Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Living in Luxury

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Living in Luxury

Article excerpt


It would be hard to call the space beautiful, although the view of downtown Chicago from the floor-to-ceiling windows certainly is. The room is completely open, except for the support pillars holding up the building. There's no furniture. Instead, there's graffiti; lots of it all over the concrete floor and climbing up the walls. Doodles and words in every color are scrawled underfoot like a carpet.

It's all the handiwork of the residents who live at the upscale Dwight Lofts in Chicago's South Loop, but property manager Jackie Pingel isn't upset.

The building is marketed to students who attend the rash of nearby colleges, including the School of the Art Institute, Flashpoint Academy and Columbia College. Many are pursuing artistic degrees. The Chicagobased Scion Group, which owns and operates the building, designed the llth-floor room as an all-purpose creative space, equally useful as a film set, dance lot or art studio. It started with white walls and clean floors, but the students soon envisioned it differently.

Instead of trying to whitewash the graffiti, Pingel and her team decided to embrace the artistic talent of their tenants and allowed them to transform the room in a way that fit the vibe dreamed up by the developers. Now, when the maintenance crew paints over the walls, it's only to give the residents a new canvas.

The graffiti room is just one amenity in a property that has many. The rooms are furnished with flat-screen televisions and Swedish-looking furniture with clean lines and bright colors. The kitchens boast granite countertops. There's a workout room, lounge and soundproof practice chambers for music students (and their grateful roommates). All of it begs the question: This is student housing?


"When I was in college, 'luxury' and 'student housing' definitely would be an oxymoron," said Miles Orth, executive vice president of Campus Apartments in Philadelphia, one of the nation's largest developers and managers of student housing. "People think of [the movie] Animal House. But college housing has evolved."

In the last 15 years a new niche market has developed, encompassing places like Dwight Lofts. These properties are far from the stereotype of decrepit appliances and nasty couches parked on the porch. Instead, luxury student housing is characterized by high-end amenities and high-priced rents just off campus, but close enough to serve as student housing to neighboring campuses. These days, Orth said, "Every new project that comes online is better than the last."

The baseline for luxury can vary, depending on the local market, but some of the features that have popped up around the country include tanning beds, fitness centers, gaming rooms, huge clubhouses for socializing, laundry service and the ubiquitous granite countertops in the kitchen. Certainly, most of what's on the market beats the "barracks on campus" that housed the parents of today's college students, said William Levy, CPM*, who heads Best Management Onward Campus (BMOC), Inc., in Madison, Wis, and has worked in student housing since 1978.

Developers have been happy to serve the luxury niche market because of the potential for profit. According to Orth, there's a "substantial premium" on luxury units. Professionals in the field estimate the rents run 10 to 25 percent higher than in conventional student apartment buildings. Some student housing is rented by the bed, rather than the unit, and strangers are placed together like in campus dorms. A bed at Dwight Lofts rents for between $925 and $1,335 per month, including the utilities, and most units contain four beds.

"There are a lot of young people who just want to live a certain way," said Georgianne Carli, Scion Group's vice president for property management. "There's a certain demographic that wants more, and they [or their parents] will pay for it. …

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