You don't have to own a home to make a home your own. Apartment living is a way of life for millennials and baby boomers alike, says Amy Groff, senior vice president of industry operations for the National Apartment Association in Arlington, Virginia. The NAA is an 80-year-old organization that represents more than 82,000 members, with 9.7 million rental housing units internationally.
"People in all stages of life are choosing to live in rental units because of their way of life," Groff says. "People want to live a lower-maintenance lifestyle that comes with renting."
According to second-quarter 2019 census data, the nationwide rental-unit vacancy rate is at 6.8%. While some urban areas may be implementing procedures to regulate short-term rental properties, the NAA projects a need for 4.6 million more rental units by 2030 to keep up with increased demand.
"Today's renters are craving amenities that create community through a shared lifestyle," Groff says. "Customer service should be a priority in rental communities, because an apartment is still a person's home."
Communication between renter and the property manager is key to creating room-and-board bliss, says Kimberly Ramsey, vice president of operations at Kettler, a property management company of 20,000 multifamily units, founded in 1977 and based in McLean, Virginia.
"In general, people are thinking differently about renting. Instead of considering renting an apartment as a temporary step on the road to home ownership, more people are choosing to rent," Ramsey says. "The 2008 recession really wasn't that long ago, and some are still apprehensive when it comes to home ownership."
Before signing any lease, whether short- or long-term, read the fine print. "Make sure pets are part of your lease agreement if you have them, because eventually, they will be discovered," Ramsey says. "In general, an apartment should be left in the same condition as the first day you moved into it."
The persons' space -- rented or not -- reflects who they are, and must fit their lifestyle. "Quality property management companies have an eye toward providing luxury amenities with finer finishes, landscaping and common spaces," Ramsey says. "Because today's workforce can be a lot more transient and not necessarily tied to a home base, apartment living can be right for people who may need to move frequently."
Moving should be seen as an opportunity to clear away clutter, keeping only items that mean something and also fit a personal sense of style. Even though persons pay rent, they can "own" a space by strategically placing their personality into it.
Enliven a rented space by infusing it with light and color, Ramsey says.
"As property managers, we are constantly upgrading our apartments by watching trends and, in some places, creating an accent wall with a bold paint color," she says. "A renter can also paint walls -- making sure to return the walls to a neutral color when moving out -- or hanging dynamic artwork on a white wall to make a statement."
A bright tip to set the mood is to pay attention to light fixtures. Ramsey says good property managers have higher-end fixtures in apartments already, and renters can illuminate good design with decorative lamps and task lighting.
For the ultimate enlivened accessory, decorate a space with live plants, such as an orchid, low-maintenance succulent plants or a bouquet of cut flowers. Allow a sentimental item to be a show-stopping accessory in a room, and use a well-honed selection of books and meaningful photos to personalize a place.
A layering effect can also begin on ground level with colorful or graphically dynamic rugs. "With popular plank flooring throughout an apartment's open floor plan, a rug can define a space," Ramsey says. "It can also be the basis for a design and absorb sound, which is important when living in an apartment."
Soft window treatments can add interest and privacy, as a renter mixes fabrics and different styles of coverings -- such as Roman shades or draperies -- with existing standard-issue blinds.
Investing in a neutral-colored, sleek sofa will impart a timeless appeal in your apartment, and the higher the quality of the sofa, the longer you will own it.
Colored and patterned pillows that complement the window coverings and rug can be easily swapped out no matter where you live, and can be the jewels that tie together an apartment's design.
For many, renting a space to live can also mean a new lease on life. "The goal for apartment buildings should be to create a sense of community among its residents," Ramsey says. "When possible, augmenting apartment life with amenities that enhance the quality of life is great for everyone."
-- Storage space in an apartment can be minimal, but having a separate, secure storage space for seasonal or large items available to residents can free up living space.
-- Pet places, such as on-site doggie day care, are high-end solutions that tend to the furry, four-legged residents.
-- Common gathering places, such as conference rooms with Wi-Fi or comfy larger living room setups, are great places to office from home or watch the big game with other residents, respectively.
-- Fitness centers, such as a workout room or pool, can be a way to actively meet other residents or just relax and recharge yourself.
"There's a rational value to an apartment in that you know you're renting a two-bedroom, one-bath space, or whatever the particulars are," Ramsey says. "But there should also be an emotional value to where you live and a sense of community. It's important that you feel at home, no matter where you live."
-- KETTLER.com is a company that manages about 20,000 apartments in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of the United States.
-- National Apartment Association (NAA) is America's leading advocate for quality rental housing. Go to: NAAHQ.org.