Student Housing Survey Breaks New Ground

By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Writer

Houston—The power of referral drives leasing decisions in student housing. That means student housing professionals can profit from proactively delivering the customer service and outstanding amenities that engender community recommendations.

Those are among many findings from “Survey Says: Apartment Features, Amenities and Programs That Sell to Students and Parents,” one of the most ambitious student housing surveys ever undertaken. Leading market research firm J Turner Research and the National Apartment Association early last week released the findings of the survey, based on responses between January 20 and February 1, 2012, from 11,195 students and 3,605 parents.

The goal of the survey was to give developers, owners, operators, on-site staff and multifamily marketing executives a sense of the clear-cut differences in viewpoints between college students who live in student housing communities and parents with sons and daughters living in campus housing.

A key finding of the survey was that 47 percent of students named as their top determinant rental rates and price, while that was chosen as the top determinant among only 20 percent of parents. Parents cited security (34 percent) and location in relation to campus (29 percent) as more important than rental rates.

“When students are looking for housing, first they are going to involve their parents, and second, the parents are going to be interested and concerned about security,” Joseph Batdorf, president of Houston-based J Turner Research, the largest provider of off-campus student housing surveys in the U.S., tells MHN. “We live in a society where we hear about what’s going on in [Chardon] Ohio and at Virginia Tech, and parents are not only connected to their children’s lives, but there’s a fear factor as well. Any developer and anyone involved in property operations in student housing needs to focus on that dynamic. Parents are involved in decision making, and safety is of critical importance to them.”

In addition, private bedrooms and bathrooms continue to be the most important apartment amenity in the views of both students and their parents, Batdorf notes.

“Students will move farther out from campus if they can find someplace with private bedrooms,” he reports, noting 62 percent of parents and 40 percent of students called private bedrooms the most important amenity.

Given that the survey found most students communicate by sending more than 100 texts a day over their mobile phones, there may be an untapped opportunity for student housing operators, Batdorf says.

“There’s an opportunity for management to switch its view on communicating with students,” he urges. “What students are used to is speed, and when we talked about maintenance requests, the monthly newsletter is not going to make it anymore. They go to Facebook, check their texts for updates, rather than counting on a monthly newsletter.”

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