“We look at the different components in the property that will help the target resident, who may or may not be our client, think about the potential for the property...”
Everyone approaches a blueprint differently, so it’s no surprise that creating a working blueprint for a multifamily property can be difficult for many investors. After all, even if every unit is the same, everyone working on the unit may see the interior in a slightly different light. “The way we process information is unique to us,” said Mary Laipple, regional director of 84 Lumber’s Kitchen & Bath Design Studios and experienced interior designer. “To get the results you want across multiple units or properties, you have to figure out what goal you have for that property and then figure out how the design is going to tell that story.”
Putting Things in Perspective
When real estate investors are thinking about designs and blueprints, they are usually thinking mainly about their eventual return on investment (ROI). The best way to get optimal ROI is for the resident of the property, be that person a tenant or owner-occupant, to want to live in that property and for the process of making the property attractive to fit into the investor’s budget.
“When I’m working with any client, I emphasize how important it is for a space to tell a story. With real estate investors, this is particularly important,” said Laipple, noting that investors are trained to keep their emotions out of design decisions, which can make the storytelling strategy more challenging.
“We look at the different components in the property that will help the target resident, who may or may not be our client, think about the potential for the property,” she said. “That way, the blueprint becomes the framework for the story, and then you can replicate that story throughout a development or even across a multistate portfolio.”
Laipple cited as examples of this type of story the “certain look” property owners hope to evoke when buyers or renters walk through the door of a residence. “Ask yourself how you want them to feel when they open the door, and what is realistically possible to achieve in that moment,” she said. “Is there light, and is it natural or artificial? What color is your paint, and how does it play in the light? How about your flooring? Every one of these facets impacts your customer. Be prepared to tell your designer about the nature of that impact as well as about your bottom line when you come in to create a blueprint for your property design. It’s replacing sales with storytelling.”
Setting Goals for Groups of Different People
Laipple acknowledged that the process of storytelling can be difficult in a multifamily development because residents live their lives in many ways. She suggested creating personas for the end users of investment properties, then working with a design expert who also understands the budgetary constraints of real estate investing to develop a theme that will work across multiple personas.
For example, one persona might like to do a lot of cooking at home. This means that the kitchen should, as most investors already know, play a big role in the overall design (and budget outlay) of a project. “Of course, some people simply do not care about cooking,” said Laipple, a self-admitted amateur chef. “Those people might just love to relax outside with family, and if you do not have access to private outdoor living spaces, what can you do?” The solution, she said, might be to maximize access to natural light in a community room, like a kitchen, so that both personas are able to meet, at least to a degree, their priorities. “You can do so much with light and space, even if that space is limited,” she emphasized.
Laipple added a final note on the topic of space: Investors hoping to scale design decisions can learn a lot from commercial design tactics. “Commercial designers have one question to answer: Who is the client, and what do they want to do in that space?” she explained. “Something that works for a doctor’s office or a restaurant may not translate exactly, but the design mindset is the same. You want your customer to feel comfortable and at home in the setting.”
A Blueprint for Multifamily Success
“If you are creating something you hope to use in multiple properties, then you need to be very sure that your target market is the same across those properties,” Laipple concluded. “You want to think about the things that are consistent across those markets as much as you think about what is consistent in the properties themselves. If you are building for seniors in one property and courting Millennial condo-buyers in another, then you probably need two distinct design blueprints. “At the end of the day, if you can make your customers comfortable, they are going to find your properties more attractive.”