Now is a challenging time to be managing multifamily student housing properties.

From 2016 to 2019, occupancy levels for both on-campus and off-campus housing stayed fairly constant at around 95 percent, but the coronavirus pandemic has turned student housing on its head.

Will classes be in-person, online, virtual or a mix of all three? Will students return for on-campus learning or will distance learning become the norm? What safety and sanitation measures will be required?

In university and college towns across the country students, teachers, parents, school administration, and community leaders and officials are all in the debate. Nothing is like it was a year ago.

Responding to our recent Bi-annual Multifamily Market Overview, nearly 40 percent of property managers with student housing properties expected to have fewer leases than they did for the 2019-2020 school year.

How can property managers stay ahead of the competition and make their properties stand out?

  • Lease Leniency: Will lease provisions be required to address the potential of future campus closings due to a new COVID outbreak? Having gone through the campus shutdowns in the Spring, students (and their parents) know what to expect when a college outbreak suddenly occurs. They know first-hand the challenges of having to store or move belongings on short notice. They won’t be caught by surprise again. Expect them to ask for considerations up front. Property managers need to be ready with answers. Half the managers of student housing properties in our survey said they expected to provide some kind of leniency for student renters.
  • Entice with Technology Amenities: Offer amenities tailored to help with the extreme volatility that has become the daily reality of student lives. A stay-home situation can materialize in an hour. Back and forth between home and school (leaving mail and packages sitting) is likely to pick up, given that many college sports and other campus social activities are being cancelled or severely limited. Automated package locker solutions and secure access-controlled package rooms help keep packages safe. You can also make it easy for students to lease your property with virtual tours and digital applications and leases, keeping the whole process contactless for your residents and your staff.
  • De-densifying Drives Demand: Some universities are reducing population density in dorms by limiting the number of beds, offering only single occupancy rooms, or by removing the requirements for freshmen and sophomores to live on-campus. Some schools are trying to help students find other options. Use social media to target incoming students. Work directly with the school be ensure that your property is whatever list they are sharing with students.

While the 2020-2021 demand for off-campus housing may decline somewhat in places where curriculum shifts to be entirely online, in markets where colleges and universities are reopening, property managers may see an uptick in demand, as social distancing and higher standards of sanitation become the norm. Be sure you are doing all you can to be ready!

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