When it came to amenities, apartment dwellers used to get stuck with just the basics: a swimming pool, a walk-in closet of a clubhouse and maybe a treadmill or two.
But today's renters are enjoying an array of unusual and high-end extras, from dog parks to vegetable gardens to wine tastings, as developers respond to increasing demand from non-traditional tenants.
Many retirees find that they'd rather rent than be tied down to a house, while homeowners hammered by the housing collapse either don't want or can't get a mortgage. Both groups are willing to pay a little more for an upscale experience not commonly associated with renting.
"Rent isn't a four-letter word anymore," said Mike Larson, a housing analyst with Weiss Research in Jupiter.
Evan Slatkin sold his home in Coral Springs and is renting at Satori Apartments in Fort Lauderdale until he's ready to buy on the east side of town. His lease expires in two months, but he expects to renew it, maybe for another nine months.
Slatkin, 41, enjoys working out in the gym and attending socials on site, including wine tastings, pastry competitions and cooking demonstrations by chefs from local restaurants. Satori's leasing office even acts as a concierge and accepts packages for tenants.
"I feel like I'm on vacation," said Slatkin, a chiropractor who owns a health and wellness center.
In the past year, 56 apartment projects with 100 units or more have been announced or are under construction in South Florida, according to McCabe Research & Consulting in Deerfield Beach.
Until now, the supply of rentals was depleted when dozens of buildings were converted to condos during the housing boom. The Great Recession that followed put a stranglehold on new construction.
But now with vacancies below 10 percent and average rental rates over $1,200 a month and rising, developers are back to building apartments.
"They're much more sensitive to the desires of their target market and are changing their sales and marketing programs to be friendly to this growing renters' pool," analyst Jack McCabe said.
They'd rather be building condominiums but can't get the financing, McCabe said. He expects developers to convert their rentals to condos within three to seven years once the housing market and lending climate improve. The upscale amenities make the rentals more attractive to potential buyers.
What's more, developers have found that they can add creative perks for tenants that don't increase the cost of construction, said Brian Coester, chief executive of an appraisal company in Rockville, Md.
"It looks good, but it's not expensive," Coester said. "They can make the nice-nice available to the general public now."
At AMLI at Flagler Village in Fort Lauderdale, tenants and their pets enjoy a fenced-in dog park. The building also holds yoga, spinning and dance classes, all of which are included in the monthly rent. AMLI at Ibis near Palm Beach Gardens has a resident activities center that includes billiards.
The Falls at Marina Bay in Fort Lauderdale shows movies daily in the complex's theater, replete with reclining seats and a popcorn machine. Tenants also can watch their own films or host private parties free of charge. Three-bedroom apartments there rent for $2,400 a month.
"We're trying to build a community here and not just be a place that collects the rent," said John DiSabatino, the marketing director.
The Altman Cos. of Boca Raton started construction this week on Altis at Sheridan Village, a 300-unit development in Pembroke Pines.
Amenities include a resort-style clubhouse, an activities pavilion, soccer field and a dog park with a bathing station. Tenants also will be able to grow organic vegetables and herbs on plots that include composters. The monthly rent range will be about $1,500 to $2,000.
"We realize that people are looking for more than just what's under their roof," said Manny Martinez, a vice president of Altman, which also built Satori.
Alexis Isalgue walks her Pug in Satori's well-lit dog park and doesn't have to pay for a monthly gym membership because the fitness center is so complete. She says the grounds and hallways are immaculate. Rents start at $1,800 for one bedrooms and top out at $2,665 for three bedrooms.
The 38-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative has always lived in apartments but says her experience here is the best she's ever had.
"It's luxury living," Isalgue said. "In years past, there was a stigma attached to renting. Now I say to people, 'Want to come see where I live?'"
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