Condominiums and apartments are driving the renaissance of urban areas across the country right now, as both a younger generation and empty nesters seek homes where they can live, work and play, according to multifamily housing experts attending the International Builders’ Show being held this week in Orlando, Fla.

The condo market, in particular, has been thriving from this trend, as more and more people opt for a lifestyle where they can live near their jobs as well as restaurants, entertainment and public transportation.

“Condos made up 30 percent of new multifamily starts in 2004, which is a record-high percentage,” according to Gary Benson, president of Garrison Partners, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in condo conversions. Benson said that buying a condo is an appealing option for a number of niche markets: empty-nester baby boomers; young, well-paid professionals from the echo boom; and a growing number of new residents arriving from other countries, who are often more accustomed to living in high-density areas than their American counterparts.

“The urban experience has drawn aging boomers and echo boomers back downtown, while many young singles and couples have turned to condominium ownership to take advantage of low interest rates, and as a first step toward accumulating net worth,” Benson said. “In a time of double-digit home-price appreciation in many urban markets, condos have appreciated at higher rates than single-family homes. Even so, condos are often the most affordable option for first-time home buyers in desirable urban locations.”

Design trends in new rental apartments, as well as condos, have been kicked up a notch in recent years to appeal to today’s sophisticated renters and condo buyers, according to Paul Campbell, a principal with the Denver-based architectural firm Kephart.

“High-tech features like wi-fi and broadband access are now standard in most apartments,” said Campbell. “We’re also seeing more open, flexible floor plans with more creativity in kitchen design.” With many developers starting new apartment communities with an eye toward converting them to condos, appliances and finishes are also being upgraded. “There is a real emphasis on quality as well as style in the luxury apartment market,” noted Campbell.

The National Association of Home Builders is a Washington-based trade association representing more than 220,000 members involved in residential and light commercial construction.


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