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Apartment Amenities: What’s Worth It and What’s Not?

Apartment Amenities: What’s Worth It and What’s Not?

The demand and matching availability of apartments has continued to increase. In the U.S., the average vacancy is around 8% — the highest in 40 years. With space at a premium and more people choosing to live closer to city jobs for shorter commutes, builders are providing the ideal solution for this demographic.

Whatever reason you’ve chosen apartment life, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the fierce competition among apartment communities vying for your rent. When my husband and I moved to the Seattle area, we were overwhelmed by the number of choices just within two close cities! At first we focused on price and spurned unnecessary amenities, but quickly realized that many amenities are status quo. With no major difference in base rent, we were pretty much guaranteed at least one pool, an on-site fitness center, and other perks. This situation isn’t the case in every housing market, but apartment communities are increasingly providing services that used to be associated with luxury living. With so many choices, how do you decide what’s worth the expense and what’s not?

In-Unit Amenities

In-unit amenities like cable and high-speed Internet access, a washer and dryer, and balcony or patio space are some of the most renter-preferred. Cable and Internet access generally don’t add anything to base rent, and the same goes for a standard outdoor space — most new apartment complexes feature at least small balconies at no extra cost.

In-unit laundry, on the other hand, is a feature estimated to add a 5% premium to your rent. If you don’t own a washer and dryer, the convenience of having them provided might be worth it, although you’ll use more electricity. A trip to the laundry mat, on the other hand, costs about $3.00 a load (plus fuel if you have to drive there). Looking for a laundry room amenity when shopping for an apartment might be more affordable since it won’t increase your rent or utilities.

Community Amenities

Apartment communities are getting increasingly creative in their desire to court more tenants. Here is a short list of some of the amenities out there:

  • Pools, steam rooms and saunas
  • Day spas
  • Tanning beds
  • Indoor play areas
  • game rooms
  • indoor or outdoor basketball/tennis courts
  • laundry stations
  • extra unit storage
  • package drop-off areas
  • gift wrapping stations
  • porters
  • movie theaters
  • wine cellars
  • pet care and grooming services

So what are the most popular community amenities? In the eyes of renters, these are must-haves, and why they may or may not be worth it:  

  • 84% want an on-site gym
  • 78% desire extra storage
  • 70% look for free wi-fi

An on-site gym is the most desirable amenity for a reason. The average yearly gym membership cost $55, and only half of members use theirs consistently. The estimated premium for an on-site fitness center is about 5% (the same as for in-unit laundry). The combination of being able to drop a costly gym membership, the greater convenience of an on-site facility, and the difficulty of storing personal equipment in a small apartment makes this one a true value for the most people.

Extra storage might be necessary if you’re downsizing significantly from a larger home, or have outdoor equipment that’s hard to store elsewhere. Ranging in price from an additional $25 to $125, this is an expense you’ll want to consider carefully. Can you downsize to a more minimal lifestyle and save that money, or is the extra space valuable enough to you?

Free wi-fi could lower your data usage and allow you to drop to a lower plan while easily networking multiple wireless devices, but there are other things to consider. Can you access the wi-fi from the privacy of your apartment, or is it in a public location like a community lounge or cafe? Security is also less guaranteed: even if your community’s network is password protected, your personal data is still vulnerable to other renters on the same network. At little extra cost, this one really depends on your preferences.

Perks that Aren’t Worth the Cost

Vistas of other apartment buildings or highways are far from picturesque, making a nice view a profitable perk for apartment complexes to offer. The price of that view might be pretty steep, however, depending on your location: an increase of 1-2.5% for modest locations, and as much as 80% for more desirable views. My advice? Post a picture of an ocean scene on your wall, or, better yet — visit the ocean.

Developers are increasingly converting older turn-of-the-century buildings into apartment complexes to save on construction and breathe new life into historic districts. With natural materials like exposed brick and hardwood floors, these apartments are highly desirable. Because of their unique features and location in pricier historic districts, however, the premium for these apartments is often 10-15% above base rates.

Where you live and the amenities you prefer is a personal decision, but at least you’ll know, going in, how much it will cost. What perks do you find essential? What can you do without?

Photo Credit: chidambaram