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The Most Valuable Student Housing Upgrades Might Surprise You

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Whether it be from personal experiences or from ‘70s college movies like Animal House, we all have an image of what student housing tends to look like. Generally, it is not what anyone would consider “Class A.” Students are busy, they have classes to attend, extracurricular activities to participate in, and, yeah, parties to throw. The common thought is that students are content to live in outdated houses and cramped rooms. But the modern student is quite different from the ones that you saw in the movies (or had as roommates) in the past. 

Students are spending more time in their homes and, in turn, are asking more from their housing complexes. Providing the type of housing that students want requires rebuilding. Now that summer is upon us, many student housing operators are preparing to utilize the downtime to repair and upgrade their units. But what are some of the most impactful upgrades in the eyes of today’s students?

The first summer task for student houses is to repair any damage and address any deferred maintenance from the previous tenant. While there certainly are students who live up to their destructive reputation, there is actually a large skew in the state of a student’s living area upon move-out. “We never schedule maintenance to units because we never know what will be needed until we see them,” said Qian Wang, student housing owner and founder of Collabhome.io. 

“Some students never leave their rooms, and others are almost never home, so some units might have a lot of wear-and-tear, but others might have very little at all,” Wang said. Rather than trying to predict how many units might need work, he just has a number of contractors on-call during the move-out period in case renovations are needed. One way that student housing managers and owners are able to gauge how much work each unit might need is by tracking the amount of time each tenant is in their unit using data provided by access control systems. 

Another way to utilize summer downtime is to use it to install important upgrades. Many student housing owners are adding hardware like occupancy sensors and smart access control systems. But, since every property is unique, the best capital expenditure often varies depending on what will be most useful to tenants and staff. “Don’t think about just the technologies,” said Petr Boruta, Head of Marketing at Spaceflow, a tenant experience solution. “Instead, think about the experience holistically. What kind of daily activities and necessities can you automatize on your side and the tenant’s side? What is it that the tenants struggle most with? What kind of tool will enable you to plug in most of the existing and new technologies?”

Many have the notion that college students don’t need much from their rooms, but this thought is misguided. As students spend more and more of their time online, they also spend more time in the privacy of their homes. Rather than a room just being a place to sleep, student houses are starting to provide more living space and more perks dedicated to their lives online. “We are planning on installing space-saving furniture like Murphy beds and amenities to make their digital lives better like full-sized wall projectors,” Wang said. These types of upgrades allow student housing landlords to help their property stand out in what can be a crowded marketplace.

Surprisingly, common areas were not a huge priority, according to Wang. “Most students use communal areas in their building to take meetings away from the noise of their roommates, so often a small meeting room that they can book is much more valuable to them,” said Wang. He thinks that most student housing common areas don’t have the necessary amenities that attract students to spend time in them. Instead, they would rather go outside of their building to neighborhood cafes and parks. “The best common areas for students are open to the public so they can meet someone that doesn’t live in their building,” he said.

Another way to make communal spaces more useful and appealing to students is to activate them with programming. Oftentimes this is best done in the summer when students have lower workloads and more free time. Dimitri Huygen, Business Development Director at Xior Student Housing, one of Europe’s largest student housing operators, said, “By creating meaningful summertime opportunities for students, such as offering skill-development courses, language classes, sports activities, inviting inspiring people to give workshops, organizing events and trips, matchmaking between the students and employers for internships and so on.” 

Despite the movie trope, most students don’t want to live in an Animal House. Students today spend a lot of their time at home and online, so they appreciate in-room comforts and smart building technologies. Students that live in student housing also want access to events and activities that they couldn’t get by living in traditional apartments. By providing students with technology that helps them discover and plan for events all year, student housing operators can enhance their experience with little cost. 

Student housing owners considering upgrading their units should spend time getting to know the priorities of their renters and utilize the summer slowdown to make changes accordingly. Being a student and living alone for the first time is a formative experience for many, so it makes sense why they would want to spend those years in a place that supports both their physical and virtual lives.

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