Academic Achievement

By Feldman, William; Feldman, Patti | Journal of Property Management, September/October 2005 | Go to article overview

Academic Achievement


Feldman, William, Feldman, Patti, Journal of Property Management


Developers and managers target off-campus student housing opportunities by William & Patti Feldman

Private, off-campus student housing is big business as enrollment outpaces dorm spaces at universities around the country. Given the growing baby boom echo and the increased percentage of young people attending college, demand primarily at large, public universities promises to expand over the next decade or longer. Most of the activity and anticipated growth is in the Sunbelt, along the Northeastern corridor and in California, where demographic trends are the most robust.

In small cities with universities and suburban and rural areas near large college campuses, it is an increasingly popular "course choice" for real estate developers to build or acquire off-campus student housing. Target markets are undergraduates who are urged or even pushed off campus after one, two or three years because of the lack of room and students who want more comfy and "real" accommodations than dorms provide. Developers are typically careful to avoid saturated markets, preferring to fill a niche near campuses strapped for beds.

Generally, private housing does not compete with university dorms. "Many universities, particularly public [ones], are landlocked and under enormous pressure to add more classrooms rather than more housing," said Craig Cardwell, CPM, executive vice president and chief investment officer at Education Realty Trust Inc., a student housing REIT that owns and/or manages 44 properties housing about 28,000 students at 40 universities.

Student Sites

New properties are usually garden-style apartments or mid-rises. Garden apartments are far more prevalent and preferred by students. Because they require a lot of land, however, garden apartments are not always feasible in urban markets where land is at a premium and sought by condo and retail developers building for less price-sensitive tenants.

Despite competition for land, at least one major private developer has targeted urban areas as a growing market. JPI, a full-service multifamily company, has developed 35 new communities, housing about 24,000 students since 1995 and has acquired or renovated 10 communities totaling 7,000 beds-the majority of which have been garden-style complexes. The firm is now working primarily on projects at universities in urban areas.

"In order to get proximate to these universities, we deal with smaller and smaller acreage parcels, which are by necessity, higher density and mixed-use," said Brent Little, divisional senior vice president and development partner at JPI.

However, most large developers are building garden complexes typically featuring single-occupancy bedrooms, each with a private bath, in two-, three- or four-bedroom apartmerits. The units include a washer, dryer and full set of kitchen appliances, and rent includes utilities, high-speed Internet and cable service. Generally, the apartments are rented fully furnished.

Most developers try to stay within a mile or two of universities, within walking distance or along a bus line serving the campus. In selecting locations, however, developers often look beyond the distance factor.

Lane/Flagstone Holdings, the student housing arm of Atlanta's The Lane Company, AMO, with properties near colleges in the Southeast, relies on company representatives to survey students and identify desirable living areas. It then tries to acquire land there.

"We find, given the choice, students often want to live nearer to the hub of restaurants, bars, shops and services than to the library, even if getting to campus requires a bus ride," said Tom Lewis, managing member of Lane/Flagstone Holdings.

Niche Market Needs

Private student housing is very marketing-intensive. Property owners generally advertise through student newspapers, mailings, booths at school housing fairs and word of mouth. Owners often include prominent mention of enticing amenities like swimming pools, state-of-the-art fitness centers, computer labs, free DVD rentals, pool parties, Friday night pizza parties and other scheduled recreational activities-all of which help with renewals and pre-lease marketing. …

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