Multifamily Looking Differently at Electric Car Market, EV Charging Stations


A budding topic in multifamily housing sustainability circles is accommodating residents with EV charging stations. Demand is up for battery-powered vehicles as Americans embrace the concept of leaving a smaller carbon footprint.

For apartment operators and owners, the question has become: To charge or not to charge.

EV charging is what some view as a necessary amenity. Others note that only a small segment of vehicles on the road today run on batteries and therefore that it doesn’t pay to invest in charging stations.

But the electric vehicle (EV) already has a presence in apartment parking lots, and experts believe it’s only the beginning. The idea of owning an EV is gaining speed, and technology is getting less expensive.

Some multifamily housing operators say the industry needs to think more about accommodating EV drivers in its pursuit of higher retention and new lease opportunities.

The topic is one of many addressing multifamily energy and sustainability practices to be covered at the RealPage Energy Summit 2021, Feb. 24-25. The virtual conference will feature panel discussions on innovations impacting energy and water usage, as well as interconnected communities.

U.S. electric vehicle, EV charging stations growing

When Tesla rolled out its first electric vehicle around 2008, the six-figure price tag quickly established it as a luxury car, which limited sales and fueled skepticism about the company’s long-term survival.

Since then Tesla has proven itself more than viable, and new players have entered the market, driving the price tag for ownership down dramatically. Consumers can still sink $70,000 to $80,000 into a Tesla, but Nissan, Chevrolet and Ford are delivering EVs in the $20,000s.

Battery and charging costs are becoming more reasonable, too. Operating an EV now costs about 60% less than driving a gasoline-powered car or truck.

Eco-friendly vehicles, although they account for only a small percentage of U.S. auto sales, are showing up more and more on city streets. More than 1.4 million plug-in types have been sold since the U.S. market took off in 2010, and recent estimates suggest EVs will make up a quarter of total vehicle sales in the next five years. At current growth rates, more than 30 million will be on the road by 2030.

“We’ve heard a lot about electric vehicles and frankly the predictions haven’t panned out, but we’re seeing a lot of new models coming out,” says Angela Keckler, Director of Ancillary Services at AvalonBay Communities. “I don’t know how many people are thinking about (electric charging stations) now but it’s definitely something to get going on, because in five years we’re going to have a lot more EVs on the road and residents looking to charge them.”

In anticipation of the growth, the U.S. Department of Energy has invested in building a nation-wide charging infrastructure. EV charging stations have cropped up along highways, in shopping malls, neighborhoods and other locations to keep pace with growing demand for electric cars.

The Department of Energy reported a year ago that the U.S. had nearly 69,000 Level 2 and DC fast-charging units, including about 11,000 that charged quickly enough to make long-distance travel more practical. The total of Level 2 and DC fast-charging units represented a 60% increase over the number of charging stations available in 2017.

Understanding the EV owner

The EV owner demographic is evolving.

Based on a 2019 study, drivers over age 55 make up the largest group of new EV buyers at 54%, followed by the 25-54 age group at 46%. Less than 1% fall within the Gen Z age group, which is the newest generation of renter.

The study notes that 60% of new electric vehicle buyers earn $100,000 or more per year. The next largest group of buyers (20%) are those who earn less than $50,000.

Three-quarters of new EV buyers are male.

Tesla is still synonymous with electric vehicles. Market research two years ago suggested that 88% of owners of Tesla’s high-end models (Model S and Model X) were Baby Boomers and owned their own homes, outpacing the national average for home ownership. Most didn’t have any children living at home.

A little more than half who owned a Tesla Model 3, which sells for about 50% less than S and X models, were younger and owned their own homes.

But a 2019 survey released at the New York Auto Show suggests that millennials are pursuing EVs, at least in the northeastern U.S.  63% of those likely to consider an electric car were born between 1982 and 2002, a targeted generation in multifamily housing.

Also, those who drive electric cars typically depend on charging at home. More than 80% of EV drivers charge their cars at home, says Chargepoint, which specializes in multifamily charging stations. Charging vehicles is akin to energizing a cell phone, which is usually done during off-peak hours or overnight.

The greening of multifamily parking lots

These trends are prompting apartment operators to invest in technology to accommodate EV-owning residents now and in the future.

At the RealPage Energy Summit 2020, a panel of sustainability professionals noted that most of the demand for charging stations is at Class A properties, typically on the West Coast. But the dash to accommodate EV drivers at apartments is moving east to Texas, Missouri, Massachusetts, Georgia and other states. They are even beginning to show up at affordable properties.

For multifamily applications, Level 2 chargers, which are rated at 240 volts and are considered smart stations because of their networking ability, are the gold standard. Their electric demand is similar to a clothes dryer, and they can balance loads.

They are relatively affordable ($5,000-$7,500) and can be a nifty profit center for a community if used as dedicated, fee-based charging stations where residents plug in and go home.

“People come home from work and want their own charging station so they can plug in at night,” Keckler says. “That’s what we call dedicated parking. You can charge additional rent fees for having their own station and residents can pay their electricity to the provider.”

At the same time, because the capital expense to install the infrastructure can be hefty, it’s imperative to make a strong business case for charging stations, experts say. And the development must have the electrical capacity to handle them, a potential problem for older multifamily properties.

The best time to think about installing stations, says Gail Corder, Fairfield Residential’s Ancillary Services Manager, is when new properties are being developed. It’s better to consider future electrical needs and wiring now rather than attempt to retrofit in a few years.

Also, she said to check with cities during pre-development to see if charging stations are required or what guidelines need to be followed. Also, rebates, federal tax credits and incentives are available to help lower the cost of chargers.

“You need to be asking these questions,” Corder says.

Giving EV drivers a reason to stay

Corder adds that electric car drivers think about their vehicles differently because of the lack of charging stations as compared to fuel availability for gasoline-powered vehicles. EV drivers tend to top off their “tanks” constantly, taking advantage of charging stations near retail outlets and other convenient places.

Knowing they can always charge at home gives electric car drivers a reason to rent at a community and stay there.

“(Electric vehicles owners) don’t know when they’re going to get their next charge,” Corder says. “You need to change the way you think about these drivers.”

To learn more about EV charging for multifamily, attend the RealPage Energy Summit 2021, Feb. 24-25. Register here.

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