Student Apartment Management isn’t what it used to be. From spring 2020 to spring 2021, undergraduate college attendance dropped 4.9% – the biggest drop in over a decade. Less students attending school in person due to Covid-19 means less demand for apartments. Less demand in the market means one thing for student apartment marketers – you need to stand out to win.
In this article, we will lay out exactly what to do in 2023 to fill your units with students and have a healthy NOI year after year.
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Enrollment declines aside, the campus landscape has changed. The students who are still attending in person are often in a hybrid program. They split their time between virtual and in person classes. There are less students on campus today than ever before. Further, most colleges restrict out of university promotion on campus. With students spending less time on campus, and more regulations around physical promotion on campus, our options are limited. The days of posters, flyers, and signs are over. Fortunately (for us marketers), time on campus has been replaced by screen time. Which means we have more opportunities to market to students online.
Students will change apartments an average of 2-4 times in their undergraduate careers. As the school year is coming to an end, students start actively looking for roommates and a place to live, but before then, most already have an idea of what kind of place they want, and where they want to be. This is because students are constantly keeping an eye out for low rent prices, great communities, and great locations year round. If you can capture student interest early, you’ll get the first mover advantage.
Confirmation bias tells us that as soon as we decide we like something, we’ll actually spend our evaluation effort confirming our existing decision. Starting marketing activities early lets us use confirmation bias to our advantage. Let them compare the competition to your units, not the other way around. When we start marketing early, we get ahead of the competition.
During the last two months of the spring semester, students start getting serious about signing a lease for the next year. Grab attention early with quality paid content. Lease.engine.us has seen how valuable this method can be first-hand when we helped one client reach 100% occupancy for the fall semester by May of the previous year.
Run ads with images of your property to students in the area, and incorporate shots of students having fun or making friends to connect with people at a deeper level.
Get creative. Some of our best performing ads on social media have been some of the strangest. No kidding. The social media game is about standing out. Be fun. You want to highlight the main features of your units in ads, but sometimes showcasing amenities, brand, and personality make all the difference.
Google search comes in two flavors… paid, and unpaid. Unpaid Google search is a long term play and can take 6 months on average to see any ROI.
Paid Google ads, on the other hand, let you bid on keywords that people search, and pay for clicks.
We typically build our sites initially to support PPC (Pay Per Click), but keep the fundamentals strong enough to allow for rankings on search engines down the road through a practice called SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
Having a good website is the key to winning on Google search. It also allows you to own your brand, and the traffic you direct with top of funnel promotion. The last thing you want is to spend a bunch of ad money on Google or Instagram so you can send people to Zillow and Apartments.com to browse competitor inventory.
Zillow & Apartments.com
Speaking of… these two heavy hitters shouldn’t be easily forgotten. It’s a no brainer, and most property management tools directly plug in to them for easy set up.
Facebook Marketplace has been a recent winner, and we think it’s here to stay. In fact, the trouble we’ve seen with it is that it generates too many leads.
Getting set up is similar to posting on Facebook Marketplace as an individual, but you select your business page as the owner of the post during set up.
To solve the “Too Many Leads” problem, we’re recommending auto-responders that direct Facebook marketplace leads to your website, or to a form to collect more information on those who reply as interested.
Housing, even student housing, is about more than just a place to stay. It’s about value alignment, personality, and brand (and yes, a place that meets a students needs). If you are planning on renting to Gen Z, you need to understand what's driving this group of young adults/teens.
Gen Z grew up on their smartphones. They consume more media than any other generation – all in bite sized reels and TikToks. Their attention span is short and looks matter. This means it's easy for them to skip over your units if the first impression isn’t engaging. They value aesthetics and quickly make decisions off of images, brand appearance, even logos.
In order to win students as tenants, you need a sharp first impression, and to tell a story that communicates the unique environment your apartment community has to offer.
They also want to feel like where they rent will be their home. They want to know their neighbors are like-minded people who value the same things and that there will be potential friends in their community.
Some will value price more than others, some will be all about safety, some will care most about their ability to meet friends and share a space.
To win students over, you need good pictures and clear descriptions of what each unit has to offer. Talk about safety, location, amenities, price, and quality of your spaces. Remember that your apartments are unique and celebrate what makes your portfolio stand out.
Competitive pricing is also important here – many students will be on a tight budget, and competitive pricing will open the pool of applicants, allowing you to choose tenants who might be lower maintenance or stick around longer.
Going the extra mile with tenants means more than you might think. Providing open communication, and responding quickly to maintenance issues help you to stand out as a good landlord.
Unexpected benefits like pizza nights, or surprise gift cards after paying rent on time for a year, can reduce churn and even stir up word of mouth about your property to help you establish a brand.
Lastly, Having a good relationship with a tenant is also a great way to prevent churn. Sending a simple text saying “How is everything going in the apartment? Any maintenance issues I can address?” or even a “Happy Holidays” text can make a huge difference when a tenant is deciding to renew a lease or live elsewhere. Not only is making the first move important but answering maintenance requests in a timely manner is important as well. Best of all, there are tools that let you do all of these things at scale.
3 months of an un-leased unit every year for 4 years is a year of revenue lost.
Sometimes it's the little things that contribute the most to your NOI. If your portfolio is less established, 3 months of lost revenue can make or break your yearly earnings!
Bottom line: The key to preventing unoccupied units is decreasing churn and being proactive in your marketing efforts.
Covid-19 has changed the student apartment rental industry forever but that doesn’t mean it’s game over for obtaining a healthy NOI. With these insights you will be able to fill any unit, keep churn low, and build the best student housing portfolio in town.
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