In new Charlotte apartments, luxury is the rule

The pool at Camden Southline
The pool at Camden Southline

The high end of Charlotte’s apartment market is pushing even higher with a new crop of luxury apartments hitting the market this year.

Forget the days of white appliances, laminate countertops and vinyl or carpeted floors.

Instead, picture this: yoga rooms and cycling stations in full fitness studios, with virtual workout leaders you can select from an iPad mounted on the wall. Saltwater pools, outdoor grills and fire pits. Billiard tables, poker tables, lounges with free coffee, demonstration kitchens, social hours for residents and, of course, proximity to light rail, breweries and restaurants. Granite or quartz countertops and stainless steel appliances were, of course, included as well, along with hardwoods or tile flooring.

Those amenities were standard at five new apartment properties featured this year in the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association’s annual tour of new projects. Apartment builders feel they have to include those touches to keep up with each other. Some developers on the tour said it’s getting harder to one-up the competition, as even newer features such as virtual gaming rooms and bike workshops rapidly become standard.

The thousands of new luxury units hitting the market are part of the largest apartment-building wave in Charlotte history. More than 12,300 apartments are under construction in Charlotte, according to figures released this month by Real Data. And 13,500 more are planned.

$1,000Average rent in Charlotte, up 6.6 percent from $938 in March

5.7%Vacancy rate, down from 6.7 percent in March

12,334Apartments under construction in Charlotte

The theme of the apartment association’s tour, appropriately enough, was “Boom!”

And with high-end amenities comes, of course, high prices. At most of the apartments featured, rent was somewhere around $2 per square foot, or roughly $1,200 for a studio, $1,300 for a one-bedroom and anywhere from $1,700 to $3,003 for a two-bedroom.

Managers at the recently opened complexes on the tour, from Allure in SouthPark to SkyHouse in uptown, said they’ve leased new units as fast or faster than anticipated, and some have already been able to raise rent.

Despite the plethora of once-rare amenities that have become standard, some still stood out:

▪ Nature preserve and 2-acre dog park: At Crescent SouthPark, which is set to open in January 2016, 4 acres of the site are set aside as a tree-save area. Two acres of that are a dog park for pets to roam, with an on-site pond. Rents range from $1,150 for a studio to $2,350 for a two-bedroom.

▪ Dog wash: No, it’s not a conveyor belt you stick your dog on to go through a cleaner. SkyHouse uptown, by Grubb Properties and Novare, will feature a dog wash in the amenity park atop its parking deck. Owners can clip their pet’s leash in place, then use a hose and soap to clean their dog. Other amenities on the rooftop deck will include tennis courts and sports activity fields – and that’s on top of the 24th-floor pool and grill area. Rents range from $1,175 for a studio to $2,700 for a three-bedroom. SkyHouse is building a second, 336-unit tower next to the just-completed building that’s set to open in 2017.

▪ USB charging outlets in every room: Camden Southline recognizes that sometimes you lose the little cube that goes with your iPhone charger. The apartments feature USB charging built into the walls, just like electrical outlets. Rents start at $1,315 for a studio and go up to $1,812 for a two-bedroom.

▪ Complimentary bikes to cruise the Rail Trail: The 1100 South apartment building has this amenity in case you want to take a spin but don’t own a bike, or want to go with a friend who doesn’t have their own. Rents go from $1,199 for a studio to $2,559 for a two-bedroom.

▪ A covered patio with TV: Yes, this sounds simple. But the large, covered outdoor patio at Allure in SouthPark has a big TV and – as one of the tour attendees pointed out – would be a great place to hang out during a rainstorm. Allure also has the pool, fire pits, grills, courtyard, fitness center, lounge and coffee that are standard these days. Rents go from $1,374 for a one-bedroom to $3,003 for a two-bedroom.

Apartment overbuilding?

Despite the huge wave of apartments hitting the market, Charlotte’s vacancy rate is actually lower now than it was six months ago. Since not much supply was built during the recession, even as Charlotte’s population grew, development now is to some extent playing catch-up.

Vacancy rates fell a full percentage point over the last six months, to 5.7 percent, according to Real Data. That means 94.3 percent of apartments in Charlotte are currently leased – a level that experts consider basically full.

Still, even if there’s more room to build, affordability could become more of a challenge in Charlotte. Rents are up 6.6 percent since March, with the average rent in Charlotte now at $1,000.

As rising rents outpace both inflation and wages, Charlotteans who rent are spending more of their income. Real Data estimates rent as a percentage of the area’s median wages has risen from 19 percent to more than 22 percent in the last five years.

The jump was even bigger for apartments built within the last five years – most of which fall into the luxury category. For those apartments, the proportion of rent as a percentage of the area’s median wages shot up from 22.7 percent to almost 30 percent of the median wage.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo