A new way of city living is emerging in San Francisco, especially in Dogpatch, where many apartment buildings are being constructed. The days when higher rents meant certain neighborhoods and impressive square footage are giving way to an era in which expensive residences instead translate to an abundance of common space and amenities.
It’s not exactly cruise ship living but it’s listing in that direction. Cabana-style roof decks with lounge seating, barbecues, firepits and even dog runs are common in new apartment buildings. Fitness centers and media rooms are pretty much a given, but the focus is on a wider array of common areas for socializing, including shared kitchens, coffee lounges, and clubhouses.
The new approach is part of a national trend. A study by the National Apartment Association (NAA), Adding Value in the Age of Amenity Wars, found that half of the ten most common amenities being added to apartment buildings between 2014 and 2016 involved community-building facilities. It cites these amenities as ways property owners can increase their units’ appeal with little up-front investment.
“All of our spaces are being designed to be more social,” said Brian Klaben, leasing consultant for the 263-unit Abaca, which opened last year at 2660 Third Street. Klaben doubles as an event director for what Abaca describes as its “commercial kitchen-meets-bar-meets-resident lounge.” The lounge, which spills into a second-floor outdoor patio, is connected to a room resembling an open kitchen restaurant with table seating, two stoves, two sinks, a glass door refrigerator and ample counter space. The area is available for use by all residents when it’s not booked for a private party or one of the two events Klaben assists putting on monthly. The gatherings have included dessert nights and combined beer and yoga, the beer sourced locally from Voodoo or Magnolia. According to Klaben, between 80 to 200 people generally attend the occasions.
Rents at Abaca begin at $3,005 for a studio and rise to $6,050 for the highest priced two-bedroom; as of June, 97 percent were occupied. The only available unit Klaben was able to show the View was a 787-square foot loft for $3,860 that features a kitchen and living area downstairs with a loft suitable for a bedroom upstairs. In what’s standard in most new buildings, a washer, dryer and dishwasher are included, as well as a Juliet balcony and electric blinds.
Abaca goes a step beyond offering bicycle storage, a staple now, and includes a room designated specifically for bike maintenance.
Further north, at 2121 Third Street, the 105-unit The Gantry is also 97 percent full. Opening in 2014, studio rents range from $2,895 to $3,350, one bedrooms run up to $3,995, two bedrooms to $4,995 and three bedrooms, $6,300. Prices vary within those spans depending on view, square footage and whether they’re considered upgraded, such as second floor apartments that have private patios.
Common areas at The Gantry include a first-floor lobby with a large television, shuffleboard game and lounge with bar-style seating, complimentary coffee and full kitchen. The second floor features an all-access courtyard with a fire pit that adjoins private patios. There’s a second fire pit on the seventh-floor roof as well as two gas barbecues, a half-dozen seating areas, a small vegetable and herb garden, dog walk and views of both bridges, weather permitting.
The Gantry is surrounded by construction; it’s across Illinois Street from what’ll become Crane Cove Park, which in a few years will include a sandy beach. An 833-square foot one bedroom with a den was available last month for $4,245. As is common in newer apartment buildings, the unit opens into a combined kitchen and living room space. In this residence, the den, bathroom, and bedroom are off that area to the left as you continue through the room. The den could serve as a second bedroom but according to municipal building codes cannot legally be called such as there’s no window. Valet trash pickup can be had for an additional $30 per month.
A unique feature at The Gentry is concrete ceilings in the units. “It is one of the few buildings in San Francisco built with mainly cement,” said Adrienne McLachlan, community manager for the complex. An ode to its Dogpatch location, bare cement walls also adorn the hallways, with reclaimed wood added in places for décor.
In the 72-car garage, which uses automated stacking to fit two cars to a space, The Gantry offers 24-hour access package lockers, an amenity that’s becoming more common. According to the NAA study, package receiving areas draw a high premium in San Francisco.
While allowing pets can be hit or miss with some landlords, new apartment buildings cater to them, few as extensively as Avalon at 800 Indiana Street. In addition to constructing a dog play area for public use across the street from Esprit Park, Avalon has a street level resident-only dog run. And, whereas other complexes may have dog washing stations, Avalon has an entire room devoted to dog grooming, including three shower stations.
Other amenities include free bikes that can be signed out, street level and rooftop barbecues, a common room that resembles a coffee shop with an adjoining conference space and an additional indoor/outdoor lounge area.
Rents at Avalon start at $3,005 for studios, $3,605 for one bedrooms, $4,665 for two bedrooms and $7,000 for three bedrooms. Those prices jump for signature units, which have sole access to one of two roof decks, gas heat rather than electric, guest parking and higher grade appliances.
The signature two-bedroom Avalon uses as a model enters into a hallway with bedrooms spaced away from each other on each side; one includes a bathroom, the other has one across the hall. The passage feeds into a kitchen/living room with windows that frame views that sweep around the corner of the building onto Indiana Street. Off the living room is a den with a slider that enables separation if desired. The signature two-bedrooms, which are just under 1,100 square feet, start at $5,800.
There were approximately two dozen rentals listed in early July on Potrero Hill and in Dogpatch that weren’t located within large apartment buildings, most of which offered parking or access to a shared, or private, yard. Prices tended to be comparable for one bedrooms, ranging from $2,895 to $3,950 for similar square footage. However, two and three-bedroom units were typically larger than those found in the bigger apartment complexes, suggesting amenities may matter for some, unit size for others. A 1,750-square foot three bedroom on Vermont Street with a yard and deck was listed for $6,000; an 1,800-square foot three bedroom on 22nd and De Haro streets was offered at $5,800.
A particularly spacious two-bedroom at the corner of Rhode Island and 20th streets, with a listed price of $7,000, rented last month. The antithesis of apartment complex living, the unit stretches 1,600 square feet and includes its own private roof deck. It enters into a kitchen/living room space that offered a panoramic view of Downtown impeded only by a fireplace. A spiral staircase leads to a loft that provides access to the deck, which is squared in by four-foot walls, allowing for privacy and wind protection. A hallway leading away from the kitchen/living room connects to two bedrooms, the larger of which is approximately 600 square feet and includes two spacious walk-in closets, one with a skylight, or, as leasing agent Saul Armian quipped,“A San Francisco studio.” The apartment features three full bathrooms in all, including one in each bedroom.
Armian wouldn’t say if his tenants negotiated down the $7,000 monthly asking price but said high end units haven’t been difficult to rent. Sometimes there’s trade off with amenities, such as removing a parking space from the rental, particularly with developers of newer apartment buildings who have borrowed heavily and want to see the money recouped with high rents quickly, according to Armian. However, following broader income inequity in San Francisco, he noted there’s a sharp drop-off below the top earners and premium apartments.
“A desirable unit, owners are still looking to command high rents, which the economy is supporting,” he said. “For less desirable units, landlords should be sitting at the negotiation table.”