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1250 9th Street, NW, Washington, DC.  Urban sheek in the heart of town

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South Capitol Street, Washington, D.C.  Spetacular views with a matching pool deck.  

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The Grayson, Arlington, VA  Custom shade structures are the centerpiece of this beautiful amenity deck.

Exterior Space Design: A Major Differentiator in DC’s Highly Competitive Multifamily Housing Market


As the housing market in the Washington, DC, area continues to become increasingly competitive, developers need to seek out ways to differentiate their residential spaces. With that goal in mind, exterior spaces and outdoor amenity packages should be at the forefront of design and renovation plans. With more and more units inundating the market, smartly chosen extras can be that differentiating factor that sets a residential housing development apart and lands a sale or rental.


What Are Tenants Looking for in a Building?


What a person finds appealing in a housing development is a very personal thing. However, especially in an urban environment, it tends to come down to price and location. These concepts are, of course, interconnected. Some will pay more for a better location, while others opt for cheaper prices in a less desirable area.


With the boom in DC, developers are putting up units across this spectrum—from the most desirable neighborhoods now to more up-and-coming areas. This also means a large price range among the developments. As the number of these units continues to increase, the surplus in multifamily units (both apartments and condominiums) will drive that competition among developers.


Consequently, factors other than location and price are starting to play a bigger role in the decision to rent or buy a particular unit.  Buyers or leasees will scrutinize many aspects of the actual unit before buying. This includes size, interior amenities, appliances, various finishes, and a view (or lack thereof).  With so many options, outdoor amenities are becoming a deciding factor that can sway someone from one property to another.


Beyond Location


The increased competition in

the Washington, DC, housing

market is not just about more

units. It’s about better units.

Every year, DC is becoming a

more sophisticated market,

and that means neighborhood

are becoming more amenity

rich. Since so many areas are

becoming desirable, this

effectively makes location less

of a primary factor when

deciding where to live.


Especially in an urban setting, people expect smaller units where the majority of their recreation activities occur outside those units. Rather than expecting to use their own living rooms for entertaining, it is becoming more common and desirable for a building’s common area to serve that purpose. Outdoor amenities should facilitate:


  • Communal entertaining

  • Grilling

  • Swimming

  • Sunbathing

  • Exercising

  • Reading

  • Watching television

  • Playing games

  • Relaxing



Tips for a Successful Outdoor Amenity Package


With outdoor amenity packages proving such valuable sales tools in the multifamily housing market, there are a variety of things to keep in mind in order to utilize them in the most effective way possible. After all, it’s not enough to just have a designed exterior space. It needs to meet certain requirements to actually appeal to prospective buyers.


Tip #1: Know Your Demographic


Exterior living spaces are only effective and enticing if they are viewed as both functional and aesthetically pleasing. If people don’t see the value of what’s included in that outdoor space, the area will not serve its purpose.


Therefore, it’s imperative that you do your research. Figure out your target demographic for that housing unit, and plan accordingly.


Millennials, for example, are increasingly interested in outdoor gatherings—whether formal or informal. As young urban dwellers gravitate toward outdoor meeting spaces, make sure the amenities can accommodate a diverse array of potential uses of that outdoor space.  This can include:


  • Boccie ball courts

  • Ping-Pong tables

  • Enhanced outdoor cooking facilities accompanied by spaces to entertain

  • quite seating areas for reading

  • Laws or sundecks for laying out


By playing directly into what your target demographic is likely to be interested in, you’re giving that housing development a competitive edge against developments who didn’t have that kind of research and forethought integrated into the design phase. A well-planned outdoor space can truly be the difference between closing and losing a sale.


Tip #2: Don’t Get Too Specialized to One Demographic


While the research phase regarding unit occupants is critical, it’s equally imperative that your choice of amenities is not overly specific to one group of people. The people who are interested in those units today aren’t necessarily always going to be so.














The housing market is a dynamic industry, so you need to account for some fluidity in your amenity choices. Play to your current demographic, but don’t be too closed off to the prospect of change as circumstances inevitably shift.

Tip #3: Budget Wisely


The bottom line is always going to be important in any construction project, but rather than thinking about black-and-white numbers, consider shifting that thinking to value.


Outdoor amenities span a huge price range, so you want to find the least financially onerous amenity that will add the most perceived value. For example, pool decks almost always come to mind when thinking about outdoor amenities. However, they are very expensive to install, and they don’t necessarily attract people the most. Because they don’t entice buyers, that large upfront cost might not be worth it.


Again, it comes down to research. Know who is going to be using these amenities, as that will help you decide what to invest in and what to avoid.


Note: Don’t forget to factor in long-term as well as day-to-day maintenance of the outdoor amenity. Something that requires pricy upkeep might help land a sale initially, but will it continue to pay for itself as the maintenance costs continually compound?


Tip #4: Allow for Creativity


If you’re working with a landscape architect in the design process, one of the best tips for successful amenities is to be creative and forward-thinking. People don’t want the same amenities that have always been pushed through. A concrete pool deck simply doesn’t appeal to people in the way it used to.


Rather, as people become more open to and invested in ideas of sustainability and conservation, they want their living spaces to reflect those ideals. Especially among the younger generation, sustainable planting, and multi-use spaces are going to be successful draws.


This mentality shift in tenants coincides well with practical matters for developers. As land becomes more expensive and good plots are harder to find, every square foot of property becomes important. Approaching design in a more thoughtful, meaningful, and multipurpose way is going to benefit you—and it’s going to appeal to prospective buyers.


For more information about how exterior space design and outdoor amenity packages are changing and how they can give a multifamily residential building a competitive edge, please contact us and we will be glad to discuss some potential opportunities.


Champlain Street, Washington, D.C.  Urban elegance in a tight space.   

1250 9th Street, Washington, DC


Simple yet powerful roof deck that accomodates multiple user groups at once.

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