Bill Ramsey – Making Home a Palace for Pets

REALTOR® Magazine

July 2, 2018

Pet owners seem to spare little expense to keep their furry and feathered family members as happy as possible. Learn how designers, homebuilders, and developers are working to cater to your clients’ best friends.

When you talk with clients looking to find the right house, condo, or apartment, you probably inquire about their cooking and entertaining needs, how important outdoor living is, and whether elderly relatives may move in someday.

But there’s another question that savvy real estate professionals should pose: Are pets part of your family equation? In more and more cases, the answer is yes. In the American Pet Products Association’s 2017–2018 National Pet Owners Survey, 68 percent of U.S. households owned a pet, which works out to about 85 million families. Ownership is up from 56 percent in 1988, the first year the survey was conducted. While 48 percent of all households now own dogs, 38 percent have at least one cat. Fish, birds, reptiles, small mammals, and horses represent smaller numbers.

Doting With Dollars

The amount of money Americans spend to keep their pets happy is also on the rise. In 2015, pet owners spent almost $61 billion on food, toys, furnishings, and other pet goods, a 25 percent jump from five years before, according to APPA. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources seems to suggest that this type of spending is more resistant to economic shifts, such as the recent recession. And there’s reason to believe demographics will support this trend long-term, particularly as pet-centric millennials move into homes. Last year, a story in Adweek suggested the fact that many millennials see pets as “starter children” offers an opportunity for brands.

As with other home improvements, costs to fashion pet-friendly spaces depend on the size of a room or area, level of finish, and labor costs. However, most animal lovers would never put a price tag on their choices since to them pets offer priceless benefits, from loyal friend to exercise partner to therapist, according to Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal.

Multifamily Leads the Way

As competition for tenants grows in many cities across the country, developers and managers of apartment and condominium buildings have concluded that catering to pet owners pays off. The first step is reducing or eliminating restrictions on pets, from number permitted to pet size, and then lowering or eliminating special fees for pet owners. But it’s also about the amenities that can be incorporated on site. Developers, architects, and planners began seeing pet parks as a major trend about a decade ago, around the time of the recession, says architect Bill Ramsey, principal with KTGY Architecture + Planning in Oakland, Calif. He notes that other pet-related amenities were slower to follow: “The grooming stations didn’t gain much momentum until after the economy rebounded and are still on the edge of being a novelty. The more upscale the community, the more likely you are to see them offered as an amenity.”

Related Companies, a real estate firm based in New York, has had a pet-friendly policy since it opened its first building in 1986. The company distinguishes itself by offering wax and booties to dogs at all its buildings in winter, and its MiMa building on New York’s West 42nd Street has a separate dog terrace with a pool in the shape of a bone. Seven years ago, Related established its first Dog City location, providing pet care services for clients concerned about their pets’ well-being when they weren’t home. They offer baseline services, such as nail clipping and access to special play areas and pet clean-up space, for a yearly membership fee of $250. Spa services, walks, puppy nannies, veterinary care, and socialization services are provided in packages and on an à la carte basis. Director of Operations Leya Ogihara says the company looks to tailor offerings “with bespoke attention to each individual dog’s needs.” She notes that Related Companies is currently developing a program that will specifically cater to cats.

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