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Will renters use fancy amenities in new Seattle apartments? PART 1

Fancy rooftop decks are a common feature of new apartment buildings in Seattle (Photo by Jaysin Trevino, CC Images)
LISTEN: New Seattle apartments are stacked with fancy amenities. But are renters actually using them?

Terry Applebaum gives me a tour of his Ballard apartment building where a 550 square foot studio apartment rents for $1,700 a month. He takes me up to the rooftop deck, shows me a community kitchen and the gym. Like many of the newer, larger apartment buildings in the city, the living spaces are small, but residents are compensated with shiny amenities and common spaces that are meant to be extensions of their homes.

“The free coffee machine was probably the amenity I was most excited about, as stupid as that is,” Applebaum says with a laugh.

As more and more of these seemingly identical buildings go up, developers are striving to make their building stand out.

Sarah Lloyd is the Seattle editor of Curbed, a website all about homes and neighborhoods. She told me about some of the more exotic offerings.

“A rooftop chicken coop with a 24-hour coop cam,” she said. “Eggs are collected daily by apartment staff and and then distributed to residents on a first-come, first-served basis. Residents don’t actually care for the chickens. They can look at the chickens without leaving their apartment by watching them on this coop cam.”

There’s a building in the Denny Triangle area with rooftop scenery.

“That has an 18-foot hemlock tree planted on top of it because everyone is trying to one-up everybody else’s rooftop deck,” Lloyd said. “This is a balcony and a yoga deck and a mountain experience that’s supposed to mimic the Cascades with this gigantic hemlock tree in it.”

Kim Reidy is director of relocation at Seattle Rental Group.

“I just read about a building that’s installing bowling lanes,” Reidy said. “There’s another building in South Lake Union that has a wood crafting shop. They have a beer room that you can go ahead and brew your own beer.”

Then there are the community spaces; large rooms with TVs and pool tables, rooftop decks with BBQs and fire pits. Buildings even program activities for residents, social mixers with free food and drinks.

Amenities at Seattle apartments

But my big question is: are people actually using these common spaces?

KIRO Radio host Zak Burns says no. At least, not at his Eastlake apartment building, that includes a stunning rooftop view of Lake Union.

“There’s a massive, massive courtyard right outside my front door and it’s beautiful; they landscape it,” Burns said. “Literally, I haven’t seen one person ever and I’ve been there for over a year now.”

Geoff McNeish says his girlfriend pays $2,400 a month for a small one-bedroom apartment in Belltown, including parking. But do they use the amenities? See their neighbors using them?

“No. Not so much,” he said. “The dog park is probably the most used and that’s because the dog’s gotta go out. Other than that, you really only see people on the rooftop on really nice days. Never seen anyone in the gym or hanging up a bike in the bike rack areas.”

Burns doesn’t use the common spaces either. But why not?

“I don’t know!” he said. “One of the things was, I didn’t want to be perceived as weird. I feel like I would probably judge someone who was sitting out there in the courtyard. Like, what are you doing? Why aren’t you inside your apartment having breakfast?”

“I think it’s just so un-private,” McNeish said. “You don’t know who’s coming by at any time. It’s part of society now that we just don’t really want talk to people about what’s going on, or have small talk, or try to talk to somebody about what we’re watching on TV.”

But here’s the thing: residents say they’re moving into these buildings because of the amenities. People imagine themselves using the gym or sitting out on the deck or playing pool. They buy into the life they’d like to have — if I move into this building, I’ll be a person who brews my own beer.

They’re paying premium prices for perks they aren’t using.

So where are developers getting the idea that Seattleites want these spaces? Do they know that Seattleites tend to keep to themselves?

“Developers are a little bit like sheep,” said Seattle developer Liz Dunn. “Especially the bigger ones who repeat projects in a bunch of different cities. They’ll get an idea in their head and in this case it’s an idea about millennials.”

Tune in to the Ron and Don Show on Wednesday

Dunn gives us a taste of what you’ll hear Wednesday in the second half of this story. I’ll speak with developers, and a couple of real estate consulting and marketing firms.

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