Student Housing Is Faring Well, But Faces Pressure on Rents Similar to Rest of Apartment Industry

DeWana Falks (pictured) is the director of student housing operations for The Preiss Co. Falks is responsible for the financial and physical management of the company’s student housing portfolio. Prior to joining The Preiss Co., Falks was the regional manager for Stokes-McCaleb. She has also worked as property manager with Fort Development and Place Properties; with ConAm as the company’s regional trainer and auditor; and as regional manager for Campus Advantage, where she managed a portfolio of seven on/off-campus student-housing communities comprised of 6,000 beds.She talks to MHN Online News Editor Anuradha Kher about the state of the student housing market and the pressures it faces with regard to financing and rents.MHN: How is the student housing market doing right now? Falks: At the asset level, in general, student housing is very healthy right now. It has not been affected to the same degree as traditional multifamily. However, student housing faces similar issues as traditional multifamily in regards to the transactional market. So, good property managers are in high demand since it is very difficult to sell a property right now.MHN: What are the hot markets? Falks: Out of our portfolio, Raleigh is our best market.MHN: Is financing still available for new development?Falks: Financing is available but really only for sweetheart deals in great markets. Underwriting standards are of course very stringent, so making the numbers work to justify a new development is very difficult.MHN: How will you approach your role in student housing as opposed to in the apartment industry? Falks: In general, student housing has fared well in this tough economy. However, there are still similar pressures on rents that the general apartment industry faces. Because of the extremely short window in which student housing beds are leased, leasing promotions and marketing are incredibly important. Each market is very different so you can’t really paint a broad brush on student housing because there are many unique factors that affect each market (state budgets, school initiatives, competition, student interest, etc.)MHN: What are your goals for the company in the year 2009? Falks: The goal of TPCO right now is to improve the operating results of each property. Controlling expenses and cash management are both key issues right now. MHN: What do you think are the biggest challenges for the student housing industry right now? Falks: The biggest challenge is the health of state governments. Deficits in the state budgets are forcing cuts at many state universities, which put pressure on enrollment.MHN: How is the Preiss Company handling them? Falks: TPCO is doing what it has always done—trying to provide the best product to its students. We pride ourselves on our property management, and we are constantly trying to improve how we run our properties, both from a financial and an operational standpoint.