MCA-How to Recession-Proof Multifamily Housing? Use Design Thinking-1

Builders and developers have spent much of the year looking over their shoulders, expecting a recession to strike at any time. Housing growth can’t keep its momentum going forever, but frankly, predicting whether it will reverse course is not very helpful. The better course of action is to look ahead and make sure every property—from those that already exist to those in development—will be competitive in a tighter housing market.

Lately the signs don’t point to recession as much as to weak economic growth, which is not as scary as recession but is uncomfortable in the sales or leasing office just the same. Economic slowdowns tend to hit some regions worse than others, the New York Times points out. The ups and downs of financial markets can be just as upsetting in a sluggish market as in a full-fledged economic meltdown.

Design thinking—by which I mean accruing a real understanding of what motivates people searching for apartments rather than just putting together a mood board—will help builders and developers plan for whatever we end up calling these economic times. Putting human needs and wants first, which we do in our commercial interior design process, requires a clear understanding of potential target markets’ demographics and psychographics to design and build projects that fulfill all of their lifestyle requirements. By making a compelling case to consumers, design choices have an economic impact.

Here are five ways design thinking can help recession-proof a development:

  • Understand Your Target Market: A “one size fits all” approach is not a path to success in a slowdown. As designers, we paint full-blown mental pictures of the residents who may inhabit the projects we design—what they do in inside and outside their homes—and the most successful plans are a perfect fit. They take a close look at the intended occupants for every project, whether it’s millennialsseniors or multigenerational targets, to create specific types of communities and lower projects’ risk profiles. How can a development better meet their needs? It’s also critical to take regional changes into account to tailor projects to local economies, climates and lifestyle requirements.
  • Make Spaces Authentic: The millennial and Gen Z generations in particular are attuned to characteristics that make a home feel genuine. In multifamily developments, spaces that feel contrived or false will be deal-breakers for potential residents. Design can add authenticity while reflecting the development’s overall tone and surroundings. Outsourced procurement limits the options and leads to projects with strong similarities to each other—a minus in today’s marketplace. Instead, play to the architecture of project or the vernacular of its locale by using locally sourced materials, artisan made furnishings, themes that reference an area’s history and more to lend charm, individuality and realism to even large multifamily projects.
  • Design Uncommon Areas: A quiet party room or empty fitness center doesn’t make anyone want to move into a multifamily development. Well-designed amenity spaces build a sense of community and a culture that make residents want to spend time in them and build bonds. Public areas that spur usage can close sales or make tenants want to renew their leases.
  • Make Conscious Decisions About Conscience: Shoppers of every generation are taking a closer look at the environmental, social and governance impact of their purchases. They want to feel good about where they live, and how it contributes to their health and wellbeing. Renewable, recyclable and low-waste building materials make an impression on buyers, as do experiential features that bring residents together.
  • Build for Affordable Luxury: Extraordinarily expensive housing options are not always the most compelling, especially in economic uncertainty. Instead, today the focus for consumers in every cohort has shifted to alternatives that represent a good value or a better investment.  Multifunctional spaces, durable fixtures and finishes and inspiring amenities that have an experiential component, such as programmed activities, all signify a quality product that holds the promise of a higher quality of life for residents.

It may not yet be time to use the R-word, but in uncertain times its always the right time for builders and developers to make commercial interior design work harder.   We are in the vanguard on this issue and wrote about it this past spring in Builder and Developer magazine. Look there for more ideas on how to recession-proof a project.

Mary Cook

Written By

Mary Cook

Founder and President of Mary Cook Associates (MCA)