Technology: Students Want It, Developers/Owners Must Offer It
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"I expect to have the same technology at my apartment that I have at my home."
-- Andrew Bates, student, University of North Texas
IRVING, TX-Though much of RealShare Student Housing focused on issues ranging from acquisition opportunities (they're definitely out there near flagship, secondary and tertiary campuses) to financing (lenders and equity partners seem like this sector), one trend repeatedly focused was that of technology as a student housing amenity. The concept was so important, two of the May 15 presentations at the Four Seasons Resort delved into the need for enough bandwidth to power the variety of devices students haul to college.
"When I was in college, I had a personal computer. That was it," said Real Estate Forum editor Sule Aygoren Carranza, who moderated the afternoon panel appropriately entitled "Adapt or Die: How Technology is Changing the Student Housing Business."
But according to panelists Luca Finocchiaro, Greystar's director of real estate-student living and Richard Holtz, CEO of InfiniSys Electronic Architects, the wheelbarrow of broadband-hungry items students cart to college these days include televisions, receivers, gaming systems, Apple TV – and cell phones, computers, laptops, tablets . . . and so on.
As such, Holtz explained that there isn't enough bandwidth out there to connect everything at the same time. Dubbing this concept the "shower model" (in that whenever one is in the shower and a toilet is flushed, the hot water goes away for awhile), Holtz pointed out that the goal of most student housing owners these days is to provide better connections. The best way to do that, Finocchiaro and Holtz said, is to build a good backbone of fiber to help boost bandwidth and wireless connectivity. "You can't get good bandwidth without fiber," Holtz remarked. Also important – places and outlets where devices can be connected.
Providing such connectivity can be pricey: Holtz estimated that providing proper connectivity to, for example, cottage units can run around $12 per square foot. But it's necessary because students expect it.
And, according to some students, it spurs the leasing decision. "Internet and broadband are very important to me when I'm thinking about leasing. If there's no Internet, I'm not going to want to live there." commented University of North Texas student Andrew Bates, during the presentation entitled "Are you Smarter Than The Student Housing Professional?"
UCLA student Kayla Butler agreed, pointing out that she relies on podcasts to help her study. And, according to Rachel Goldstein, a University of Kansas Student, not only is bandwidth, wireless and Internet important, "a good response team is important if the Internet goes down." On the other hand, Angelina Taylor, who attends the University of Missouri, indicated that while high-speed Internet was important and she expects it, it doesn't play a huge role in her leasing decision.
The students' comments found their way into Holtz's and Finocchiaro's presentation, underscoring the importance of technology in student housing. The Internet, Holtz noted, was originally designed for email and transport of small bits of data. These days, however, "it's being used for television and streaming," he said.
As such, it's up to student housing developers, owners and managers to make sure there is enough to ensure happy students. Happy students mean fully leased student housing. "If we have a property with the best Internet in town, we promote it," Finocchiaro said. "It really helps leasing velocity."
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