Hey Landlord, You Don’t Know Me

Countless articles attempt to categorize “millennial” opinions and behaviors, but they almost always overstate differences, or just plain get it wrong.

“Millennials are the generation of renters,” starts “Ways to Attract Millennial Residents to Your Rental Property,” geared to landlords. First, let’s be clear. Millennials are a vast and varied group, which includes 75 million people between the age of 25 and 41. 

In the articles I reviewed, writers tend to make the group even broader, rolling Gen Zers into the mix, to include basically everyone from recent high school grads to people whose kids are starting high school.

Renting: No Black-and-White Solution

One talking point you’ll often hear is that a larger percentage of young people are renting homes than in the past. This is true, but there’s no single reason. Some writers will explain that millennials have become “lifestyle renters” who want to focus on fun and family, not home maintenance. 

Others blame anxiety about the hidden costs of home ownership. Still others say people basically have no choice, due to a hot housing market and a lack of housing inventory. As this article notes, “in some cities in the United States, prospective homebuyers have to save for nearly a decade for a 20% down payment.” 

They’re all right.

The landlord article mentioned above mentions many features that landlords should include in their homes to appeal to millennials such as energy-efficient appliances, recycling bins, and robot vacuum cleaners. But is there any evidence that these features really matter to millennial renters? 

I asked a Reddit group of mostly millennial renters to get their reaction to some of the suggestions for landlords made in the article and to see what their priorities are when renting an apartment.

Sweating the Big Stuff

What actually matters to millennial buyers and renters? The same stuff that matters to everyone else: safety, location and price. As one respondent in the Reddit group noted, nothing is more important than knowing what the crime rate is in the area, whether your car will get broken into, and whether the community has taken steps to make residents feel safe such as installing cameras or gates or secured entrances.

The pandemic brought a new element of safety concern to renters. In a survey by RentCafe of more than 10,000 renters, 18% were concerned about whether it was safe to move because of Covid in 2020. That dropped to 9% of those surveyed in February 2021. But hygiene standards in an apartment building still matter, with 10% of renters in the 2021 survey saying they would check out the hygiene standards of an apartment before moving. 

A convenient location is important to renters, too, who want to be near transportation, restaurants, and grocery stores. One Reddit commenter moved out of a luxury apartment with lots of “fancy” features in favor of an apartment in a more convenient location even though it has laminate counters and an older HVAC system.

Finally, for all renters, no matter what generation they’re a part of, the monthly cost of rent matters. More than one-third (34%) of renters who moved early in the pandemic moved to find a place with cheaper rent, according to RentCafe’s survey, and 25% moved for that reason in 2021. If the apartment feels safe, is in the right location and is affordable, then they’ll be fine without some of the bells and whistles.

Sustainability Through a Rent Price Lens

While the article for landlords suggests adding-eco-friendly features to attract millennials, that’s misleading. Sure, younger people (but is an older millennial who is 40 still young?) generally respond favorably to “green” messaging. But their tepid love is conditional.  

Respondents on Reddit summed it up pretty clearly: Eco-friendly features are “nice to have” but not a priority. Low-flow toilets, solar panels on the building rooftop, or a windmill nearby are just nowhere near the top of the list of things they look for in an apartment.

That’s not to say they care nothing for efficient features, but what they’re looking for is savings, not a green halo. 

For example, the 2022 National Multifamily Housing Council and Grace Hill Renter Preference Survey, a survey of more than 200,000 renters living in professionally managed buildings, found that 70 percent want a smart thermostat in their apartment, or won’t rent a unit without one. Why? Likely because thermostats provide cost-savings. I’d also hazard to guess they think they’ll have more ability to adjust the heat or cooling themselves without strict landlord limits. 

I should add that this may be wishful thinking. Most smart thermostats offer features that allow a landlord to override or lock down temperature ranges. But again, writers of these articles offer little contextual insight into the reasons that millennials like or dislike such features.

One other efficient feature that several renters on Reddit mentioned as desirable is decent windows. That, too, is likely to be about saving money as well as comfort since energy-efficient windows don't allow cold drafts or humid air into the unit yet bring in natural light.

Green Fear Factor

Another little examined factor in green tech adoption: Renters may shy away from  items they fear will raise their rent. Even renters with more wiggle room on the rent may not be willing to pay a lot more for the amenities they want. 

Most renters (92% according to the NMHC survey) want an in-unit washer and dryer, but they’re willing to pay an average monthly rent premium of just $55 to get it. They also want soundproof walls (90%) but are only willing to pay a monthly rent premium of $46 for that. 

The average tab for utilities in an apartment in the United States is $250, according to ApartmentList, but the average varies, depending on the size of the unit from $121 for a studio to $328 for a four-bedroom unit. For renters who fear utility price hikes, a landlord could quell that fear with a guarantee that costs won’t go above a certain cap or promote their energy-efficient features that work to keep the gas, water, and electric bills low. 

Real Priorities: Quiet and Pets

Several renters on Reddit mentioned that noise is a huge issue for them, so features that mitigate noise but are also eco-friendly such as extra insulation may be a smart place for landlords to spend a little money. 

The 2022 renter preference survey showed that noise is a big priority for renters, with 90% saying they were interested in noise mitigation or wouldn’t rent a unit without it. Soundproof walls were third on the list of preferred in-unit amenities, right behind air conditioning and a washer and dryer.

One thing the article for landlords got right: Make every apartment building pet friendly. But don’t charge too much for the privilege. A pet peeve (yep, I went there!) of most pet owners is being forced to pay a deposit and a monthly fee for their pet.  

One Reddit respondent mentioned that parents don’t pay a “kid fee” even though kids are as likely as pets to cause damage no matter how vigilant the parents are.

Not All Tech is Fascinating

“Millennials love technology,” proclaims the article for landlords. Maybe not. About the only technology anyone mentioned in the Reddit forum was smart locks that can be operated with a code for safety. Automated devices were low on the list of priorities, well behind natural light, pets, security, and location.

While the landlord article recommends automated blinds, high-tech appliances, and yes, a robot vacuum, most renters appear to be uninspired by those features.

However, the 2022 renter preference survey found that renters do place a high priority on technology related to communication. The majority (90%) of renters said they were interested in robust internet service or wouldn’t rent a unit without it, and 86% said the same about reliable cell service. 

Washed Out and Whimsical

kitchen cabinet color preference

While breathy editorials often play up how the generation’s color tastes differ from previous generations, the truth is that subtle, bright colors are the mainstream choice for all age groups. Source: Statista.com

The landlord advice column suggested that millennials love minimalism and want a color palette of white, gray, black and pastels, although some may also like “whimsical wallpaper.” That’s not so much an inaccurate statement, simply an obvious one. Almost every age group prefers these colors.

The only decorative items anyone mentioned on Reddit are more about quality than looks. Some respondents prefer granite counters over laminate, for example, but they wouldn’t pay more for them. Better blinds and better appliances were mentioned, too, but only if these are part of an apartment that meets all the other priorities first including the right price.

No matter which source you look at to understand renter preferences, the reality is that millennials are just like everybody else. They want a safe place to live in a location they like at a price they can afford. The rest is just fluff.

Rental Costs: House Vs. Apartment

As you weigh pros and cons of renting a single-family home versus an apartment, consider what monthly utilities will cost you. 

For a quick comparison, here are some average monthly utility costs:

Average total utilities (including gas, water, electricity, internet and cable, trash) for apartment: $240

Average total utilities for a single-family home: $400

Source: https://www.move.org/utility-bills-101 

average utiltity costs








Publisher’s Note: This content is made possible by our Today’s Home Buyer Campaign Sponsors: Whirlpool and Vivint. These companies take sustainability seriously, in both their products and their operations. Learn more about building and buying homes that are more affordable and less resource intensive.