Why Arlington apartments are getting bigger

Apartments under construction are larger on average in 36% of U.S. cities, according to apartment-search site RENTCafé, and the size gains in new apartment projects in Arlington County, Virginia, are among the biggest.

The average size of an apartment unit under construction in Arlington County is currently 905 square feet, almost 100 square feet larger than five years ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding increase in working from home is one reason developers are adding more space to lure new renters, but giving apartments more wiggle room was a trend that started before the pandemic. One reason is the sky-high cost that potential home buyers face.

“The millennial renter who would be buying homes right now cannot buy homes because of affordability, and they remain in rental units. And they usually are beginning families, so they are looking for larger units,” said Doug Ressler, manager of business intelligence for RENTCafé, whose analysis is based on data from its sister company Yardi Matrix.

Also affecting the size of newly developed apartments in the Arlington market is the arrival of Amazon’s HQ2, and the high salaries those jobs are bringing.

“It is a very bustling area. So what you’re seeing is because of zoning and permitting leniency in that area, and because of the economic diversity, you’re seeing more need for larger apartments because you have a much more affluent population,” Ressler said.

Across the country in the metro areas where developers are already building lager units, the average increase is 48 square feet. To someone living in a large suburban home, that may not sound like much, but that’s enough space for a small home office, an additional bathroom or another type of living space.

Daryl Spradley, senior vice president at Charles Wayne Consulting, said the growth in size has been triggered by developers now addressing those who are “renters by choice” and “digital nomads,” or people with high incomes who choose to rent instead of buy to keep their mobility options.

“The number of people that earn over $100,000 a year is significantly higher than it was two or three years ago. They are renters, but obviously renters by choice because they can go out and buy a house,” he said.

In the D.C. region, the District itself is the exception to developers building larger apartment units.

New rentals under construction in D.C. are an average 25 square feet smaller than five years ago. New rentals in the District will have an average size of 721 square feet, ranking D.C. among the smallest apartments under construction. D.C. developers face higher expenses and are squeezing more rental units out of their footprints in exchange for amenity-rich building features.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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