It’s been a long two years for property managers, particularly in college towns, where vacancies skyrocketed after colleges and universities closed their doors. As students make their way back, there are certain new expectations they bring with them.
How can property managers get ready for students’ return? In this article, we’ll explore student housing trends for 2021 and how property managers can meet students’ needs by building the right tech stack, including student housing property management software.
Student Housing is Making a Comeback
Student housing pre-leasing surged in the first half of 2021, putting it on track to catch up with pre-pandemic levels. That’s according to RealPage, which tracks student housing at 175 U.S. colleges and universities.
By their tally, pre-leasing rates stood at 76.9 percent, up almost 9 percent from the previous June. And rent growth was strong, as well, up 1.2 percent.
Those figures were mostly driven by housing more than one mile from campus, as students look for less expensive housing. While students were once willing to pay a premium to live closer to campus, according to RealPage, that’s no longer a priority, given campus restrictions and online learning options post-COVID.
Colleges and universities have also reduced the number of multiple-occupancy units on campus, converting them to single-occupancy units. That means fewer housing opportunities on campus in the first place.
And campuses are still imposing social-distancing rules in dorms and common areas. For example, the Minnesota Department of Health recommends dorm rooms offer six feet of space between beds and common areas place furniture six feet apart, particularly among student populations with low vaccination rates.
(These are recommendations property managers for student housing should take into consideration, as well.)
Traditional student housing close to campus will still see strong rental rates, but owners and property managers who don’t normally cater to students may see an uptick in college-bound renters.
Off-Campus Student Housing Trends
What should property managers do to get ready? Here are some of the big trends in student housing management for the 2021-2022 year.
More Flexible Leases
According to real estate marketing firm Threshold, an increased interest in off-campus housing will drive demand for shorter, more flexible leases. While owners typically offer 12-month leases that align with the start of school, students and parents will be looking for short-term leases that cover September to May or June, or month-to-month leases.
Owners and property managers who don’t typically rent to students will find themselves navigating multi-occupant leases, too, as students come together as roommates.
Introducing more flexible leases means property managers have to be more organized. They need a software solution that stores and tracks leases, as well as rent payments and move-in/move-out dates.
A full-scale property management software solution can do all that through one portal, allowing for more efficient student housing management with less time and fewer team members devoted to it.
In-Unit and In-Building Features
National lockdowns forced residents to rethink their living spaces. And as COVID variants raise further concerns, certain in-unit amenities will remain popular. Those include in-unit laundry, private outdoor spaces, and office space.
If you’re thinking about installing in-unit laundry, in particular, consider the maintenance needs for each unit you install, and make sure you have a solid maintenance tracking system in place to cover all of your maintenance.
Another consideration will be possible increases in water and heating bills. Install Energy Star-rated appliances to cut costs and factor remaining costs into rent.
If your residents pay for their own heat and hot water, consider making it part of a utilities billing system, where residents pay one rate to you, at a premium, and you pay out to utility companies.
A mobile-friendly resident portal will allow students to pay all of their bills on the go, increasing on-time payments and reducing the number of hours your staff spend chasing after late payments.
Chart of Accounts
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Second best to in-unit offices are private office spaces residents can reserve for school work or small meetings with classmates. Large common areas, on the other hand, may not be as attractive as they once were.
A reservation app will allow residents to sign up for office time, allowing you to control the schedule as well as the number of people in one office at a time.
High-speed internet has become an attractive feature for residents across the rental market, but a must for student residents. Despite campuses across the U.S. opening for the fall semester, several classes will still be offered online. Zoom calls with classmates and professors aren’t going away, either.
And let’s not forget how much streaming media has replaced traditional television and movie theaters.
Student renters will be looking for quick and reliable internet that won’t slow down when multiple residents are on at once. Property managers can consider including it as part of the rent, or packaging it with other utilities into a single payment.
If you live in a college town without public transportation, parking spaces will also be a sought-after amenity, particularly if your properties are further away from campus. Property managers may choose to include parking with the rent or charge an additional parking fee.
Managing parking spaces, however, can be a real headache. But, of course, there’s an app for that. Parking tech solutions allow property managers to collect fees and monitor spaces for unauthorized vehicles or vacant spots that could be further monetized.
If you’re simply concerned with collecting parking fees, a property management software solution can take care of that through the resident portal.
There’s a good chance you installed upgraded HVAC systems, touchless tech, or other health-related amenities in 2020. Those will still be a strong selling point during the 2021/2022 school semester, as well.
Highlight these features in your listings and marketing materials. Use listing syndication to ensure a consistent message across your marketing channels.
Other Student Housing Management Considerations
While more privacy, faster internet, parking, and healthy living spaces are the big topics on students’ minds, there are some other important changes to make to get ready for incoming students.
A quick and easy way to communicate with residents is key. Through push notifications to email or phones, property managers can communicate changing COVID restrictions, as well as possible exposure (without identifying infected residents, of course).
Property managers can also use bulk messaging for more routine issues, such as parking or trash disposal rules, or even pool hours.
Since all students have to return to and leave campus at the same time, you will most likely have to handle multiple move-ins and move-outs in the same week. Use a property management software solution to schedule and stagger moving days so you don’t end up with a herd of U-hauls jamming up your parking lot and multiple couches clogging your hallways—not to mention all those people crowded into elevators and stairwells.
Students are coming back to campus and to a new college experience. Crowded dorms and amenity-laden off-campus options are being replaced by single-occupancy rooms and more practical features. At the same time, flexibility is key to catering to a population navigating in-person learning for the first time in almost two years.
To do that, build the right tech stack to handle every situation that might arise. Consider a full-service property management tool to pull all of your tasks into one place. Regardless of the college market you’re in, pivoting and adjusting your technology to the needs of the students will be central to handling this often chaotic start of the fall semester. It’s not like you haven’t done it before.Read more on COVID-19