Multifamily’s Newest Design Expectation Is Whole Being Wellness

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The multifamily market has done incredibly well in the past few years, driven by urbanization, changing demographics, and ever-evolving lifestyle preferences. Both younger and older generations are delaying or foregoing homeownership and opting for the flexibility and convenience of renting (high interest rates are certainly pushing many in this direction as well). Various factors including the aging population, pandemic-induced stress and loneliness, and the rise of remote work models have many of today’s renters seeking flexible, innovative living spaces with exemplary holistic health and wellness offerings. The changing consumer preferences for multifamily rentals have grown into what I am calling “whole being” design. 

Whole being is the pursuit of one’s physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, occupational, social, and environmental wellness aspirations. Whole being design aims to create a holistic living experience that supports the safety, health, happiness, and multidimensional wellness of those who live within these spaces. Renters are looking for their homes to promote mindfulness, physical activity, and prosocial behavior while combating sedentary inaction, reducing stress, promoting restful experiences, and improving cognitive function.

Gone are the days when laundry facilities, fitness equipment, pools, and coffee bars alone define residential luxury amenities. The expectation of providing for our residents has evolved and done so rather rapidly. The need for planning, building, and operating with whole being design in mind is now more crucial than ever. 

The shift toward whole being living initiatives in the multifamily market is not a fad. It is a response to the growing awareness our built environments have on our health and well-being. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the built environment can influence up to 85 percent of our health outcomes. Knowing this, consumers are willing to pay a premium for whole being design and service solutions, leading to higher rental income. Two studies, Wellness in the Built Environment and The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings, report that investors and renters recognize the importance of wellness-producing environments and are willing to pay more. These studies conclude that buildings with wellness features command up to a 10 percent premium in trade value compared to buildings without such features.

The continued demand for whole being wellness practices, especially those influenced by Eastern traditions, has risen dramatically in North America. Today the comprehensive Global Wellness Economy stands at $4.4 trillion and is forecasted to reach $7 trillion by 2025. Investors and global organizations define this economy’s wellness real estate sector as a collection of design, construction, operation features, services, and amenities that support overall health and well-being. According to the Global Wellness Institute report, Global Wellness Economy Monitor, today’s wellness real estate economy is valued at nearly $300 billion and is forecasted to double in value to $580 billion by 2025. Wellness Real Estate ranks as the third-fastest-growing wellness sector, just behind the wellness tourism, beauty, and anti-aging wellness sectors. 

Two of the most coveted whole being offerings this leasing season are holistic spa and resort-style environments and services and adaptable work-from-home spaces and offerings. Other highly sought-after whole being amenities are air and water purification systems, soundproofing, natural circadian lighting, direct access to nature, alternative healing services, and access to healthy food options.

Whole being environments are aesthetically pleasing and holistically supportive, creating and fostering community through enhanced experience. They often illuminate the principle of biophilia, the idea that people hold an innate connection to others and nature, greatly benefiting from exposure to the natural elements of light, water, and plant life. These spaces often showcase communal indoor, outdoor, and rooftop environments that engage sensory experience, where playing, dining, or relaxing occurs. They provide spiritually flexible spaces, including meditation rooms, gardens, indoor flora, yoga, and healing arts rooms. Virtual and augmented reality are even being used to transform areas into transcendental meditative retreats. These technologies provide guided meditative journeys and other personalized contemplative in-home experiences using augmented reality and spatial audio. Whole being environments intentionally promote social engagement where residents collaborate, share stories, and create community.

A vast and ever-growing array of whole being-focused buildings and projects exist worldwide. These include wellness-based urban districts, master-planned communities, multifamily developments, and affordable and subsidized housing projects. One is Optima Lakeview in Chicago. This luxury apartment community offers a variety of wellness amenities, including indoor and outdoor pools, sauna and steam rooms, on-site massages, and exercise/yoga studios. The building has a sky deck designed for all seasons, complete with fire pits, tables, heaters, and equipment to keep the pool and spa heated year-round.

The innovative residential developments, Cascada in Portland, Oregon, and the Maverick Chelsea in New York City are receiving global notoriety for their impeccable assimilation of wellness initiatives. Cascada is a LEED Platinum residential development with hundreds of sustainability and wellness features. The community’s 20,000-square-foot wellness facility includes a complete hydrotherapy circuit, a Moroccan-style swimming pool (culturally influenced design, colors, intricate patterns, and ornate lighting) in a solar gazebo, salt, steam, and dry sauna therapies, infrared hot yoga, and multiple organic and vegan food options. The residence of Maverick Chelsea offers three floors of wellness amenities, including a 60-foot-long indoor mosaic-tiled pool with cabana seating, a fitness center, and an on-call spiritual concierge whom residents can tap through the building’s programming partner LIVunLtd. The concierge connects occupants with top aura readers, crystal and reiki healers, and meditation teachers.

The urban district of Hudson Yards in New York is a mixed-use development of residential, commercial, and retail spaces incorporating green spaces, public art, and pedestrian-friendly streets promoting health and wellness. Hudson Yards’ The Set apartments, for example, offer a bold new category of rental living, blurring the lines between a luxury residential experience and a five-star hotel. The Set provides various whole-being amenities and experiences, providing coworking spaces, a resort-style fitness and water oasis, and a resident-only social club. Residents also delight in hotel-style room service from the onsite restaurant, dining and tasting rooms, and a 24-hour wellness concierge. 

Several mid-market and affordable projects have begun assimilating whole being design as well. Since these projects are more cost-sensitive than luxury developments, owners are considering the potential long-term benefits, cost savings, increased tenant retention, reduced maintenance costs, and improved overall tenant health when choosing the most beneficial features for their occupants. Rosewood Court Apartments in Los Angeles offers affordable housing for low-income seniors. The building features a rooftop garden, a fitness center with yoga and tai chi classes, and an on-site health clinic. The Sendero Verde in New York City is another example of an affordable housing development with whole being amenities like a rooftop farm, community garden, and on-site health clinic.

It is important to note that not all wellness features and services require significant resources or investments. Simple changes like incorporating live plants and natural elements, providing healthy snack options, and encouraging movement throughout the day in places like active staircases, create a significant difference in promoting whole being wellness.

When considering incorporating whole being features and services, begin by prioritizing the needs and aspirations of your target demographic. This involves research and interactive surveying. Some such features may include adaptable work-from-home stations, access to nature and green spaces, and opportunities for multisensory physical and social activities. Other uncovered needs may require considering partnerships with local businesses and holistic wellness professionals. On-site mental and spiritual health services and workshops can be co-created, offering resources like counseling and coaching. 

The leading indicator for the future growth of the whole being living and design movement is the rapidly rising interest in wellness certifications for residential properties. WELL Building Standard (WELL) and Fitwel have emerged as the two major third-party rating systems focusing on enriching building occupants’ health and wellness. Fitwel, in particular, provides guidelines and strategies for designing buildings and spaces that promote health and wellness, including a scorecard system covering 12 categories: location, outdoor spaces, indoor environment, water supply, and more. Fitwel reports multifamily as one of the fastest-growing asset classes receiving certification, with the number of properties pursuing certification increasing 122 percent year-over-year in 2021 alone. Many large and small firms consult these rating systems to enhance the well-being features of their portfolios, yet they may not officially certify their assets. 

While the shift towards whole-being living initiatives is commonly seen as a response to the increasing recognition of the built environment’s influence on our health and well-being, other perspectives should be considered. According to the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), wellness amenities are among the most popular with renters, yet they remain secondary to location and affordability. Others contend that whole being design and service solutions are only a passing trend and that the value placed on such amenities remains subjective. Developers may be tempted to skimp on interior living space quality while focusing on marketable wellness amenities. This approach may result in impressive-looking amenities but poor-quality living spaces that do not holistically provide for occupant needs.

Investors seek rental income growth, greater asset values, and increased investment capital. Residents seek a more integrated and fulfilling living experience. Creating safer, healthier, and happier environments supporting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, occupational, social, and environmental well-being satisfies both investor and occupant aspirations. It might seem fringe right now but if the trend of consumers caring more about their health and wellness continues, whole being design might become the most sought-after feature in the multifamily market. 

Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the official position of Propmodo or its editorial team. We value diverse perspectives and aim to encourage open discussions. The information presented here is the author’s own and does not reflect our stance on the subject.

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