Baby boomers are flocking to rentals in town centers, such as Reston Town Center, above, near the communities in which they’ve owned homes for years. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
By Robert Pinnegar
Renting traditionally has been viewed as one rung on the housing ladder: First, you rent an apartment, then move on to purchase a starter home, which is followed by the family home, where most people spend the majority of their years. Renting has always been a step in the process and rarely the endgame.
Based on the growing number of renters in major cities throughout the country, including Washington, it’s clear that attitude is changing. Instead of viewing renting as a short-term phase, an increasing number of residents are choosing rental housing specifically because it offers a more-flexible lifestyle than homeownership.
This is especially true for baby boomers and millennials, two of the fastest-growing groups of renters. Whether just starting out in their career or settling into retirement, both generations are seeking a lifestyle that offers mobility, convenience and community.
“There’s no question that apartment living keeps getting better,” said Stephanie L. Williams, president of Bozzuto Management Company. “We’ve just started to see a slight shift in boomers actually deciding to forgo a mortgage for rent in high-end, highly serviced [properties with lots of amenities,] and do believe that we’ll see more. And they’re not necessarily moving from the suburbs directly into downtown locations. More likely, they’re staying fairly close to home in communities they’ve known for decades and are opting for nearby town center locations. Millennials, on the other hand, are enamored by the eclectic, energetic urban environment and thus love living downtown close to art, culture and entertainment.”
Mobility needed: Regardless of age, mobility is one of the top reasons people decide to rent. For millennials just entering the workforce or in the process of building their careers, the ability to relocate is a major factor. Even if they are in a financial position to purchase a home, millennials may choose to rent to have the flexibility to take advantage of new job opportunities as they arise.
Boomers value mobility, as well — with their children grown and out of the house, many have realized they no longer want or need a large suburban home. Instead, they’re opting to rent in urban environments that offer greater flexibility for travel and the option to leverage the equity in their homes. Many baby boomers also are working longer than their parents did. They still want to be close to their job and are not yet ready to retire to a new locale, but they are empty-nesters who want a vibrant, walkable lifestyle.
Transportation and accessibility play an important role. With busier-than-ever lifestyles, more and more people are simply refusing to spend hours commuting every day. Especially in cities such as Washington, where the commute between downtown and the outlying suburbs can take hours during peak travel times, rental housing close to work or with easy access to public transit offers residents the opportunity to achieve a higher quality of life, with less time stuck in traffic.
The convenience of living in the middle of things: Similarly, we’re seeing residents choose renting over homeownership for the sake of convenience. For busy boomers who are ready to give up the yard work and other home-maintenance tasks, renting is an attractive alternative. If something breaks or goes wrong, all they have to do is pick up the phone and call the property manager to take care of it. The same goes for young professionals who may lack the time, experience or willingness to address these issues.
We’re also witnessing apartment owners and operators go beyond basics like regular maintenance by offering amenities such as package storage, fitness centers and pools, along with hotel-like concierge services to enhance the resident experience. As communities compete for residents in the Washington market, we can expect the bar to continue to rise in terms of luxury and creativity, further augmenting the rental lifestyle.
Creating a sense of community: In addition to making residents’ lives easier, modern apartment amenities are designed to encourage socialization and create a sense of community. Whether it’s happy hour on the rooftop deck or cooking class in a common kitchen area — both of which we’ve seen local properties host for residents — these are the types of experiences that today’s renters are looking to incorporate into their lifestyles.
This sense of community is important to boomers, who may be leaving a social network behind as they move away from the suburbs; as well as to millennials who are eager to make new connections personally and professionally, especially if they are new to the District. With shared common spaces and experiences, apartment living creates organic opportunities for residents to make these connections and build on them.
In today’s economy, we can rent almost anything we need, including music, movies, clothes and cars. Having all of these options available to us suggests that people’s view of ownership is shifting. It’s natural that this trend extends to our homes, giving people more choice over where and how they live.
Robert Pinnegar, is president and CEO of the National Apartment Association based in Arlington, Va.
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