Despite the recent housing comeback, more Americans are now opting to rent instead of buy. Just 65 percent of households owned their homes last year, the lowest level in 18 years. “There has been a polar shift in the housing market toward rentals,” Houston-based Sanford Steinberg, principal of Steinberg Design Collaborative, told an IBS audience last week.

The recent rental market explosion is due in part to two generations of Americans who shy away from home buying: millennials and baby boomers. This change is fueled in part by the recession, which spooked potential first-time buyers. It’s made it harder for them to get a home loan and also caused them to become wary of buying a home that could quickly depreciate in value.

Sanford Steinberg
Sanford Steinberg

Instead, many of the country’s 88 million millennials want flexibility, ease of mobility, and freedom, Steinberg said. “They don’t want to be tied down in one spot.” On the other end of the demographic spectrum, baby boomers facing an empty nest are filling up rental communities to fulfill what they had in McMansion living but without the maintenance hassles. Many developers offer luxury developments outfitted with all the comforts of a single-family home. “What we’re creating is the dream house that you used to live in or wish you had.”

Both groups—young professionals and recent retirees—look for many of the same things in an apartment development, Steinberg said. These include:

—A grand front entrance to the community with lush landscaping and striking exterior architecture.

—Open floor plans that revolve around the kitchen island.

—A resort environment that includes pools, a state-of-the-art fitness center, library, and well-appointed community room for social interaction.

—Plenty of opportunities for outdoor relaxation and activities in all types of climates. Steinberg said ceiling fans and fireplaces can extend the time period residents can be outside in hot or cool locales.

—Spa services, which easily can be offered by setting aside two small massage rooms and a waiting area. Residents can book services through the community’s concierge or bring in their own masseuse. “This is a huge amenity for a lot of people,” he says.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Houston, TX.