While the trend of co-living — a form of housing where building residents have the opportunity to engage in organized activities and shared common spaces — has gained national attention for its popularity with millennials, Richard Broder, owner and CEO of Broder & Sachse Real Estate Inc., believes the community-focused concept can be for everyone. Since his Birmingham-based development company launched its co-living, luxury apartment buildings The Albert and The Scott in Detroit, Broder says they’ve excelled in their tenant retention goals, attracted local retailer partners, and become home to a number of out-of-towners. Broder recently spoke with Hour Detroit about the concept of co-living, his company’s properties, and what new housing developments mean for the city.
Hour Detroit: Why co-living and why now in Detroit?
Richard Broder: There’s probably been a pent-up demand for that style of living in Detroit, but never really the opportunity for it. We’d love to own it as our innovation, but it’s not. It is the trend in apartment communities across the nation. What’s different about Detroit is that nobody was doing it here. [Co-living is] what people want. It’s accepted. People of all age, race, gender, profession — they’re looking for stuff to do with people they like to be with. It’s just building a community.
How do you build a community within your properties?
We have events at our properties and then we have hosted events at other venues for our residents. We’ll have events that involve [sports], the arts, music, culture, food, alcohol — although we combine that with everything [laughs]. If you don’t want to learn how to make sushi, because you’re never going to do that and you don’t find that interesting, but you’d like to go to a Tigers game with the gang that you live with here at the building, that’s an opportunity as well.
We have extremely high retention in our properties, much higher than our suburban properties. Not only is [this because of] solid management, but it’s things like our concierge, what our properties look like, how they’re kept up, the activities we do with our residents, the way in which we communicate. We’re trying to model our exceptional service on a hospitality model. Whatever you need, whenever you need it.
What was the process to create co-living concepts in Detroit?
[Our team] got on airplanes together, and we flew around the country, visited similar product, stole great ideas, and took good notes. [We] tried to learn what did and didn’t work. We didn’t want to go to New York and L.A. or San Francisco, because those are very unusual markets. They seem to have lives of their own. We wound up in the Midwest. We studied Grand Rapids, we studied Minneapolis, we studied Chicago, we went to Atlanta. We don’t really want to copy anyone, but we know what’s working in other communities and we want to take what works there and make it “Detroit-ized.”
Every place you turn [in the buildings], we would expect you to say “wow, I haven’t seen that in Detroit,” or “wow, I didn’t expect that.” What I’m after is the “wow” at every turn. That’s why we spent so much time trying to figure out what worked. Did we make mistakes? Yeah, we probably made dozens. We’ve got a long list of lessons learned for our future developments, but otherwise I’d say that we executed it very well, and we’re very happy with what we did.
“What I’m after is the ‘wow’ at every turn. That’s why we spent so much time trying to figure out what worked.” — Richard Broder
How do Broder & Sachse’s properties fit into the needs of the city’s longtime residents?
Do we necessarily preclude a certain constituency in our buildings? You have to income qualify to live in an apartment building. If you can’t, you can’t. But that’s true anywhere. But there are a lot of interesting things happening in the low-income space as well. A block from [The Scott] in Brush Park, there’s two brand new low-income tax credit buildings being built by Bedrock. Mixed-income neighborhoods are normal and valued, which is not something Detroit has had. We’ve had low-income neighborhoods, so now we’re going mixed.
There’s a wide range of cultural events [in Detroit] ranging from free to not free, a wide range of restaurants ranging from affordable to not. There’s just a lot more choices than there ever were, and I don’t think they necessarily exclude groups of people. I think there’s been a ton of new stuff overall coming [to Detroit] that can appeal to a lot of different people. We’re trying to become a much more normal city.
Given your experience, what is your advice for other developers working in Detroit?
They need to engage with the neighborhood and they need to engage with the city. I can tell you that we’ve done it with varying degrees of success, and that’s another learning curve as well. We want to be part of a neighborhood. We want neighborhoods to be healthy, and what that means is they need to be mixed in many ways — mixed income, mixed ethnically, racially. That’s really the test for success. Those are tall tasks sometimes when making developments work right.
The first co-living space launched by Broder & Sachse, The Albert in Capitol Park opened July 2015. The historic building, designed by architect Albert Kahn in 1929, is 12 floors high and features 127 apartment units. Retailers, which occupy the first floor, include Bird Bee, City Bark, Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters, Detroit Bikes, and Go! Sy Thai.
Opened in December 2016, this Brush Park apartment building is home to nearly 200 residential units. The Carter Snell Skin Center, a private practice dermatology office, was the building’s first retail space. A bakery called For the Love of Sugar opened late last year.
The properties have offered events to residents that include Barre & Pinot Noir, Sushi Making 101, a Detroit Institute of Arts tour, Brunch in Brush Park, Detroit Foundation Hotel VIP Art Tour, and more.
Perks at the buildings include concierge service, fitness centers, community kitchens, community lounges, bike storage, secured storage areas, pet grooming rooms, dry cleaning delivery services, and on-site maintenance.