation Z is the Key to Multifamily Housing Success

BY BRIAN HARDY
VICE PRESIDENT OF FIELD OPERATIONS
MCHUGH CONSTRUCTION, CHICAGOLAND AGC MEMBER

The world is changing, and so is its population. Generation Z, also known as Gen Z, is a prime example of that change.

Generation Z, defined by Pew Research as individuals born between 1997 and 2012, is becoming a pivotal force in today’s economy. It is estimated that by 2019, Gen Z could outnumber Millennials, accounting for as much as 30 percent of the global population. Although Generation Z is still relatively young, their impact on various industries, including the multifamily housing market, will be significant. It’s time we get to know them a little better.

The oldest members of Gen Z came of age in the sharing economy and expect on-demand access to everything from vehicles to entertainment to food. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find, generally speaking, that Gen Z is loyal, socially conscious, fiscally responsible, physically active and strives to find mindfulness and purpose in their daily lives. They want the places they live and the brands they support to reflect those ideals.

Today, members of Gen Z are transitioning from their teenage years into adulthood, becoming first-time renters and buyers of multifamily properties. With an estimated purchasing power of $143 billion, their economic and social influence will only continue to grow. Here we analyze Gen Z’s values and ethics and discuss how multifamily construction can evolve to meet the needs of this powerful upcoming generation.

CONNECTIVITY

Generation Z is the first cohort to have grown up entirely immersed in a technology-driven world. They are accustomed to on-demand access to information, resources and people through computers, cell phones and social media. They take technology for granted. So it’s no surprise that, in the largest survey of apartment renters, renters ranked reliable cell reception and high-speed internet as a top amenity, prioritizing it over features such as in-unit washers and dryers, parking, and pools.

Multifamily developers have taken note, with more insisting on the installation of distributed antenna systems (DAS), which through a network of small antennas installed throughout the infrastructure help boost cell signals in large facilities. Although it may be unclear during construction whether a building will benefit from a DAS, it’s prudent to allocate routes when planning plumbing, ductwork and electrical systems in the event future installation of DAS is deemed necessary.

Additionally, Gen Z residents will expect built-in smart home capabilities that learn their routines and behaviors and respond accordingly. HVAC units, lighting and security systems powered by artificial intelligence within the unit and throughout the building will be a major draw for members of Gen Z. But beyond that, multifamily planners and builders must also consider how the residents will connect to the building itself. For example, younger residents will expect to get real-time updates on maintenance, upgrades or planned repairs. This need for on-demand information underscores the value of smart MEP systems that capture and convey critical data to residents as they become available.

FLEXIBILITY

Generation Z values flexibility, and the world is responding in tune. Take, for example, the spike in the number of companies offering telecommuting to their employees. As of 2016, 43 percent of Americans telecommute to work with the number of companies offering flexible work arrangements tripling since 1996.

Today, residents’ homes often double as their offices, a trend we expect to grow in popularity as more members of Generation Z enter the workforce. To remain attractive to a variety of buyers and renters, multifamily properties must consider several factors. First, the units themselves must be affordable to meet the needs of younger Gen Z renters and buyers, many of whom are joining the workforce earlier in their lives. Younger buyers tend to gravitate toward smaller, open-concept spaces that can be tailored to their preferences, as opposed to those with dedicated kitchen, dining and living spaces that cannot be customized.

To make smaller units more attractive, they must be complemented by expanded amenity spaces, including those built to accommodate remote workers. While trendy, open-concept work areas may work for one subset of residents, many will still need private areas for small break-out meetings and conference calls, which have to be factored into today’s multifamily plans.

Beyond work space, multifamily professionals must respond to the way Gen Z travels to and from their homes. Particularly in urban environments, on-demand ride-sharing services have become a primary mode of transportation for Millennials and Gen Z to an extent. Multifamily structures must be built to facilitate easy passenger pick-ups and drop-offs, and their parking facilities must account for the influx in car-sharing programs.

However, research shows that Gen Z – unlike their Millennial predecessors – are more likely to own a vehicle, meaning properties that offer sufficient on-site parking may win out over those that don’t. In short, to thrive during the transition from Millennial to Gen Z, the multifamily industry must balance the needs of both generations and their varied preferences.

MINDFULNESS + WELLNESS

Gen Z is known for being mindful and health conscious, and they will actively seek opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint. As such, the generation will look for properties that make it easy to live “green,” such as those that feature built-in support for electricity, water and waste reduction. And today’s MEP systems, aided by artificial intelligence, do just that.

Gen Z will be motivated about features such as lighting controls and window coverings that automatically adjust with the sun’s position; HVAC systems whose fans operate only when motion is detected; and plumbing systems that optimize water flow based on usage. Those amenities will no longer be a value-add for residents – they will be expected.

Further, Gen Z will expect amenity spaces that reflect their values and support their lifestyles. Within the property, they will want state-of-the-art fitness centers with the latest equipment, plenty of green space and outdoor living areas, and space dedicated to social and communal gatherings. Outside of the property will remain an important factor for Gen Z buyers and renters, as well. They will look for locations that are close to neighborhood amenities, such as hiking and biking trails, public transportation, and locally owned coffee shops and businesses. Ultimately, these smaller details will be what sets one multifamily structure apart from another.

While we know a lot about Gen Z and its impact on multifamily construction, there remains a lot left to learn. And as the younger members of the cohort transition into adulthood, we have to prepare for their preferences as property buyers and renters to continue to shift.

As a collective industry, we must commit to staying ahead of the technology trends so we are designing and building for tomorrow, not just today. We must join our colleagues in conversation about how to build sustainable, connected structures that are both appealing and affordable. And we have to create spaces that evoke a sense of peace and quiet amid the hectic day-to-day that defines our world. Achieving those goals will help us define our value proposition for members of Gen Z and those who follow.