David Nelson

MIAMI—Student housing is a hot sector, but that doesn’t mean it’s for the faint of heart. Student housing investors and developers alike are charged with staying on top of design trends, location trends, overbuilding trends, and more.

GlobeSt.com caught up with David Nelson, a senior vice president for Carter‘s development team, to get his take on these and other issues in part one of this exclusive two-part interview. Be sure to come back this afternoon and read what Carter has to say about what student housing investors really want.

GlobeSt.com: What are the most significant trends you’re seeing in student housing developments?

Nelson: Developers have recognized that there’s a demand for quality student housing. This includes higher end or upgraded finishes within the units and more robust amenity programs, which includes integrated indoor and outdoor areas.

From an amenity standpoint, the pools are getting bigger and more elaborate. They are more like resort-style pools with cabanas, swim up bars, lazy rivers, waterfalls, and large hot tubs. The pools have progressed from a normal backyard pool, to an apartment-style pool, to a resort-style pool. In addition to resort-style type pools, amenities include tanning beds, golf simulators, and more.  

Many developers are also starting to look for ways to incorporate technology to set them apart. It is important to have a very robust amenity program that both “wows” the student when they tour the project and delivers a really cool environment for students to live in.

It is also vital to have a management team that engages and understands the students’ needs and desires. The best team is one that is aware that if they don’t meet the needs and desires of the students, somebody else will.

GlobeSt.com: How important is location from the student’s mindset?

Nelson: Location is very important. Students are willing to pay more to be close to campus and/or activity centers where there are restaurants, retail centers, bars, or other amenities. We’re seeing developers respond to the current needs of students, which is different in comparison to the past 10 or 20 years ago where the main demand was simply affordable housing options off campus.

GlobeSt.com: Do students care about green communities?

Nelson: Students are concerned about having a sense of sustainability that caters to their active lifestyle. If you’re in an urban core, you’re seeing developments offer rooftop terraces or something that gives students the opportunity to experience both indoor and outdoor environments.

These days, students are spending more time outside of their rooms. For those who are not in the urban core, we have always tried to maximize green space and integrate the exterior and interior through garage doors or something that offers students the opportunity to be indoors and outdoors.

GlobeSt.com: What would you say to those who are concerned that there’s too much inventory flooding the market?

Nelson: In the last year, there were approximately 60,000 beds delivered from a development standpoint, which is a lot in comparison to just two years ago. However, it is important to recognize that this is a very market specific question. We are developing a project in Boise, Idaho in which the last seven years has had no deliveries of off-campus housing, versus other universities that have had multiple projects delivered in the last several years.