Dorothy Jackman, associate vice president of investments and senior director of the national multi-housing group for Marcus & Millichap in Tampa, is nationally recognized for her expertise in student housing, a niche that has expanded in recent years as universities deal with growing enrollment and limited residential options on campus. She began her commercial real estate career 15 years ago with an apartment locator firm in Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, and in more recent years she and her team have handled as much as $300 million in annual transactions. Jackman, who was recognized last year by Real Estate Florida among its Broker All Stars and Women of Influence, shares her thoughts on the student housing segment in a recent interview. How did you get into student housing brokerage?

Jackman: I went to college in Gainesville, where I got my real estate license and worked on properties that were both student and multifamily. I became knowledgeable in both operations and lease-up. I was then recruited by Apartment Hunters to run its Gainesville office as general manager.

I interfaced a lot with the university and its apartments both on and off campus, and was approached by UF to speak at all of their preview events for students and their parents about the nuances of looking for suitable living places. Oftentimes parents hadn’t leased in many years and had probably never leased in the kind of facilities that were available to their kids.

After that, I moved to Tampa with the same firm and began building strategic alliances. I wanted to be in the brokerage business because I felt that student housing was a very different business model than multifamily. Having understood the operations side of student housing, I felt someone on the brokerage side would be more helpful to clients who were considering disposing of those assets. Has having your own children go through college given you any added perspective?

Jackman: When both my children attended college in Gainesville, they lived in all different configurations of student housing, from a fraternity house to a four-bedroom, four-bath, resort-style community. It became very clear to me that for my son I wanted a property that had a lot of speed bumps, and for my daughter I wanted a place that had security.

Students have a lot of choices, and mom and dad are there to input some ideas. You have to look at it all and come to a place where the parents and students are happy. Cost is always a factor, as is proximity to campus, but creature comforts are also important. Four bedrooms and four baths mean four different leases, so you’re not vulnerable if your roommate flunks out of school or can’t pay the rent. How important are living options for today’s college students? Are they more inclined to stay in a four-resident apartment versus traditional dormitories?

Jackman: There is a need and desire for all types of student housing. In some cases, universities require freshmen and sophomores to live on campus. Students demand more and are used to better conditions, and in some cases dorms are totally obsolete. Colleges are having to rebuild and those that have the funds and the space are doing so, while others are facing budget constraints.

Close-to-campus developments are still seen as desirable, but there is an element of the student population, such as seniors, who want to be farther away from campus when their classes are over. They want to be somewhere quiet, away from the hoopla on campus. Do universities try to compete directly with student housing developers, or are they more cooperative?

Jackman: There is certainly more desire to provide better housing for students if you want to be known as a university that can accommodate the student body that you intend to recruit. There continue to be more strategic alliances between universities and builders, owners and managers, where the university will supply land for projects.

There is competition, but the larger developers are already working with universities across the country. While they might have an off-campus facility of their own, they are still working with each university to provide the same quality to housing on campus. How is the economy affecting student housing lately?

Jackman: Student loans are shrinking and there is going to be less funding available, although the government is working to keep that equity flowing so that everyone has an opportunity to go to school. Some students are going to school longer; they’re not in any hurry to enter this job market. Older people are going back to school at times like this as well.

From an enrollment standpoint, there is the expectation that it will continue to grow. However, junior colleges are being looked at more closely as a stopgap measure. Junior colleges are now working with student housing developers on projects.

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