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At the NAA Student Housing Conference and Expo this year, a game of Family Feud was put together pitting five University of Las Vegas students versus five parents from that school in the ultimate showdown of student housing.  The responses to the game were based upon “11,195 college students and 3,605 parents from 159 different colleges and universities, who were polled via email Jan. 20-Feb. 1 by J Turner Research” (Units Magazine April 2012).  Ultimately the purpose of the survey was to determine what both students and parents want, or are looking for, when it comes to picking the perfect apartment in their respective college towns.  The survey is also a great education tool for all parties involved in multifamily from site level to developers, because what students and parents are looking for in an apartment community can vary greatly.

The entire summary of the survey can be found at www.naahq.org/resources/data/StudentHousing, but I am just going to highlight a few of the key questions and corresponding responses given that I found interesting from the showdown of parents versus students:

  • It shouldn’t come as a surprise that word of mouth is typically one of the, if not the top marketing resource when it comes to a student deciding upon where they want to live.  I know when I was in school I always wanted to live either where my friends were living, or where the majority of students in town were looking to spend their time.  According to the survey of students polled, 38% of students learned of their apartment community from college friends/roommates, while 29% learned of their current community through an internet search.  I’d be willing to bet that the internet search somehow correlates Facebook and other word of mouth reviews as well, which adds up to nearly 70% of students being influenced by other individuals when picking their new apartment.
  • When parents are searching online for their students new home, the number one thing those polled said they were looking for on the community’s website are rental rates (48%).  We typically encourage communities to not post their rental rates on the website, because this could lead to many individuals pre-qualifying themselves, or their students, and therefore not even calling your community to learn more information.  Even when prices are posted on a website, we like for the prices to be the market value, rather than the special price, to allow for the leasing specialists to sell the value, as opposed to just the special, of the apartment.  Surprisingly, parents were not concerned with finding out any additional information about the number one most important factor when selecting the actual apartment, safety, on the apartment community website.
  • With the top tier student properties, you can typically expect to see more amenities than with conventional properties.  Movie theaters, pools, fitness centers and business centers are usually a must with many additional features stacked upon these.  So, if amenities are often times the main selling points of a student community, surely this is the number one feature students are looking for in their new home, right?  Not exactly.  The number one item students were looking for in their new home was a professional leasing and management staff (19%), followed by friends living at the community (19%) and a fitness center (18%).  It appears that students are concerned a little more with how they will be treated, rather than the amenities available for their use.
  • This last stat from the survey I found of interest was one that I had actually heard before first hand at multiple communities, as well as in other student housing publications.  When asked what service or utility upgrade they would be willing to pay more for, of course the overwhelming response was none (26%), but after this the second response was high speed internet service (16%).  Current students are in the bulk grouping of the Facebook generation and absolutely have to have their high speed internet connection.  With internet venues such as Hulu and Skype, students rely upon fast internet access for entertainment just as much as they do for education purposes.  A student housing developer can plan on calling upon us sooner than later if a community is not designed with high speed internet access, because they will have a tough time leasing to students with that as an overwhelming objection.

It’s a two sided coin when it comes to student communities, because not only do the students have certain needs to be met, but the parents of these students also have concerns of their own that have to be addressed.  The tough scenario that can be encountered all too often is that the desires of the student and their parents can be very contrasting, so leasing agents must be able to cater the apartment and the community to both parties.  Just remember that when it comes to student housing, it’s all about being able to learn what both students and parents want in order to secure the lease!

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