FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - South Florida apartment communities are offering more amenities and services to renters than ever before, as they work to attract consumers to renting instead of home buying.
Apartments are offering free or discount WiFi, grocery delivery, dog walking, special lockers for package deliveries, valet trash pick-up, and personal services from picking up your dry cleaning to light housework.
Sound like a dream living situation? It does to many South Floridians who are choosing renting an apartment over buying a home.
"I thought it was too good to be true," said Ashley Durst, 30, about renting at The Franklin apartment community in Delray Beach.
Now, Durst says she wouldn't live anywhere else. One reason is her downtown Delray Beach apartment comes with services including Hello Alfred, where a home manager tidies up her apartment on a regular basis, leaving a bouquet of flowers, and even a caring note when she's sick. "She's fabulous," Durst says of her so-called "Alfred," named after the butler in "Batman."
Such amenities and services at apartments are "making the decision easier to rent," said Ken Johnson, a a real estate economist and professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Johnson said the trend - both nationwide and in South Florida - is to rent, according to the "Buy vs. Rent" index he produces with Florida International University in Miami.
South Florida renting used to mean "a tennis court and a pool," he said. Now, "there are more amenities."
Even though apartment rental prices have been climbing, renters see benefits including a financial advantages, flexibility with moving, maintenance-free living and services that don't always come with owning a home.
In South Florida, the average rental price in May was $1,787 in Palm Beach County, $1,914 in Broward County, and $1,940 in Miami-Dade County, according to Reinhold P. Wolff Economic Research in Oakland Park. Apartment communities in middle- to upper-priced rent ranges are competing for renters by adding amenities and services.
"With rental apartments providing so many good amenities, they are very attractive to empty nesters - not having to maintain a single-family home," said L. Keith White, president of Wolff Economic Research.
FAU's Johnson said residents across the nation and South Florida may be better off financially by renting rather than owning.
"If you're a fairly young upwardly mobile couple, the tax benefit of ownership has gone away," Johnson said. Many taxpayers found last year that claiming the higher standard deduction on their federal income tax return resulted in a lower tax bill than itemizing deductions such as mortgage interest on their house.
He said investing in the stock and bond markets could build more wealth than investing in a house these days. As a result, "a lot of individuals in South Florida would be better off renting," Johnson said.
Joe Lubeck, president of Tampa-based American Landmark Apartments, said many South Florida residents rent for "job portability" - they want to be able to move to take a new job in a new city. So American Landmark offers "hassle-free" relocation for residents of at least six months, waiving fees if they move into a American Landmark apartment in another city.
"If you take a new job in Austin, it's a pain-free move," Lubeck said, as an example. That's because American Landmark has apartment communities throughout Florida, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.
Renters also are looking for convenience, Lubeck said. So American Landmark provides discount WiFi; free delivery of groceries and other goods by Shipt for one year; and "smart" package lockers to safely deliver and hold packages.
American Landmark's South Florida apartments include: Beach Walk at Sheridan in Dania Beach; The EnV in Hollywood; Siena Apartments in Plantation; High Ridge Landing in Boynton Beach; Verse at Royal Palm Beach in Royal Palm Beach; and Lago Paradiso at the Hammocks in Miami.
South Florida apartment communities also are signing up for home management services such as New York-based Hello Alfred.
Hello Alfred provides ongoing services such as putting away groceries, taking out the trash and picking up packages, as well as services for a fee such as dog-walking. Besides The Franklin, Hello Alfred is currently available at Boca City Walk and The Mark in Boca Raton; Caspian in Delray Beach; Satori in Fort Lauderdale, Avana Bayview apartments in Pompano Beach; and SoMa, Intown apartments in Miami and The Mile in Coral Gables.
And a new digital service is scheduled to launch in July in South Florida. Chicago-based Livly allows renters to make online or mobile payments for rent and insurance, schedule maintenance via chat, and handle package deliveries. Keyless entry for renters also is in the works, Livly says.
Many rental apartment communities also have changed their attitudes toward having pets, although they may still charge extra fees for a dog or cat.
"Twenty years ago a lot of apartments were not pet friendly. Today, we welcome pets and we provide amenities for these pets: dog parks, washes, events, and give-away free dog bones in clubhouse," Lubeck said.
Some other amenities and perks offered by South Florida rental communities include:
"Health-centric" apartment building Aventura ParkSquare, which has both condos and rentals, has a communal vegetable garden and a medical center.
Besides skyscraper views, the Panorama Tower in Miami offers amenities including a wine room, three movie theaters, soundproof music room, game room with a golf simulator and children's splash pad.
The downtown Coral Gables rental tower, Gables Columbus Center, touts a 24-hour concierge who can help make life easier for a resident while away, such as watering plants or taking package delivery.
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