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2nd Wave Development's Prime Orlando complex in Kissimmee will feature indoor-outdoor "social caves," like the one pictured here that includes a pool table and other games.
2nd Wave Development's Prime Orlando complex in Kissimmee will feature indoor-outdoor "social caves," like the one pictured here that includes a pool table and other games. (Courtesy 2nd Wave Development)

Apartment amenities have advanced far beyond a swimming pool or a gym with a treadmill and a couple of weights. Tenants, industry experts say, want to live someplace with coworking spaces and karaoke rooms, high-tech fitness centers, keyless front doors and on-site coffee shops.

Developers more and more are building in “wow factor” features as luxury rentals continue to be one of the most lucrative housing models. In its latest report on multifamily trends, CBRE analysts found that apartments are incorporating more common spaces for tenants to work remotely, grooming stations for them to care for their pets, gyms that offer yoga and barre classes, and rooms for playing music and e-sports and hosting workshops.

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Concierge services, dedicated pick-up and drop-off spots for ridesharing, partnerships with food-delivery companies and having retail options such as small grocers and beer and coffee shops are also becoming popular.

Other amenities that were once considered must-haves, like theater rooms and tennis courts, have become passé.

“Something that a lot of people don’t think about when it comes to amenities is a sense of community. And how you achieve community — that’s more complex than just building a fitness center,” said Jeannette Rice, head of multifamily research for CBRE’s United State’s office.

In Sunrise City in Kissimmee, Tampa-based Framework Group is building a new complex that will include a lazy river — a first for a rental community in the Orlando market. In Thornton Park, Lake Mary-based DIX Developments has plans for Vive on Eola to offer rooftop yoga classes, weekly cleaning services, a virtual cycling studio and access to Zip Car, a car-sharing rental company.

A rendering of the collaboration space inside Ustler Development's "The Julian." The room incorporates different colored window panes and can be used by residents who work remotely.
A rendering of the collaboration space inside Ustler Development's "The Julian." The room incorporates different colored window panes and can be used by residents who work remotely. (Courtesy Ustler Development)

Also in Sunrise City, 2nd Wave Development out of Tampa broke ground last year on Prime Orlando that will have a putting green, bocce ball court and golf simulator, and each unit will come with a kitchen island with a farmhouse sink. The complex is designed by Humphreys & Partners, an architectural firm in Dallas, and will also feature indoor-outdoor “social caves," including one with TVs, a fireplace, pool table, poker table and other games and one with a coffee lounge.

“We’ve tried to amenitize it as much as we can,” 2nd Wave Development Director Marc Sembler told GrowthSpotter in a previous interview.

Modera Central in downtown Orlando opened in 2018 and features a saltwater pool; ping pong, shuffleboard, and game area; lockers for Amazon packages; electric car charging stations and bike storage. Residents also have a choice between two different designs of units to better customize their living space to their personal taste. On the ground floor, there’s 11,500 square feet of retail space for a bakery and a future miniature Dollar General.

“It looks and feels much more like a hotel than it does a traditional market-rate apartment,” said Eran Landry, vice president of development for Mill Creek Residential’s North Florida Division, which developed Modera Central. Mill Creek will soon break ground on a new complex in Creative Village that will feature a first-floor food hall and beer garden, as well as a rooftop pool and coworking spaces throughout the building.

Chelsea Dora-Shibley, vice president of interior design for HPA Design Group, said more than ever there’s been a focus on modernizing the apartment’s gym with interactive gear, like Peleton bikes with live, interactive classes and Mirror devices that display your reflection as you work out. Smart-capable fridges, front door locks, thermostats and security systems are also being incorporated in the homes themselves.

“It’s definitely important to be thinking about how this is going to be integrated in your units for the future,” Dora-Shibley said during a webinar hosted by Humphreys & Partners.

A unit at Modera Central in downtown Orlando, which was developed by Mill Creek Residential. Modera Central offers tenants the choice between a cool-toned design, like the one pictured here, or another design with more warm-toned cabinets and floors.
A unit at Modera Central in downtown Orlando, which was developed by Mill Creek Residential. Modera Central offers tenants the choice between a cool-toned design, like the one pictured here, or another design with more warm-toned cabinets and floors. (Courtesy Mill Creek Residential)

Inside the units, popular paint colors are dark blues, named the “Color of the Year” by both Pantone and Sherwin-Williams. Dora-Shibley said HPA Design is also seeing bathtubs being phased out in favor of showers and the incorporation of entryway mudrooms, unique tile patterns and colored kitchen cabinets. Tenants also prioritize having a sound-proof home, an in-unit washer and dryer, balconies, hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances, according to a recent Greystar survey of 28,000 renters.

Craig Ustler, president of Orlando-based Ustler Development and the firm behind Alta at Health Village and The Julian, said tenants want “cool places to hang out” and said some apartments have seen success scheduling special programs, including days for food trucks, mobile pet grooming or mobile bike repair. Ensuring properties are bike and scooter friendly is also important, he added.

Fore Property Group is upping the ante for its new 384-unit community across from the Tupperware SunRail station in Kissimmee. The complex will have two saltwater pools and two clubhouses.

“We’ve been doing some really special stuff with our outdoor programming,” Marketing Director Caroline Gould told GrowthSpotter in an earlier interview. “One of the things we’re offering in some of our newer communities are premium cabanas with small refrigerators, misting fans and TVs. It really gives that resort feel.”

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Gould said the two clubhouses would be programmed differently: one with a gaming center and lounge, the other with a state-of-the-art fitness center.

“We’re always evolving based on our residents’ needs and interests,” Gould said. The fitness center would have dedicated space for cardio and weights, and studio space for yoga, exercise classes and spin sessions. Another new thing we’re looking at doing is saunas. We’ve seen huge demand for them from residents, and it fits with their focus on health and wellness.”

The Bainbridge Companies, which has two new communities in development on Narcoossee Road, will offer its tenants their own exclusive boat launch on Lake Whippoorwill.

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The menu of amenities available in the Orlando area may be a reflection of the “fairly aggressive building environment,” said Greg Willett, chief economist at RealPage.

“In this luxury space, you’re just trying to find something to differentiate your property from the one coming online down the street,” he said.

But extra amenities come at a price. According to an analysis from RealPage, the average rent at a Class A multifamily complex in metro Orlando is $1,531; Class B is at $1,287; and Class C is at $937. The median cost of rent plus utilities across all properties in Orlando is $1,163 a month, according to Census data.

Willett said although adding more amenities can drive up rents, the people who are living in luxury apartments can afford it. The median income percentage someone spends on rent at a Class A apartment is around 30%; in the mid-20% for Class B; and high-teens to low-20% for Class C. There also remains a strong demand for luxury units, despite the growing need for more affordable housing, he said.

Willett and Rice agreed that the “amenity wars” have in some ways widened the gap between luxury rentals and more affordable apartments. “There is a development cost associated with each one of those amenities,” Willett noted. The expensive cost of land, construction, materials and local building fees have also contributed to creating a “dissected” market, Rice said. The Orlando area is currently ranked worst in the nation among U.S. cities for affordable housing by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“That’s why developers are working harder to try to figure out which amenities are the most important. And, again, it’s not just to attract…but it’s also retention," Rice said. “Developers are trying to be more thoughtful for obvious practical, financial reasons on what you add.

“If you’re at a certain price point, there are things you’ve got to add, but maybe you don’t need golf simulators."

Got a news tip? You can email Caroline at cglenn@orlandosentinel.com or call 407-420-5685, and follow her on Twitter @bycarolineglenn.

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