Saturday, August 20, 2011

Survey shapes Chinatown's Hayden Building Renovation

Images by Cube Design + Research
HBI is in the midst of converting the Hayden building in Chinatown for residential use. This major project requires gutting and then rebuilding the inside of the stone structure. Like all residential developers, we have to make difficult decisions about which design features and amenities to include in the apartment units. Will renters prefer a gas fireplace or a stackable washer and dryer? Do people actually pay more for a 24 hour concierge? Is anyone going to use a workout room? Should the bedrooms be smaller to accommodate additional common living space? Will tenants pay more rent for a LEED certified building? Do people still like stainless steel appliances and granite countertops?

In the absence of an unlimited budget, both for profit and non profit residential developers have to make choices. All real estate development and preservation projects have a budget. Budgets are not an arbitrary nuisance but are instead based upon a project’s forecasted financial return, available resources and, in our case, an organizational mission to preserve Boston’s historic buildings.

Some developers feel comfortable relying on the opinions of a broker, while others may commission a market study that looks at the supply of competitive residential real estate projects. Some developers will claim they “just know” what the market wants. As we discovered recently, most people are convinced they simply know. Unfortunately, these methods seem to lead to a commodity product those appeals broadly to many people but not very well to anyone in particular.

Our approach was to do research. We invited a large group of people to tour the Hayden project and provide their opinions through a structured 45-minute long survey. We advertised the event to a broad group of people and drew more than 100 participants.
The survey was divided into five sections including:

1. Demographics: age, gender, income and other information to help inform who was taking our survey.

2. Filtration: questions to discern if the respondent was likely to rent a unit. For instance, we asked whether the responded would be bothered by the strip club located next door to our building. The strip club is not going anywhere and is part of the grittiness of downtown. If a respondent is concerned about living next to it, they probably won’t move into the Hayden building. Accordingly their opinions, while valuable, may not be the most relevant. Regardless, their information was collected and still provides interesting and helpful insights.

3. Space tradeoffs: for example, do you prefer a smaller bedroom and more living space, or a larger bedroom and less living space?

4. Ranking amenities: respondents were asked to rank a list of 15 amenities and design features that could be included in the project. Our architects, Cube Design + Reserch, provided a comprehensive list that included washer and dryer, wet bars, hardwood floors and LEED Certification.

5. Rent: after looking at rendering and floor plans of a few proposed unit layouts, as well as apartments in the surrounding areas, respondents were asked how much they would personally pay in rent.

While very structured, this survey was by no means scientific. Respondents were not randomly selected and there were not enough responses to get a statistically significant sample. However, the survey allowed us to see what different people valued. We can sort the data based on demographic lines like age or gender collected in the first section or on psychographic suggestions collected from the filtration questions in part 2. Unsurprisingly, different people valued different things, particularly when it came to ranking features.

As we continue to refine our plans in preparation for construction, this survey along with the professional assessment of our brokers and architects will inform the difficult choices we must make about how to structure the space and what to include. Hopefully, we will create the right product for the right market. Either way, we will at least have gone through the trouble to ask the question as opposed to “just knowing.”
Survey participants were asked to rank features according to their importance, lowest to highest, with 1 being the most desirable and 15 the least. The results:

Rank      Item                                        Average    

1                  HVAC                                    2.34
2                  Washer/Dryer                         3.98
3                  Enhanced Acoustics               4.25
4                  Hardwood Floors                    5.79
5                  Common Roof Deck               6.07
6                  Built In Storage                       6.45
7                  Stainless Appliances
                    & Stone Counters                    6.75
8                   LED Certified or Silver          9.49
9                   Modern Lobby                        9.72
10                 Gas Fire Place                        10.6
11                 Murphy Bed                           10.75
12                 Exposed Brick Walls             10.97
13                 Wet Bar                                  12.12
14                 Built in Bookshelves              12.15
15               Other                                   13.26  

 Survey participants were asked which options they prefer. In some cases, it was clear. In others, it's a close call.

 1. I prefer a larger living area and a smaller bedroom or a larger bedroom and larger living area.
Option 1: 82      Option 2: 3 

2. I prefer 2 bathrooms and smaller bedrooms or I prefer 1 bath and a larger bedroom.
Option 1: 34      Option 2: 49

3. I prefer more kitchen space and less living space or I prefer more living space and less kitchen space.
Option 1: 27      Option 2: 51

4. I prefer more closet space and less bedroom space or I preer more bedroom space and less closet space.
Option 1: 50      Option 2: 31


  1. It is really nice for me to see you and your great hard work again.Every piece of your work look excellent.Looking forward to learning more from you!
    Very interesting post. I really enjoyed reading it.

  2. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!