Trends come and go in apartment living. Apartments outfitted with harvest gold appliances of the 1970s are now harder to find than a Yeti’s fossil.

Today, everybody wants an apartment with granite countertops.

A lot of apartments are being built across America right now. There will be some hits and some misses as developers and designers take a stab at being popular with renters.

What are the next trends?

The perfect place to come up with answers was the National Association of Home Builders’ International Builders Show in Orlando in mid-February, where some 50,000 home builders gathered. Our quest was to find out: What do apartment dwellers really want and what are developers going to build?

Hearing the wisdom from all-pro apartment architects Doug Buster and Manny Gonzalez left me wondering if anybody knows for sure what the next generation of apartments will look like. Everybody has a theory.

But here are the top 10 multi-family design trends coming out of the home builders convention:

1. Small is in. New multi-family units are going smaller to save cost — cheaper to build, cheaper to rent. To combat that claustrophobic feeling, higher ceilings will be used to make them feel bigger.

2. Tiny is in. Very small appliances — the 18-inch dishwasher, the 20-inch range and 24-inch refrigerator are being installed. The line of thinking: A young single guy just needs a place he can keep a couple of six-packs of beer. He’s not going to be cooking a turkey dinner and putting leftovers in Tupperware.

3. Apartments with two master suites are popular. People are rooming together to save money in tough economic times. Roommates want to have equally nice bedrooms and baths. Who wants to lose the coin flip for the best bedroom?

4. Forget big living areas. Singles want to go out to socialize, not have big parties at home. A tiny place for a couch and a TV will suffice.

5. Have wireless everywhere. Apartment dwellers want to be online everywhere — in the parking lot, in the fitness center, by the pool.

6. The big home theaters with fixed-seating and aisles are out. Apartment dwellers don’t use them. Think instead of having flexible space with multiple seating areas or having open leasing centers that can be used as lounges by tenants at night.

7. Make sure to have great fitness centers. Also consider child-friendly play areas in the fitness centers where the kid can wait while mom churns on the treadmill.

8. Pets — you’ve got have them. Renters demand it. Developers should allocate some green space for a bark park. Some new apartments will have a pet washing station that can accommodate several dogs at once for Saturday morning baths.

9. Tomorrow’s apartments must be green. Sustainability in design, in building products and in operations is a must. The apartment manager that doesn’t facilitate recycling and careful energy usage is viewed as a bad citizen.

10. Accommodate bicycles. Apartments should have plenty of bike racks and have a thoughtful plan for bike riders. Installing a bicycle repair vending machine, selling tire tubes and repair items, is a great idea.

Not Just Hype

The decisions that apartment designers and developers are making right now are going to be impacting the way people live for years to come — lots of people.

Apartments are the rage right now for the residential construction business.

Home building, at least as far as single-family homes go, is slow for a lot of builders around the country. But the apartment market is hot. That’s where the action is for builders. At the builders convention in Orlando, panel discussion sessions on apartments ran all day long. They were packed — standing room only.

American consumers are having a harder time buying homes or they are shying away from buying a home because they are worried about the economy and losing their jobs. Mortgages are tougher to get. So apartments are the alternative to home buying for more and more people these days.

In Houston, the occupancy rate for top-quality apartments has gone up from 87 percent two years ago to 93 percent occupancy today, according to O’Connor & Associates. Rents have gone up, too.

So it’s no wonder that apartment construction is surging.

The apartment business is booming. Construction is everywhere. But will these new apartments be great places to live? Perhaps. The jury is still out.

Reprint from CultureMap Houston    

Written Ralph Bivins, former president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors