The 3 most common types of renters in single-family rentals & small multifamily properties

Robin Young
Robin Young | 21 min. read
Get the latest industry insights.

Published on May 19, 2021

COVID-19 has upended the rental market as we knew it. Stay-at-home orders motivated some renters to invest in homes of their own, while others were shut out of the sales market by high prices and low inventory. The shift to remote work allowed some renters to move to more affordable neighborhoods in the suburbs, while others took advantage of stagnant rent growth by upgrading their space in the city. Job loss and loneliness caused some renters to move in with family members or roommates, while others sought out safety and extra space in more spread-out communities.

Different types of renters might be interested in your properties than in the past, with new wishlists and considerations on their minds. Your current renters are likely placing different demands on their space, and might be searching for a home that better suits their needs.

We’ve surveyed thousands of renters throughout the pandemic, and we’ve discovered clear patterns in their preferences and considerations in choosing a place to live. Most research on renters focuses on how their preferences vary by generation; but though age is an important dimension in understanding renters’ needs, we’ve found that household composition is a critical lens through which to view their behavior.

In this blog post, you’ll learn the 3 types of renter households that you’re most likely to find in your single-family and small multifamily rental properties in 2021. These findings come straight from Buildium’s latest research release, the 2021 Renters’ Report: 6 Profiles to Help Property Managers Attract & Retain Great Renters. Download your free copy for more details on how property managers can position their businesses for success in the post-COVID-19 rental market.

Renter Type #1: Couples Without Kids

Who They Are

These renters live with a significant other and no children under the age of 18. 27% of our survey respondents fit into this category, including 23% of renters living in single-family properties and 27% of those in small multifamily properties.

The median age of renters living in Couples Without Kids households is 48—the halfway point between the 34% of Millennials and 31% of Baby Boomers who comprise the majority of this group.

Where They Live

Couples Without Kids are most likely to live in the following rental property types:

  • 1- or 2-bedroom units in apartment buildings in the city or suburbs
  • Single-family rentals with 2 or 3 bedrooms in the suburbs
Demographic Trends Among Couples Without Kids

In the 5 years leading up to COVID-19, 32% of new households that formed in the U.S. were Couples Without Kids—and virtually all were headed by empty-nesters over age 65.

What Distinguishes Couples Without Kids from Other Renter Types?

Among the 6 types of renter households, Couples Without Kids are the most likely to:

  • Prioritize living in a neighborhood with stores and restaurants close at hand
  • Want to live in a rental that allows pets
  • Move to a rental with a good remote work setup during COVID-19
  • Want to live in a rental with private outdoor space, a fitness center, and new appliances
  • Consider energy efficiency when searching for a rental

2021 Tenant Retention Tips & Amenity Trends for Couples Without Kids

1. Alleviate the annoyances of renting to keep them in place.

Whether they’re saving up for their first home or have owned a home in the past, renters in this demographic will be keenly aware of any inconveniences present in their rental experience.

  • Streamline processes like payments, maintenance requests, utility billing, and lease renewals by taking them online.
  • Consider amenities that are more often available to homeowners, such as in-unit laundry, private outdoor space, updated kitchen appliances, and extra storage space; and think about allowing long-term residents to adopt a pet and add personal touches to make their rentals feel more like home.
  • Offer lifestyle services like package and food delivery, garbage pick-up, laundry, housecleaning, and dog-walking to give would-be homeowners a reason to continue renting.
2. Keep up with amenity trends to stay competitive.

With dual incomes and fewer encumbrances, Couples Without Kids are generally more willing to consider moving to a rental with better amenities or purchasing a home of their own. But as you research competing communities’ amenity offerings, always gut-check them against what your residents will actually appreciate and be willing to pay for.

  • The pandemic has increased the appeal of outdoor amenities like communal patios and parks, as well as private yards.
  • Though COVID-19 has temporarily upended the value of indoor amenity spaces, many residents are eager to make use of fitness centers, pools, and coworking spaces again once they feel safe doing so.
  • Keep in mind that the crisis has also made residents more price-sensitive and appreciative of private amenities, like high-speed internet and in-unit laundry.
3. Help them find units that meet their changing needs.

Though some renters in this demographic will inevitably make the transition to homeownership, others may not have the means to do so—presenting you with an opportunity to retain them as their households evolve. When a resident welcomes a new baby or an aging parent to their home, could you retain their business by helping them move to a unit with an extra bedroom or storage space, or a property that’s ADA-compliant or child-friendly? If they’ll be working from home for the foreseeable future, could you add high-speed internet or bookable workspaces as an amenity?

Renter Type #2: One-Person Households

Who They Are

Renters in One-Person Households live by themselves in their rentals, without roommates or family members. 31% of our survey respondents fit into this category, including 20% of renters living in single-family properties and 25% of those in small multifamily properties.

The median age of renters living in One-Person Households is 58, with Baby Boomers comprising half of this group.

Where They Live

Renters in One-Person Households are most likely to live in the following rental property types:

  • 1-bedroom units in urban and suburban apartment buildings, including those serving seniors and low-income residents
  • Single-family rentals with 1 or 2 bedrooms, most often in the suburbs, but also in urban and rural neighborhoods
Demographic Trends Among One-Person Households

In the 5 years leading up to COVID-19, 40% of new households that formed in the U.S. were One-Person Households—and the vast majority (80%) were headed by Americans over the age of 65.

Younger adults are less financially able to live alone due to high housing costs, slow wage growth, and rising student debt. During both the Great Recession and COVID-19, young adults were forced to double up with roommates or move in with their parents; but when wages and job prospects improve, we’ll see growth in the number of young adults living in One-Person Households.

What Distinguishes One-Person Households from Other Renter Types?

Among the 6 types of renters, One-Person Households are the most likely to:

  • Stay in a rental for 5 years or more to avoid the hassle of moving
  • Rent because they don’t want the responsibility of owning and maintaining a home
  • Be retired
  • Live in a studio or 1-bedroom apartment
  • Live in an apartment building with 50 or fewer units
  • Live in a senior housing community

2021 Tenant Retention Tips & Amenity Trends for One-Person Households

1. Never miss an opportunity to make them feel like you’re looking out for them.

By definition, renters in One-Person Households don’t have the safety net of live-in family members or roommates to depend on. This is something that likely causes them anxiety from time to time, particularly for older residents during the pandemic. Whether a resident needs help bringing in the groceries or addressing a maintenance issue, demonstrating that you’re here to help will go a long way toward ensuring their loyalty.

2. Show your appreciation for long-term residents.

Renters in One-Person Households are the most likely to stick around for years on end—particularly older residents. It’s easy to take your most stable residents for granted as you work hard to fill vacant units. When a long-term residents’ lease comes up for renewal for the fifth or fifteenth time, try sending a handwritten note or a gift card to let them know you notice and appreciate their dependability.

3. Help them feel like part of a community.

Physically and psychologically, COVID-19 has been especially difficult for residents who live alone. Some property managers have invested in digital events to help residents feel connected and engaged when they can’t enjoy their communities’ physical amenities. But fostering a feeling of community in your properties can be even simpler: You could connect a resident who’s at greater risk during COVID-19 with someone who’s willing to pick up their prescriptions at the pharmacy, or create an area within your properties or leasing office where residents can donate household goods to others who are struggling.

4. Consider allowing residents to personalize their units or adopt a pet.

Many renters in One-Person Households will spend years or even decades of their lives in your rental property. A little leniency in these areas will help residents feel at home in their units in the long-term, with the potential to significantly improve their quality of life.

5. Advertise the neighborhood’s convenience.

While renters in One-Person Households tend to be unwilling or unable to pay higher rents for building amenities—particularly older residents—they’re highly dependent on the stores and restaurants that are within walking distance. You can attract these renters by highlighting the convenient location of your property to grocery stores, take-out restaurants, and transit options.

6. Evaluate rent increases on a case-by-case basis.

Renters in One-Person Households are more likely to be retired and living on a fixed income, without a significant other’s income to fall back on. They’re highly likely to stay in their units from year to year for as long as they can afford to stay. By keeping rent increases to a minimum for these dependable residents, or even allowing them to sign a long-term lease with locked-in rates, you can shore up your properties’ occupancy while putting their minds at ease.

Renter Type #3: Multigenerational Households

Who They Are

Renters in Multigenerational Households live with their (or their partner’s) parents, adult children, or other relatives. 19% of our survey respondents fit into this category, including 24% of renters living in single-family properties and 18% of those in small multifamily properties.

The median age among renters in Multigenerational Households is 43, with Generation X renters comprising the largest share.

Where They Live

Renters in Multigenerational Households are most likely to live in the following rental property types:

  • 3-bedroom single-family rentals in the suburbs, including those located within homeowners associations
  • 2-bedroom units in urban and suburban apartment buildings, including those serving low-income residents
  • 2- or 3-bedroom units in multifamily homes in the suburbs, including those located within condo associations
Demographic Trends Among Multigenerational Households

After steady growth during and after the Great Recession, the number of Americans living in Multigenerational Households hit 20% of the population in 2016—the largest share since 1950, up from a low of 12% in 1980.

Three of the primary drivers of this trend are the growing population of older adults; the diminishing affordability of housing for younger adults; and higher rates of multigenerational living in fast-growing Latin-American, Asian-American, and immigrant populations.

In addition, driven by job loss and the closures of colleges and downtown neighborhoods during COVID-19, 43% of young adults currently live with their parents.

What Distinguishes Multigenerational Households from Other Renter Types?

Among the 6 types of renters, Multigenerational Households are the most likely to:

  • Live in an apartment building with more than 50 units
  • Live in the suburbs
  • Occupy 3-bedroom units
  • Worry about their continued ability to afford their rent during COVID-19
  • Be interested in flexible lease terms, like the ability to move out with 30 days’ notice

2021 Tenant Retention Tips & Amenity Trends for Multigenerational Households

1. Focus on amenities that improve residents’ quality of life within their units.

Renters in Multigenerational Households need a home that meets everyone’s needs simultaneously—from working parents and college students to retirees and young children.

  • They’re far more interested in creature comforts like air conditioning, in-unit laundry, a dishwasher, and private outdoor space than in community amenities, though they wouldn’t mind having a pool.
  • Particularly during COVID-19, they also appreciate high-speed internet and delivery of packages and food to their door.
  • They would love to be able to add a pet to their family while living in their rental.
2. Highlight family-friendly features of the neighborhood.

Renters in Multigenerational Households need their residence to be safe, convenient, and appealing to children, seniors, and everyone in between. When creating listings for your units, you could highlight the neighborhood’s safety and walkability scores, as well as pointing out nearby grocery stores, playgrounds, and transit options.

3. Remember that not all residents are willing or able to pay extra for amenities.

You can expand the demographics that will be interested in your properties by providing options for residents who want to save on rent by keeping to themselves in their units—for example, by providing amenity access as an à la carte service rather than baking the cost into the rent.

4. A pandemic provides the perfect opportunity to show your residents how much you care about their families.

Many residents told us how much it meant to them that their property manager has regularly checked in on them and kept them apprised of safety information during COVID-19. Renters who provide for Multigenerational Households have been under intense pressure to make ends meet during the pandemic—sometimes working on the front lines of the crisis, while simultaneously trying to keep high-risk relatives safe. If you or your owners are able to help your residents obtain rental assistance during this harrowing time, they’ll never forget it.

3 Other Types of Renters Living in Small Rental Properties in 2021

Buildium’s 2021 Renters’ Report details 3 other types of renters that property managers are likely to encounter in 2021: Roommate Households, Couples with Kids, and Single-Parent Households. Here’s a quick summary of what these renter households look like.

Renter Type #4: Roommate Households

These renters live with roommates who they’re not related to. 12% of our survey respondents fit into this category, including 16% of renters living in single-family properties and 15% of those in small multifamily properties.

The median age among renters living in Roommate Households is 30, with Generation Z and Millennials comprising the vast majority of this group.

Renter Type #5: Couples with Kids

These renters live with a significant other and children under the age of 18. 8% of our survey respondents fit into this category, including 16% of renters living in single-family properties and 12% of those in small multifamily properties.

The median age of Couples with Kids who rent their homes is 38, with Millennials and Generation X renters comprising the vast majority of this group.

Renter Type #6: Single-Parent Households

These renters live with their children and no other adults. 4% of our survey respondents fit into this category, including 5% of renters living in single-family properties and 4% of those in small multifamily properties.

The median age among Single-Parent Households who rent their homes is 39, with Millennials and Generation X renters comprising the vast majority of this group.

The 2021 Renters’ Report

Buildium’s 2021 Renters’ Report goes into much greater detail on how property managers can cater to the needs of the 6 types of renter households during and after COVID-19. You’ll learn how to put all of this information into action to attract and retain residents in 2021, and hear directly from the renters we surveyed on how their considerations have changed in the last year. Download your free copy to learn:

  • How likely each type of renter is to move out, and which amenities will drive their decisions
  • How their finances have been affected by COVID-19
  • What their expectations are for their property manager and the technology they use
  • And more
Read more on Property Management Trends
Robin Young

As Buildium’s Senior Researcher, Robin leverages her background in social science research and interest in real estate economics to identify trends in the rental market. She combines intensive market research with insights gleaned from surveys of renters, property managers, and rental owners to examine topics like shifting renter demographics, the housing affordability crisis, and the transformation of property management during COVID-19.

Trending Stories For You
Scaling How to create a data-driven culture: 7 steps for your property management business
You may have heard the buzzword data-driven culture bounced around for decades. But implementing a company culture based on data is more than just a…
Laurie Mega
| 10 min. read
Scaling Online rent payment systems: What’s the best way to accept rent?
There was a time when paying rent via credit card was almost unheard of—and you probably remember it. Owners preferred checks that residents either dropped…
Laurie Mega
| 6 min. read
Resident Management 6 ways to airtight HOA-violation tracking
When a resident moves into an HOA or community association, they agree to follow a certain set of rules created by the board of directors.…
Laurie Mega
| 6 min. read

Be a more productive
property manager