Apartmentalize, the largest annual multifamily event in the world, has to be seen to be believed. A group of UKAA members visited the Apartmentalize conference in San Diego in June. The conference was combined with a study tour of several multifamily developments provided by Roomservice by CORT, a supplier of furniture rental in the UK for nearly 40 years and part of CORT, the largest furniture rental provider in the USA and owned by Berkshire Hathaway. It was a hugely valuable and inspiring opportunity to gain insight into American multifamily housing, a market that has twenty-five years more experience than ours.



1. An unmissable event - Apartmentalize.

Apartmentalize is a trade show on a huge scale with an enormous variety of speakers, exhibitors and innovative ways to engage visitors – it is easy to see why this is the pinnacle event for the industry in the US.

“There aren’t many UK industry events that would warrant someone like Magic Johnson as a main speaker,” commented Ken Ebenezer, Managing Director of Roomservice by CORT, “But Apartmentalize aims to inspire and energise the sector and make attendees proud to work within it.”

The 12,000 attendees came from every associated part of the BTR sector. Our group was struck by the fun and interactive way that speakers and exhibitors engaged with their audiences, the opportunities to network and the sheer range of content to choose from.

“The positive energy at the conference was really contagious as was the belief that there is always a solution” said Lesley Roberts, President of The UKAA.

Rob Clarke, Director, Motive8 continues: “The amount and variety of the presentations and the fact that they weren’t all “property” heavy was great. Presenters really engaged with their audience rather than just delivering a slide show and that was something I took away and will look to incorporate with presentations we deliver in the future. The main trade show was very impressive too, the scale and variety of services on offer was vast and I had some really useful chats with service providers in the US who offer a similar service to us. It was great to share experiences and see how the operations differ to the UK.”


2. A willingness to share.

So many businesses come together at Apartmentalize with a genuine desire to learn new things and share with their peers. “There was a lot of talk about being a multifamily family and I think there needs to be more of this in the UK, where everyone feels part of the same entity and feeds into it and benefits from it.” said Sam Smith, Operations Director, Dandara Living. “Sharing of information should be a natural thing, as well as striving to adopt best practice.”

Lesley Roberts agreed; “There was more of a willingness to share - it’s about creating a space where people don’t think their ideas will be stolen for a competitive edge but working collaboratively to move the whole sector forward.” The fact that regional members of the NAA introduced every conference session or talk showed real cohesion across the sector and event.

Sam Smith Dandara
Sam Smith Dandara

3. Something for everyone

"It’s interesting to see that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.”

Whatever part of BTR you work in, Apartmentalize had it covered. “There was such a range of content attracting a far wider audience than just the ‘management types’, making it an industry destination event”, noted Ken Ebenezer. Speakers came from across the United States giving the opportunity to show how they are doing things differently across the country. “It’s interesting to see that there is no one-size-fits-all approach”, commented Sam Smith. “This is also happening across the UK on a smaller scale – each operator has a slightly different opinion of the different roles, what each job role does, and the structure that they have on-site.”

Ken Ebenezer
Managing Director,
Roomservice by CORT

“The US are having similar challenges in terms of how we train, how do we sustain and how do we progress people and manage people that aren’t performing. The lady running one was on the session was a fantastic public speaker and she got the audience really engaged. There were some key takeaways from the talk around how to be quick to manage with staff that aren’t performing, and how to set your expectations for residents and how that then plays into your business.”

4. Passionate people.

“We discovered that knowing the name of at least one on-site team member increased resident satisfaction by 22%.”


5. Impressive properties.

“Being Southern California, the climate allows operators to embrace the outdoor space in a completely different way to the UK. It was great to see how developments maximise that opportunity and to see how regularly residents use them.”

Michael Swiszczowski
UK Board Director,
Chapman Taylor

During the study tour, the group visited four different properties, entry-level to luxury, with time to explore the apartments, grounds, communal areas and talk to staff.

The cleanliness and immaculate presentation of the properties stood out, with clear attention to the smallest details.

“It was great to see a range of product types and how creative you can be with different resource limitations to create a range of price points,” said Lesley Roberts. Opportunities to showcase the product to potential tenants was also key - “We saw how important it was to have a well-dressed show suite to show off the quality of the product and help lease the unfurnished properties”, remarked Tim Swaddle, Head of Residential, Roomservice by CORT.

Rob Clarke of Motive8

6. Range of amenities

There is no doubt that the array of amenities on offer for residents is a defining feature of multifamily housing in the US.

However, Senel Sowerby, Demand Generation Manager, Quadient noted “Sometimes it is the more discrete amenities such as mail and parcel technology and trash services that can make a bigger difference to resident satisfaction since they are used almost every day, even more than the headline attractions such as a swimming pool or rooftop bar.”

And sometimes it is the smaller details that make the biggest impression. “The ‘WOW Fridge’ was a totally new concept for us but something that we plan to adopt in our gyms to ensure users get a wow feeling when they are with us”, remarked Rob Clarke of Motive8.

The provision for residents’ pets remains on a different scale in the US. Doggy day care and pet spas are commonplace, and pets are welcomed. “They even had capability for pet screening to check the pet is what they claim it to be, and the number of pets is accurate” says Richard Abbotts of Inventory Hive. By contrast, the way pets are handled in BTR in the UK is widely inconsistent, so this is an obvious area for future change in the UK.

7. Customer service.

The service levels we provide in the UK could be better.” Rob Clarke, Motive8

8. Sense of community

“Creating a sense of community within developments is growing in the UK due to communal spaces and services but is still behind what we’ve seen in the US” Richard Abbotts, Founder & CEO Inventory Hive.

Lesley Roberts, UKAA

9. A more developed industry

With 94 million apartment units in the US spanning a wide variety of products and budgets, it is a mature market. “The US has been doing this for a long time, but it was good to see that even 25 years on they can continue to have in-depth discussions and generate new ideas as the sector continues to evolve”, said Lesley Roberts, UKAA.

In the US, singles, not families or sharers are a major driver of multifamily demand, so this is an audience UK operators must really focus in on. A substantial part of the multifamily offering is a premium product, and this part of the market is thriving, with high levels of occupancy at high rents and waiting lists at the well-established properties.

“With a more mature market in the US, we are starting to see how they deal with refurbishments and upcycling of the schemes, whereas here we are still in the first stage so aren’t yet having to refurbish existing stock. It was interesting to hear how they are approaching this and what improvements they are making.”


10. Inject some personality.

A key takeaway for our group was the interaction and energy they experienced at Apartmentalize. “Rather than just sit down and watch a presentation, it was much more interactive including all sorts of quite wacky ideas. While Brits tend to be more reserved than our American counterparts, there is scope for us to put more personality into the way we do things here, whether that be conferences or other events”, said Sam Smith.

From large tables at lunch so that people can sit down and talk to each other, to a T-shirt booth and photo booth for professional headshots, the conference delivered so many fun and creative ways to get people involved. “Apartmentalize has given us much to think about in terms of how we run future UKAA events and activities. We are really keen to capture some of the energy we saw in the US both at our national conference and regionally”, said Tim Swaddle.

All in all, our group agreed this was a hugely informative and inspiring experience.

“Apartmentalize by itself was mind-blowing, but the combination with the study tour was even better, allowing us to see real-life examples of what is happening in the US and benefit from their wealth of experience. Things may be evolving slightly differently in the UK, but the common threads are the same – the importance of community, the quality of management and the people behind that management.”