Student housing is significant factor in many college and university students’ decision to attend a any given school. Indeed, it’s a considerable part of a student’s college experience. After all, it is where students live, study, eat, sleep, socialize with fellow students, and form so many of the memories that define their college experience.
It’s no surprise, then, that in today’s market, student housing managers are tasked with creating a modern student resident experience, including smart technology, a range of amenities, dynamic study and social spaces, and a vibrant campus life.
This guide to student housing management will both break down the challenges student housing managers face in creating a dynamic student residence experience, and outline seven fundamental student housing management solutions that will not only enrich student residence experiences, but significantly reduce the operational costs of providing that experience.
What is Student Housing Property Management?
Student housing management differs greatly from other commercial property management (such as hotel management, multifamily property management, and senior residence managements), and presents its own set of unique challenges. Specifically, students tend to be much younger than other commercial property guests or residents, the length of the their tenancy differs greatly, and they have a completely different set of needs than the average apartment tenant or hotel guest. Consequently, student housing property managers must adapt to the evolving needs of students in a way that also supports the college’s enrollment goals.
IoT enabled smart thermostats have revolutionized how student housing managers can optimize energy consumption and reduce energy costs in both dorm unites and common areas. When installed along with occupancy sensors and door/window sensors, smart thermostats can respond to real-time occupancy rates, reducing energy consumption whenever a space is unoccupied by ensuring that a room is not overheated or overcooled when no one is in the room. So while student residents can still set their preferred temperature settings in their units, the smart thermostats will ensure that energy isn’t needlessly consumed when no one is present. Of course, not all smart thermostats are created equal, and while consumer-grade thermostats, such as those offered by Nest and Ecobee are suitable for private homes, student residences require more of a commercial-grade smart thermostat solution. Specifically, student residences require smart thermostats that can manage both multiple units and common areas. Furthermore, commercial-grade smart thermostats offer the added value of collecting energy consumption data that student housing managers can use to optimize energy usage and costs throughout their housing facilities.
Smart HVAC technology
Of course, IoT enabled smart thermostats and occupancy sensors are a strictly hardware-side solutions to managing and reducing energy costs. There is also a software side of the HVAC equation that student housing managers can implement to minimized their energy consumption and energy costs. Verdant’s EI energy management system, for instance, integrates with smart thermostats and occupancy sensors, aggregates a variety of data sets (such as such as peak demand loads, historical thermodynamics, local weather patterns), and then employs sophisticated machine learning algorithms to continuously analyze that data to optimize energy consumption throughout the year, on an ongoing basis. In fact, the cost saving potential of a smart HVAC energy management system significant enough that their implementation is already standard practice in the hotel industry. In other words, while smart thermostat tech provide student housing managers with the infrastructure to maximize energy costs savings, smart HVAC energy management systems not only provide them with the insight they need to reduce energy costs, but even helps automate the entire process.
Lighting costs represent another significant energy cost for student residences. Consequently, student housing managers need automate their consumption of lighting energy to consumer to real-time occupancy patterns and needs if they’re going to reduce their lighting energy costs. Similar to smart thermostats and HVAC systems, smart lighting systems integrate with occupancy sensors to adjusts lighting energy consumption according to real-time data, including occupancy and time of day. They also facilitate a safer and more comfortable experience in student resident common areas. Some smart energy management systems, moreover, such as Verdant EI, can also integrate with smart lighting systems, allowing student resident managers to monitor and optimize both lighting and HVAC energy consumption through a single interface.
Smart Predictive Maintenance
Smart technology and IoT sensors are not limited only to reducing energy costs. They can also help prevent more costly issues in the future. Just as smart energy systems monitor, measure, track, and optimize energy consumption, predictive maintenance technology allows student housing managers to leverage sensor data to identify wasteful or inefficient consumption trends. Not only does this curb the costs of operating faulty infrastructure equipment in perpetuity, but it also alerts student housing managers to maintenance issues before they escalate into much more costly ones. For instance, a single leaky toilet can cost as much as $840/year. Add to that the cost of any resulting water damage, and repair costs can pileup when maintenance issues go unresolved. Similarly, if an HVAC unit isn’t performing within specified parameters, Verdant’s smart energy management system can alert maintenance staff so that the unit can be serviced before it deteriorates further.
Sustainability and Student Housing Management
When managing a student housing unit, operators would be wise to be mindful of sustainability practices. Students tend to value eco-friendly campus living experiences, so it’s something that student housing managers should factor into their operational budget. Whether that means investing in energy management and water conservation systems, installing high-efficiency appliances, investing in renewable sources of energy (such as solar or wind), or launching a zero-waste policy or composting program, sustainability practices can help attract the next class of students, retain existing ones, and generally create a more conscientious living space for all residents.
Challenges of student housing property management
Given the unique needs of student housing residents, student housing property managers face a range of challenges that other commercial property managers rarely or never encounter. From routine maintenance of value-added amenities (such as highspeed Wi-Fi, 24/7 security, and food services) to very seasonal occupancy rates to facilitating learning experience and social spaces, the challenges faced by student resident managers are clearly unparalleled. Of all the varied challenges faced by student housing managers, however, there are five that clearly stand out.
College students require more interaction
Most college students in living in student housing are living away from home for the first time and are learning how to be independent. Whether that means understanding how to deal with a messy roommate, or managing a proper school-life balance, the first year away from home can be tricky. Consequently, it is important to maintain a specialized staff on hand, such as resident advisors (Ras) who are qualified to resolve any potential conflict or student requests.
Students’ parents also require interaction
Student housing property managers must also account for parental involvement. Students’ parents will undoubtedly have high expectations of student housing managers, ensuring their child has everything they need to succeed in school. The best way to maintain relationships with parents is to interact with them proactively, keeping them informed of campus happenings and being available to address their concerns. To this end, student housing managers should invest in some kind online communication portal dedicated to residence living, where parents can get updates on campus events and easily access different relevant campus offices.
Students can fall behind on rent
With many students relying on financial aid or their parents for rent, student housing managers must often deal with late payment. Indeed, regular budgeting may be a new idea for most college students. To help streamline rent payments and reminders, however, student housing managers can rely on easy-to-use Building Management Systems (BMS) to collect rent directly from an online portal. Be sure, though, to configure your BMS of choice with automated reminders to students when rent is approaching.
Living away from home for the first time will ultimately present a significant learning curve for college students – especially as it relates to cleanliness and maintaining their unit in pristine shape. With students focused on academic success and socializing with their friends, keeping their apartment in good shape isn’t always high on their list of priorities. Student housing managers should, however, use a safety deposits and quarterly check-ins to ensure the apartment is returned in the same condition it was rented in, as well regularly maintain any of the appliances or other facilities in residence.
Student Housing Management Strategies
Student housing management companies typically employ a range of strategies to maintain profitability and instill a positive on-campus ambiance. From leveraging technology to adding new amenities, there are several ways student housing management companies can attract students.
Feasibility and market assessment
A feasibility and market assessment will help a student housing management company better understand their student population and what the competition is currently offering. This competitive analysis will equip student housing managers with all the data they’ll need to inform their decisions, including current and projected growth in campus enrollment, as well as the average student housing price points. This assessment is a necessary first step before either investing in student housing or assuming the responsibility of managing a student residence.
Unit mix and amenity planning
College and university students engage in an active lifestyle and come with different needs than traditional tenants. Whether that means creating designated study spaces in common areas, furnishing their living space with a desk, or offering extra storage space for sporting equipment and musical instruments, additional perks and amenities will decrease vacancy rates and encourage tenant retention.
Overestimate potential expenses
As the old saying goes,
“overestimate your expenses and underestimate your income.”
Student housing management companies must leave margin for error in their operating budgets, especially if it is their first time creating one. Inaccurate projections and unforeseen expenses will erode your ROI and directly affect the performance of your investment. A typical operating budget for student housing management companies should include a blend of revenue assumptions, payroll, maintenance, administrative expenses, marketing, and more.
Smart technology can play an integral role in student housing management and help simplify day-to-day operations and eliminate inefficiencies. From collecting rent directly from a centralized Building Management System (BMS) to installing smart energy management technology, successful student housing management companies must rely on technology to help reduce costs, maximize ROI, and improve and maintain overall student satisfaction.
Quarterly inspections represent the most effective way a student housing management company can ensure that both their property and an open line of communication with students are maintained. These inspections can also lead to proactive maintenance in units, detecting potential issues before they become problems. From inspecting the drain to caulking the bathtub, protective maintenance and inspections eliminates avoidable surprises down the line.
Regular renovations and unit improvements is a great way to maintain your student housing property and avoid large-scale repairs down the road. Proactive renovations are especially important when young people are involved, keeping the property in top shape and encouraging tenant retention. Rather than waiting for students to move out, minor renovations and repairs can keep things fresh and ensure you remain on top of things.
Increase Renewal Rates with Specials
The student housing market can be extremely competitive as student housing management companies look to reduce vacancy rates with special promotions. Specials can include offering services like regular cleaning, onsite security, free WIFI, or providing last month’s rent after a renewal. These promotions will help increase renewal rates, enticing students to stay on for at least another year.
Maximize Your Student Housing ROI
Managing a student housing unit presents a unique set of challenges, especially as the industry is being reinvented by smart technology. In fact, it is becoming increasingly common. From creating a modern student resident experience to centralizing all operations on a streamlined Building Management System (BMS) and introducing smart energy management systems, student housing operators have many technology options to help them reduce costs and streamline operations. With Verdant’s EI, for instance, student housing management companies can maximize their energy savings without compromising on students’ comfort. Smart technology ultimately helps student housing managers reduce their operating costs and increase profitability by optimizing energy consumption, all while providing a more modern and comfortable student-resident experience.