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WASHINGTON, DC-Disparity among what freshmen, upperclassmen and parents of the college bound look for in off-campus student rental housing is revealed in “What Do Students Want?,” a benchmark research report, published by the National Multi Housing Council. Freshmen seek opportunities for social interaction; upperclassmen want space for stress-reducing activities, and parents put a priority on safety.

These are just a few of the clues to help developers and operators understand the needs of the approximately 75 million Echo Boomers who will be heading to campuses over the next few years. Based on focus groups with students at nine universities, this represents NMHC’s first in-depth look at this growing niche multifamily market.

“Today’s students prefer off-campus housing to dorm life for a variety of reasons, such as cost, freedom and more space,” says Jim Arbury, NMHC’s SVP of government affairs. He tells GlobeSt.com the biggest surprise of the study “is the huge difference between what freshmen and upperclassmen want. Freshmen are new, heading off on their own for the first time. They are drawn to properties with a social setting, such as a central space or clubhouse. Upperclassmen have already met people.” While they also want sociability, “that takes form in the wish for activity areas, such as volleyball courts and places where they can work off stress.”

Despite their differences, the two groups have many mutual preferences. The No. 1 request, for example, was for larger kitchens with more counter and cabinet space. A majority would sacrifice space in the living room for larger bedrooms and abundant storage space.The students were nearly unanimous in their preference to rent by the bed versus sharing a lease with roommates. They also want all-inclusive rent rates and would like operators that bundle rents and fees to also publish a base rent for easy comparison with competitors.

As important as their space and rate requirements, Arbury says, “is how they wish to be treated. [They] assume that they will not be treated with the same respect as older renters. They are quick to see failures in the leasing and management process as confirmation of their pre-conceived notions.”

Arbury tells GlobeSt.com that websites are critical marketing tools for this group. “If there’s a sloppy website and it doesn’t contain enough information to help them make a decision, they’ll move onto the next one,” he says. “They like to decide in 20 to 30 seconds, based on photos, a virtual tour and clear, plain-English, published rent rates.”

Parents also want to know what they’ll have to pay, “but parents are most concerned about safety,” Arbury says. To get their approval, he suggests, “show at least one nighttime photo illustrating that the facility is well lighted.”

While NMHC has addressed student housing in combination with other multifamily research, this is the first time it has done comprehensive research on off-campus rental housing based on professionally run focus groups with students. Bruce Innes, a housing focus group specialist based in Baltimore, conducted this research, and Arbury headed publication of the study.

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