We recently caught up with two Utah-based property management experts, both with a high level of experience managing multifamily properties that include rooftop amenities. We asked Kara Haddock and Travis Baker how they have seen rooftop amenities impact return on investment, ways we can improve rooftop amenities, and where the future is going with rooftop amenities in Utah.
Their experience and expertise make them an invaluable resource for anyone planning to design or develop rooftop amenities in Utah.
Real Examples of Rooftop Amenities and their ROI
We connected with Kara and Travis to hear how rooftop amenities have impacted their properties. Here’s what they had to say.
How do rooftop amenities impact the marketability of a multifamily community?
Kara: Greatly! Most of the time, prospects are starting their search online. Having photos of these spaces enhances that first experience and helps get them in the door for a tour. Word of mouth also plays an important role. The better the rooftop amenities, the more people hear about them and the more others come to tour.
“Having such a superior amenity like a rooftop not only helps stand out from the competition, it glorifies the resident’s decision to live there.”
Travis: Overall, amenities are what make projects stand out from each other and help prospective residents see themselves living there. Rooftop amenities are something they can’t get in a house and are not always common in apartment living. So having such a superior amenity like a rooftop not only helps stand out from the competition, it glorifies the resident’s decision to live there.
How do rooftop amenities affect resident acquisition and retention?
Travis: Rooftop amenities absolutely affect resident acquisition and retention. Once I was touring Skyhouse’s rooftop and saw a social-media influencer using the space for a photoshoot. Other times, I’ve seen people on their laptops enjoying the sunshine. It always surprises me how versatile our residents use common area spaces and the rooftops are no exception. The space is used frequently for bridal showers, wedding receptions, birthday parties and even date nights just watching the sunset. It’s a true “exclusive” location only residents and their guests can use, and that feels special.
The other part, considering downtown living, is the security of being outside on our community rooftop deck as opposed to going out on the street to get to other available locations. It’s private to the apartment community and allows residents to enjoy the outdoors without going to the street level.
It’s a collaboration between programming activities that bring the community together and having the spaces that help that. Residents want to live and stay where they feel at home. Finding somewhere comfortable obviously includes the “brick and mortar” of the community, which in turn includes the amenities, but also their individual apartment as well. The management of the “brick and mortar” holds so many keys to the success of the acquisition and retention of the residents, but it starts with having the amenities to begin with.
“Rent is higher for communities that have great rooftop spaces.”
Kara: Rooftop amenities are a wow factor upon touring for sure and help sell the community to new residents. Even if they don’t normally use amenities, they see some of these spaces and believe they will and justify the rent (as typically rent is higher for communities that have great rooftop spaces). If the tenant uses the space, it helps with retention. There are some residents though who love the idea of the amenities, and move in because of them, but then don’t end up using them much. Retention in the downtown market is typically 40-45%, whereas at my assets with rooftop amenities, we’ve seen closer to 50% or even higher some months.
What impact do rooftop amenities have on net operating income?
Kara: Depending on how grand, we can achieve more rent per unit due to rooftop amenities. For example, one of our highly amenitized communities can achieve a $150-$200 premium over most of their competitors due to the amenities alone. This number includes all amenities, but I would say for two of my downtown sites, at least $75 can be directly attributed to the outdoor rooftop, more like $150 for the whole rooftop when the clubroom and fitness center are considered.
Travis: You could argue rooftop amenities attract more customers, and even more customers willing to pay a premium because of the rooftop. That alone helps drive higher rents and even sustains longer length-of-stays and higher retention — all of which would improve lower marketing and turnover costs.
How can multifamily real estate developers and property managers better take advantage of rooftop amenities?
Kara: Find ways to make them more unique than the competitors. Depending on size, finding more amenities to place upstairs such as garden boxes residents can rent out to plant veggies, herbs, etc. or games such as the large jenga set, etc. Perhaps an area where outdoor yoga could occur. In Utah specifically with it being winter, having some spaces that can be used during this time would be nice with outdoor heaters, or maybe even some type of “greenhouse” structure vibe.
“It’s important that the space is well executed.”
Travis: Programming and using the space well helps take better advantage of rooftop amenities. Events like Yoga on the rooftop or social gatherings held there help. I love it when you can get a jacuzzi out there so people can enjoy it even more year-round. It’s important that the space is well executed, though! You want the jacuzzi to have great views but also show well on the tour path.
How much do tenants value rooftop amenities? How often do they use them?
Travis: I’ve never done a survey for that, and wish I knew. We could check our fob system or elevator schedule and see what that report would show. Interestingly, I think amenities sell apartments, but don’t always get used. I once moved to a property with two swimming pools! My friends lived there before we did, and I remembered them telling us about the two pools. When telling my parents about our place, I brought that up as well. Anyway, we never used the 2nd pool and only went swimming at the main pool once. Ironically, it’s still what I tell people about, so it’s not always about what gets used but what sold it.
“[Rooftop amenities] are heavily used, especially during the summer and weekends.”
Kara: They love them, it’s certainly a wow factor upon touring. They are heavily used, especially during the summer and weekends. During the workday, not as much but when the weather is nice, we’ll see some people relaxing out there or even working “from home” out there.
Ways to Improve Rooftop Amenities
It’s not enough to simply offer rooftop amenities. The features and spaces you offer need to be innovative and attractive. In other words, you can’t add a few grills and a park bench and call it a day. Here’s what Kara and Travis suggest.
How can we improve the way we design rooftop amenities?
Kara: At least from the ones I’ve seen in Utah, they are still somewhat cold. There is a lot of open space and a lot of concrete (mostly because of the pool decks), and not enough landscape or dimension. Breaking up some of the areas with screens or other unique features could help with this. Some sort of water feature could be neat as well, or even just making the pool a little more interesting whether that be the shape, or the edging, etc. Maybe even a mini island with a landscape planter could be fun.
“[Rooftop amenities in Utah] are still somewhat cold. There is a lot of open space and a lot of concrete.”
Travis: People are so much more flexible now on how spaces are being used versus how they were planned to be used. I’d recommend furniture that can be moved rather than structures that are less flexible. Build spaces with lots of greenery and a feeling similar to a park setting with pathways and oversized pots with trees in them. Water noise is welcome. I try to appeal to the 5 senses when considering the purpose and presentation of the space. Shade is valuable whether that’s from a few sails, a pergola, cabanas, a structure with a TV. I also like the use of lighting with uplights on trees but string lights or tree light ornaments add interest. Lunch tables are versatile to be used for dinner or work. I recommend BBQ grills, but keep the backs away from any wall or cover (it always turns black and is impossible to keep clean).
What are the key concerns when it comes to the maintenance of rooftop amenities?
Travis: Snow removal – we keep pathways to the BBQ grills or jacuzzi clear, but where will we pile the snow? Ice melt is used, making sure that’s safe for the decking. Wind affects umbrellas so we don’t want those to blow away, we’d prefer something more permanent. Outdoor fire pits and fireplaces are always a maintenance nightmare. Be sure the manufacturer is involved in the planning – they need adequate oxygen and access to replace parts. Keeping any outdoor space clean, so having furniture that looks better dirty (flat silver vs dark metal, light quartz or granite vs a dark that shows more dirt). The glass topped side tables at Skyhouse blew over in the wind and shattered.
Kara: Snow removal, wind (creating messes, breaking umbrellas, etc.), keeping debris out of the swimming pool, pool or irrigation leaks to the below area which usually is a garage.
The Future of Rooftop Amenities in Utah
The demand for modern rooftop amenities is only going to increase. That’s evident throughout the Salt Lake region and beyond. It’s more important than ever for property managers and developers to keep their fingers on the pulse of what prospective tenants are looking for.
How has the pandemic affected the demand for rooftop amenities and other urban outdoor spaces?
Kara: I wouldn’t say it’s drastically changed here in Utah, but overall, we’ve seen a slight increase in demand. Where we have cold weather half of the year, the residents who work from home are utilizing spaces indoors the majority of the time. I would believe though in other warmer markets such as California, it has increased a lot more.
Travis: It’s been easier to manage, or not have to manage so tightly. The pandemic required us to limit interior use of space and outdoors was less of a concern.
How do rooftop amenities in Utah compare with those in other markets?
Travis: Hard to say. Utah generally seems like we’re behind the curve from Denver or Phoenix, but ahead of Boise. Some of the rooftops I’m thinking of here in Utah are far superior, but there are also a few that could really improve. Overall, I think Utah has less rooftop amenities than other states, meaning it’s more common outside of Utah. With that being said, adding rooftop amenities helps Utah projects stay competitive with our out-of-state prospective residents.
“Adding rooftop amenities helps Utah projects stay competitive with our out-of-state prospective residents.”
Kara: I personally haven’t seen a ton of rooftop areas in other markets, but I would say we are still lagging behind some of the bigger cities. It could also just be due to our climate. Obviously it seems places in California go all-out on their outdoor rooftop spaces.
Where do you see the future of rooftop amenities going both in Utah and across the country?
Kara: I see more of them coming, and the spaces becoming better in terms of what amenities are offered and the overall vibe/landscape.
Travis: I think they’ll become more common but also expected by our residents as a staple amenity. I hope they become even more beautiful and useful.
Kara Haddock is a Regional Property Manager for Greystar in the Mountain Region based in Greystar’s Salt Lake City office. She has more than 9 years of industry experience with extensive experience overseeing class A lease-ups, communities in the downtown submarket and is heavily focused on marketing and financial strategy development. Her background also includes stabilized, value add, student housing and active adult assets. She graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration with an emphasis on Real Estate and Urban Analysis and holds a CPM Designation through the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM).
Contact Kara at email@example.com or at 614-406-3290
Travis Baker is the President and Partner of Residential at Mecca PM. He has a unique insight into multifamily operations. He has worked in the apartment industry since 2002 with both local and national companies. Travis holds a CPM accreditation with IREM as well as a CAM with the NAA. This extensive apartment management experience shapes his approach to growth and client satisfaction. When not building rapport with new contacts, Travis spends most of his time with his family. In his downtime, he loves watching movies, playing games, and recently took on puzzling.
Contact Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 801-628-3153