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Many apartments have amenities with no room to spare

Jamie Lin’s Midtown apartment has granite countertops, a walk-in closet, polished wood floors and a full-size washer and dryer. But she can’t host a proper dinner party because her small dining table doubles as a desk. And if she were to have a houseguest, well, let’s just say it’d better be someone close. Lin’s apartment is 548 square feet.

Apartments in Houston are shrinking.

Jamie Lin sits in her 548-square-foot apartment in the Midtown area of Houston. Photo: Eric Kayne / © 2012 Eric Kayne

As rents have gone up, developers have been building smaller units and a lot more of them to meet growing demand from apartment dwellers who want to live in cool new complexes but can’t afford larger units.

In many new properties, the average unit size has come down by 100 square feet or more and the percentage of one-bedrooms is growing.

“The numbers of larger one-bedrooms or larger two-bedrooms are kind of disappearing,” said multifamily designer Jim Wallace of Wallace Garcia Wilson Architects.

While small apartments can be found in the suburbs, the downsizing is mostly a close-in phenomenon.

One-bedroom apartments will make up as many as 80 percent of the units in some of the new complexes being built near the city’s center. Across the Houston area, efficiencies and one-bedrooms make up 53 percent of all units, according to Apartment Data Services.

Rents have been rising as the housing crisis kept more people in apartments while fewer new properties were being built.

When Lin leased her apartment in 2010, it cost $950. A newcomer today would likely pay more than $1,200 for the same unit.

Society and technology

Cost isn’t the only thing driving the shift.

Societal changes and technological advances are now making it easier to live in small quarters.

Space and furniture once needed to house bulky appliances and electronics are no longer necessary. Renters are getting rid of their big televisions and armoires that housed them in favor of flat-panel TVs that can be mounted on a wall. They’re replacing stereo systems and desktop computers with iPods and laptops.

That’s one of the reasons apartment developer Alliance Residential Co. is eliminating built-in computer nooks from its new apartments.

It’s also getting rid of bathtubs in its smallest units, which have stand-up showers.

“The feedback from management is people don’t really take baths anymore, so it’s kind of a wasted space,” said Brian Austin, Alliance’s managing director.

Living alone

Tim Moloney rents a 900-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment near the Museum District, but he wouldn’t mind a smaller space if it were designed well and in a walkable area.

He said it would have to have high-end kitchen appliances because he likes to cook. But he could definitely live without a built-in desk.

“I have one of those computer areas. I never use it. I store stuff there,” said Maloney, a copywriter.

Demographics are influencing the size of apartments, too.

Young renters in their 20s and 30s – a growing segment of the population – are living alone longer, as they put off marriage, kids and home ownership.

Many want to live close to bars, restaurants and other urban amenities, where rents are typically the highest.

“They’ll sacrifice size for a (lower) monthly payment and to be where they want to be,” said Ric Campo, CEO of Houston-based Camden Property Trust, a national apartment developer.

Lin, a medical resident, loves that she can walk down the street to her yoga studio or to all the Vietnamese restaurants nearby.

“It’s so convenient,” said Lin, who does medical rotations at three different hospitals.

But the only way she could afford the apartment was because of its size.

Waiting lists

Developers say small units are often the first to lease and some properties have waiting lists for the tiniest units, developers say.

Their designs are part of the appeal.

With more young people eating prepared meals or in restaurants, kitchens have gotten smaller.

“The dining space is an oversized island in the middle of the kitchen,” said Mark Humphreys, CEO of Humphreys & Partners Architects LP.

Amenities are a big draw, too.

A complex under construction on Richmond near the West Loop will have a four-story amenity clubhouse with a “cyber lounge,” a two-story fitness center, yoga and tanning rooms and a dog park.

“Young 25- to 35-year-olds want to hang out in the community,” said Trent Connor of developer Greystar. “They don’t really want to hang out in their apartment.”

Reprint from Chron.com    by Nancy Sarnoff

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Categories: multifamily, Uncategorized
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