Now that Labor Day has passed, school is in session at colleges and universities around the country. For student housing operators, the grind of the school year is still ahead, but they can breathe a sigh of relief: The condensed craziness of “turns” — when cohorts of students move into their properties in a matter of just hours — is over.
Mandy Elmore, senior vice president of operations at Atlanta-based student housing operator PeakMade Real Estate, said turns are a grueling time of year in the student housing world but that communication and preparation go a long way to making the process run smoothly. That has been especially true this year with many properties experiencing record-high occupancy.
Like many industry executives, Elmore says her company — which operates at schools like Michigan State University and the University of Florida — had successful move-ins with strong occupancies this year. And a big reason for that success is lessons learned during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After COVID-19 upheaval sank occupancy rates, student housing operators and developers have seen things stabilize this year — from both an occupancy and move-in perspective.
In its latest report, released in July, RealPage said 91.4% of beds at the core 175 universities it tracks had been claimed for the fall 2022 academic year. The company was confident that the pre-lease rate would hit an all-time high before school started.
Brent Little, president and CEO of Dallas-based student housing developer Fountain Residential Partners, which has properties at schools like Clemson University and Louisiana State University, said his company had one of its best early occupancies ever, hitting 100% at almost all of its assets.
“Move-ins have gone very well,” Little said. “Our property management teams are well-versed in the program, and the students and parents are so happy to be back to normal that any small issues are just that.”
Jennifer Messina, vice president of marketing for Austin, Texas-based student housing operator San Miguel Management, which has properties near The University of Texas, also said this was a record-setting year for her student management firm.
“This has been our best leasing and turn year so far,” said Messina, whose portfolio is 99.33% leased. “Even with the new competition in the market, we leased up earlier than years past and had the least amount of hiccups with move out and move in.”
Messina attributes these strong numbers to students moving back into apartments after living at home and commuting the last couple of years.
Despite these record high occupancies, many student housing executives say they have been able to move in students with relative ease. Part of their success this fall can be attributed to their experiences over the past couple of years.
During the pandemic, PeakMade introduced a contactless, drive-thru move-in process. “We learned that our residents appreciated the efficiencies and time savings of that experience,” Elmore said. “So this year, we fine-tuned that process to make it even better for our new residents.”
Houston-based student housing owner and developer The Dinerstein Co. also found the contactless move-ins that it piloted at the height of the pandemic to be helpful.
“Our emphasis is on making sure residents have completed all their necessary move-in checklist items prior to move-in day, so that all that is left to do is drive through our designated move-in areas and pick up keys,” said Aryne Bailey, vice president of student housing for Dinerstein.
Dinerstein also tries to schedule move-in time slots in advance, which can help ensure elevators and stairwells aren’t overcrowded.
After learning that communication prior to move-in was critical to the process, PeakMade tweaked the frequency and content of its communication to help answer resident questions and make move-in a seamless experience, according to Elmore.
Houston-based manager Asset Living utilized EZ Turn, a turn software that integrated with its Entrata property management system to smooth the turn process. “The ability to walk units, record damages, create real-time budgets and include the vendors in the process created efficiencies for our onsite and corporate-level teams,” said Stacey Lecocke, executive vice president for Asset Living.
Despite the smooth move-in process experienced at many companies, there have been problems at some schools, mainly because of construction delays. At the University of Georgia, The William apartments still haven’t opened, leaving students to stay in hotels, according to school paper The Red & Black. At Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Caroline Harrison Building wasn’t finished on time, displacing 70 students, according to The Miami Student.
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