Dogs are an increasingly important part of apartment living. According to statistics from the NMHC, approximately one-third of apartment renters own a pet. At Amenify, our property-centric in-home service marketplace, we recently did some research and found that 41% of the 22,500 residents polled own pets across 55,000 apartment homes. Some apartment communities have above 70 percent pet ownership. This number is expected to grow as millennials, who recently emerged as the largest demographic of apartment renters are now the largest group of pet owners.
This brings us to a major problem for multifamily-dwelling pet owners: most apartment communities were not constructed with dogs in mind. Most buildings have limited physical amenities, no access to backyards, and small units that make pet ownership difficult for residents. Apartment owners should consider implementing amenities and facilities aimed specifically at this massive group of potential renters.
Every brand is looking to power a true experience for their customer, and apartment operators are no different. In order for apartment owners to improve pet owner’s experiences, it’s beneficial to understand the primary challenges of pet ownership.
The most obvious challenge is both obvious and the most noticeable: bringing dogs out to go to the bathroom. Unlike single-family homeowners that can open up a door and let Fido relieve himself in the backyard, apartment renters need to travel with their dogs to reach an appropriate location. Business professionals often leave their dogs home for 8-10+ hours at a time due to their work and social obligations, resulting in a mess (at best) and recurring pain/medical situations for the pet (at worst).
Socialization can also be a challenge. Pets that sit inside an apartment all week tend to develop poor social skills as their exposure to outside dogs is limited. This can create difficult situations for neighbors, small children, and other pets in the community when dogs need to share a narrow hallway or staircase. A lack of social interaction has been shown to cause weight fluctuations and decreased social capability.
As social animals, repeated isolation also has a detrimental impact on dogs. Dogs left in an apartment all day are at risk of excessive barking, chewing, and other disruptive behaviors. Further, dogs left at home for many hours at a time regularly may experience separation anxiety, which can be crippling and may cause long-term damage to the pet.
It’s important to remember that these are the conditions residents are trying to avoid so amenities and unique services to alleviate these problems are extremely valuable residents.
In our same survey, 68% of dog owners in apartments are interested in a convenient dog walking service during work, play, and/or travel. The data is too early to suggest there is a rent premium associated with dedicated pet care, but there are meaningful positive reviews resulting from residents saving $200+ every month through their community.
From an economic perspective, this is significant. American Pet Association data shows that pet owners spent more than $6.1 billion dollars in 2018 annually on pet services with a large percentage of that sum being dedicated to dog walking. The opportunity for multifamily operators to create win-wins with local, professional dog care professionals is significant, and so are major partnerships with external brands. We see this trend continuing in our 15 markets of community management.
The difficult part is managing quality control at scale. There is a litany of reports about national pet care companies not using proper techniques including low wages, eschewing criminal background checks, and not requiring professional experience. The results have been dire: with dogs being lost, killed, injured, or abused by negligent dog walkers.
To mitigate against this, we have implemented strict policies for dog walking partners to ensure quality. This includes experience. All dog walkers should have at least one year of professional dog walking experience. It also includes ongoing quality control. Walkers must maintain their ratings to stay eligible and we have limitations on the number of dogs that can go out with a single walker (no more than two). We have also recommended that GPS trackers be used for every dog in case a pet pulls away from the dog walker and goes missing. These simple precautions head off the majority of issues related to dog walkers and contribute to a lasting relationship that helps foster community within a rental property.
Once apartment operators find a licensed, insured, reputable dog walking operation, the next step is marketing and enabling access to the appropriate units. Properties with keyless or smart locks are in the best position to due to security and convenience issues. It is a win-win if renters don’t duplicate keys and thus provide access to unapproved professionals. This is happening everywhere! Operators have very little data for who is coming onsite.
Finally, the onsite community managers are busy, so it’s important to streamline their role in the process. This includes parking for the dog walking team, home access, onsite safety equipment storage, ongoing quality control, and clear communications between residents and the dog walking partner. This last step is important. Ensuring the dog walking teams are meeting expectations from the residents is critical. Based on our data, sub-optimal experiences can be solved with monitoring and quick (i.e., less than 12 hours) response times. By measuring these services, apartment owners are able to create impactful data sets, ranging from optimal times, preferred products, and even increased retention rates.
I think we all agree, the thought of lonely dogs sitting in apartment homes waiting ten plus hours for their best friend to come home is sad and likely unhealthy. Multifamily operators have a unique opportunity to solve this problem and attract young professionals in the process. Providing a welcoming and healthy environment for pets has significant cultural and economic benefits for multifamily organizations everywhere as long as they spend some time thinking about how to accommodate our furry friends without putting themselves at undue risk.