With two out of every three families in the United States currently owning the house they live in, according to Census Bureau statistics, more than ever before, the apartment management community will have to focus its energies on meeting the specialized needs of today's changing renter.

As author Edward N. Kelley, CPMR noted in the recently revised and updated Practical Apartment Management, "Despite the consolidation of apartment portfolios by publicly traded firms in the past decade, the root of success in the apartment business will always be a caring attitude toward people's changing housing needs. As the rental housing stock ages and the demand for a different and better product grows, the need for smaller, more localized, and far more sensitive management will return."

Despite current economic conditions that allow an increasing number of families to own their own home, however, the apartment market continues to gain. As Ron Witten, president of M/PF Research, states in a recent Journal of Property Management article, "For the last decade, multifamily has been swimming upstream against the demographic current, as population in the traditional renting years (under 30) has actually been declining. But in the next five years, the number of first-time renters will grow for the first time in two decades."

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the 18 to 24 age group will increase in number by 14.3% by the year 2020. These children of baby boomers will give developers the opportunity to create products that combine affordability, high technology and a return to the clubhouse/social center amenities popular in the 1970s. Another demographic windfall for apartments is the growth of the over-50, empty-nester population.

This rapidly expanding "mature market," as well as households with diverse ethnic backgrounds and cultural differences, is creating multiple "niche" markets with varied housing needs and lifestyle differences as well as locational preferences.

With apartment living fast becoming a lifestyle choice rather than a necessity, apartment professionals need to appeal to the core values and lifestyles of the apartment renter. By targeting this new breed of apartment renter with specialized amenities and conveniences unavailable to single-family home owners, the multifamily owner and manager can better capture this market. Some specifics to consider are:

* The new, mature renter will seek out living environments that reflect a greater concern for amenities and conveniences that leave more time for personal interests, family and friends. Grocery deliveries, on-site auto maintenance, video rentals, social programs and banking facilities are just a few amenities that may attract these renters today.

* The apartment renter in the 18 to 24 age group will be looking for ways to enhance their own wellness and personal lifestyles. By focusing on such amenities not easily duplicated in a single-family home format such as expensive, state-of-the-art exercise rooms; yoga classes; spirit rooms; and health-related programs, apartment owners and managers can help attract this market.

* Increasingly, for the renter, the apartment unit is not only their home but their place of work. Thanks to technological advances, more and more renters are making their apartment their base for work. Therefore, those rental apartments that feature high- speed Internet connections typically rent faster and at premium rents, especially if the floor plan features a "home office." Residential communities with community Intranets are also on the increase.

* An increasing number of renters are leaving behind the suburbs for a renewed interest in downtown living. Generation Xers and their younger counterparts, Generation Yers, have little interest in living the lifestyle of their parents. By catering to their desire for a more hip urban lifestyle through amenities and product features, property management professionals can effectively serve the needs of this market niche.

The emerging breed of apartment renter provides the multifamily management community with abundant opportunities to market its products to a broader cross section of the population and to introduce the apartment rental option to groups of consumers who previously had not considered it.

As we march forward into this next millennium, we will find an apartment marketplace that is more diverse, more flexible and more ever-changing. By focusing on serving the specialized needs of these market niches and by providing personalized, sensitive service, we can continue to count on a healthy apartment market.