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If millenials seem gripped by nostalgia, well, styles are cyclical, right?  But even as trends repeat, there is a forward evolution that differentiates the styles of yesteryear from today's chic.

Maybe you've seen the return of 1970s avocado green – 'chartreuse' is the trendy new term – in today's kitchen décor.  Or perhaps you noticed that circa-1920s bird cages are back, too, although they're more likely to contain pots of herbs or dried flowers wrapped in ribbons of burlap than actual living birds.

But plenty has changed over the last half century in American homes, and millennials want their homes to be bigger, full of light and designed to entertain a crowd.  Real estate investors and landlords who ignore today's trends are missing a chance to boost their ROI and keep their rentals filled with higher-quality tenants. 

Today's young adults want a very different floorplan than their grandparents did.  They demand more spacious rooms and want open spaces filled with light.  Formal dining rooms are an endangered species, while space for more casual entertaining is a must-have.

Glorious kitchens with large appliances, previously the exclusive domain of professional chefs, are a benchmark in today's homes.  Kitchens are no longer hidden from view, with a hired cook or 1950s homemaker laboring alone over food prep.  Today's kitchens are often the home's centerpiece: large, open and designed to encourage family and guests to chat as their hosts whip up meals.  Families are eating their meals in the kitchen, too, often seated around generous islands.

Large, comfortable, open living spaces flow seamlessly from the kitchen.  They should be a place where renters can relax in front of a TV, or eat dinner, or entertain, or take an afternoon nap.  Many older homes today have knocked down the wall separating the living room from the dining room, creating one large open living space.

Modern Rental Home DesignBedrooms, bathrooms and closets are bigger in today's homes, too.  A relatively new concept dating only to the 1980s, master suites sprawl and include double-vanity en suites and, critically, two walk-in closets.  Today's renters want not just larger bathrooms, but more of them, with particular attention paid to the master bathroom.  Over the last thirty years, master bathrooms have evolved to evoke spas and private retreats.  The word "luxurious" should be applicable to the master bathroom's shower, bathtub and vanities.

So, what does all this mean for real estate investors and property managers?

Landlords who want to increase their ROI are paying attention to the housing style coveted by today's 25-to-34-year-olds.  The Freddie Mac 2015 Multifamily Outlook found that rental households made up of millennials are on the rise, and that economic growth promises to push those numbers up even more: “A new peak should be reached this year (2015) or next and continue rising until 2023.  The increase in the population of younger adults will keep demand high for multifamily units.  We expect that as the economy continues expanding the formation of households among young adults will also trend up.”

Take that as a warning bell if you still think you can draw high-quality tenants with aging housing styles and just the basic amenities.  Millenials have their own style and they're poised to demand it in the homes they rent.

Investors are buying properties mindful of renters who won't settle for decades-old floorplans.  They're also staging properties in ways that maximize open space that encourages today's casual, continuous social interaction.

But hold on.  Maybe you've already made many less expensive property upgrades to boost your rental's ROI.  You certainly can't be expected to spend thousands knocking down walls and reconfiguring rooms to bring in light if the budget just isn't there for it.  You may not be able to afford to buy new, eye-catching appliances right now.

Fortunately, there are affordable steps you can take to improve your property in ways that will make it worthy of better tenants – people who will love and care for their rental and will want to stay long-term.

Changing color schemes is perhaps the easiest fix when updating your rentals.  First, do some research.  For instance, a quick Google search will reveal that grey is the new white when it comes to kitchen cupboards, so grab that gallon of paint and get to work. 

While elaborate drapes and frilly tie-back curtains were standard in homes of the 1950s, tenants today want light, light and more light.  Remove those 1970s built-in window valances.  Take down heavy old blinds.

In fact, consider replacing all windows.  It's a reasonably-priced upgrade that can boost natural light and increase energy efficiency, cutting heating and cooling costs.  Look for windows that will let in the most light, and then make sure that appliances, shelving and other fixtures aren't blocking windows.

Modern Home Design for LandlordsIf your property is short on windows, you can still make the most of lighting fixtures – both inside and outside the property.  There is a bounty of options today for boosting wattage, including LED lights and new, 'bulbing' lamps that throw off multi-dimensional light and open up previously dim spaces.  Updated fixtures instantly give spaces new charm – think blown-glass pendants and vintage chandeliers (which can be bought dirt-cheap if you're willing to clean and rewire them yourself).

Speaking of lighting, make sure bulbs and shades are sparkling clean.  It goes without saying that listed rentals should be completely dust- and dirt-free.  Today's tenants are avid HGTV viewers and they expect that properties they visit will be spotless and clutter-free, just like those spaces that are transformed by interior designer Hilary Farr in the series, “Love It or List It.”

As much as possible, update kitchen appliances, counters and flooring.  They'll bring higher rent and give your property a competitive edge over rentals with older appliances.  After all, while today's tenants may love nostalgia, they also want high-tech convenience and maximum luxury in their kitchens.

Finally, if you allow pets in your rental, show your love for animals!  Where dogs once were relegated to an outside pen or doghouse, today's hounds are considered family members and are treated that way.  That's why you'll see new homes that feature nooks just for the pet dog or cat, along with lower kitchen drawers built for the pet's food and water bowls.

Only your own creativity will limit how you update rentals so that they reflect trends in design and decor.  And if you're short on that characteristic, go to the Internet sites that Millenials use in the same way that tenants of yesteryear relied on news and fashion magazines to keep them in the loop.  Sites like Houzz, Pinterest and Etsy will get you started.

And don't be surprised when thousands of results appear on a search for "chartreuse."

Related Reading:

How to Effectively Market and Rent to Millennials

Tomorrow's Trends in Housing – What Amenities Will the Next Tenant Look for When Renting?

The Changing Face of America’s Renters – and What It Means for Landlords


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