East downtown micro-units marketed to millennials

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Ivy Lofts to feature small living spaces, customizable amenities in downtown

The Ivy Lofts are located on a 1.4-acre city block, bounded by Leeland Avenue, Nagle Street, Pease Avenue and Live Oak Street, the project is to be completed sometime in 2018. The Ivy Lofts are located on a 1.4-acre city block, bounded by Leeland Avenue, Nagle Street, Pease Avenue and Live Oak Street, the project is to be completed sometime in 2018. Photo: Powers Brown Architecture.

A development company is planning to construct Houston’s first “micro-unit” condominium in east downtown and is marketing its small living spaces and customizable amenities as an affordable option for young single adults wanting to live and work in the area.

As the millennial generation enters the workforce, land developers are attempting to determine where the demographic of adults between the ages of 20 and 37 want to work, live and play.

Novel Creative Development LLC is betting that its development, The Ivy Lofts, will appeal to that generation.

Plans for the 24-story condominium feature 550-units, the majority of which measure less than 500 square feet and will cost less than $200,000.

Located on a 1.4-acre city block, bounded by Leeland Avenue, Nagle Street, Pease Avenue and Live Oak Street, the project is to be completed sometime in 2018.

First in Texas?

“It is an innovative project that could be a first in Texas, maybe in the country,” said Jeffrey Brown, principal designer with Powers Brown Architecture, the Houston-based firm Novel Creative hired to draft and plan the construction project.

The Ivy Lofts will feature four loft floor plans. The smallest measures 300 square feet.

The next plan measures 450 square feet. Prices start at $119,000.

Brown said more traditional sized condos measure 600 and 700 square feet. Prices for the larger units start at $375,000.

Eight penthouse-style units also will be available.

Tables fold into floor

All units will feature convertible living spaces that Brown said were designed to make maximum use of the small spaces. Amenities include beds that fold up into walls, bookshelves that transform into chairs, coffee tables that turn into desks, and dining room tables that fold into the floor.

“We’ve designed a package of finishes and micro-furniture accoutrements that you can buy up in,” Brown said.

“You can have different levels of finishes and built-in furniture that help with space flexibility because the key to living in 450 square feet is all the space has to be used for multiple things.”

He said buying a condo in The Ivy Lofts is almost like buying a new car.

“Nowadays, people go to the website for BMW and they have a ton of pull-down menus and you pick what you want and you customize your car,” Brown said. “It is sort of an extension of mass customization.”

The building features two towers and will offer a number of residential amenities such as a rooftop courtyard and dog park, fitness and yoga centers, rooftop pool, party and lounge areas and views of downtown, including the Toyota Center, Minute Maid Park and BBVA Compass Stadium.

A small business retail space will take up the first floor of the building. The parking area will be on the remaining eight floors.

“There is a fair amount of residential community space to make up for the fact that, really, the building and the city is the living room for the residents,” said Brown, who added that a lot of research on the project considered how much time millennials will spend in their homes.

“In terms of the average hours that this demographic will spend in a room is really low,” he said. “It is amazing how much time they spend out.”

Brown’s firm was approached by the New York-based developer in mid-2015 to considering designing the project. Brown said he was leery of taking on another condominium.

His architecture firm has designed a couple of condo projects, including Arabella, a 33-story, 99-unit tower in the River Oaks district.

After a couple of meetings with the development company’s own principals and getting to understand how the micro-unit concept could fit into the Houston real estate market, Brown said he was eager to design the condominium.

“We take them on with a great sense of responsibility but this was different than just a condominium,” Brown said.

“What intrigued me was 550 micro-units all in one spot. We haven’t seen that anywhere in the world. So our developer thinks this is the largest set of aggregated micro-units in the country.”

The best comparison, Brown said, is to micro-apartments that are common in high density areas such as New York, Washington D.C. and Shanghai.

Thirty or 40 micro-apartments may sit atop retail and office mixed-use developments, for example.

Most of these small rental units are found in places where the land is dear and driven by density.

“I think that our developer is looking more at an economic demographic rather than a density driven environment,” Brown said.

The Ivy Lofts’ developers are looking to millennials who would like to own their own space but are willing to live a lifestyle that requires less of it.

RE/MAX Inner Loop, located at 2011 Leeland St., is handling marketing and sales for The Ivy Lofts.

According to a news release posted on RE/MAX Inner Loop’s website, East Downtown is a fast-growing area in Houston’s original Chinatown.

The Ivy Lofts is located approximately 2 miles from the University of Houston and 4 miles to the Texas Medical Center.

A pre-sales center recently opened at the site, and Freddy Rodriguez, broker and owner of RE/MAX Inner Loop, said his staff expects inventory to sell quickly.

More millennials

According to the Urban Land Institute, millennials surpass baby boomers as the largest living generation in the United States.

The institute studies land use and conducted a survey of millennials last year to try and learn more about the demographic group, also often referred to as Generation Y.

Kathleen Carey, the institute’s executive vice president and chief content officer, discussed the survey’s findings during a Dec. 16 conference held at the Junior League of Houston.

She said millennials have influenced how and where people work, shop, play and live while reshaping social media, the sharing economy, as well as casual, flexible, diverse and collaborative workplaces.

Developers, she said, need to be ready for even more changes as this population grows older.

According to the institute, Generation Y makes up 27 percent of the population.

Of those 62 percent are unmarried, compared to the 42 percent of Baby Boomers at similar ages.

Sixty-two percent work full-time, 15 percent work part-time, and 9 percent are in school, according to the survey.

Fifty-seven percent of the demographic, Carey said, own pets. The majority own dogs.

And millennials are mobile, she said, and looking for quality environments with green space to access parks, that are convenient to public transit and made up of diverse races, nationalities and age groups.

And 63 percent of the millennials that participated in the institute’s survey said they would consider a “car optional place.”

Many also indicated they prefer living in urban environments.

That could change as they get married and start families, Carey said.

“I know that (millennials) don’t like to hear that they will do this or that, but by sheer force of numbers, even if a fraction of (the demographic) do something, it will be a lot of people doing whatever it is,” she told the developers at the meeting.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to know where they are going and what they want when they get there?”

Brown, The Ivy Lofts’ designer, believes the project’s developers have put a lot of thought into how the project answers what millennials are looking for.

Even though, he said, the micro-unit concept may not make sense to those who just look at the Houston market and the way it’s typically understood.

“It takes a certain frame of mind to understand the millennial socio-demographic,” Brown said.

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