Student housing operators bring a unique perspective to the multifamily world, and in the weeks before Entrata’s Summit, many responded to a survey and let us know which topics are top of mind as they complete turn and settle in for a new term. Entrata brought together a panel of top clients to talk through the issues and share best practices.
Therese Cochran, Sr. Regional Director at Milhaus Management, was joined by Mark Zikra, CA Ventures’ Director of Technology and Nicole Beach, VP-Administration at The Scion Group in a session that explored how companies are navigating complex issues in student housing.
They’re on the front lines of representing the community’s brand and may be the only person some customers interact with, so how do you recruit and retain people who are suitable for the role? Focus on relationships and emphasize the career path.
“I wish I’d known in college that this was really something I could do,” said Zikra. “I met a property manager and chatted about marketing ideas and that turned into a job offer which then turned into a career path.”
Cochran agreed. “We look for people in majors that complement property management and work to develop part-time brand ambassadors into full-time team members,” she said. “Encourage them to apply for internships in corporate offices over the summer. Show them it’s a career. On average, at least one each year chooses to pursue a career in multifamily.”
And once you’ve found promising team members, make sure you’re giving them the tools they need to succeed.
“We focus on training and engagement and tap into technology,” explained Beach. “Our training managers work one-on-one, but they also do webinars. We take advantage of micro-learning, trimming down policies to bite-size pieces so that people can seek the content they need and learn something in five minutes or less.”
A shift seems to be happening toward more academic and health-focused amenities. Today’s students are looking for yoga and fitness-on-demand studios rather than the traditional on-site gym. Communal study spaces and high-end study lounges are increasingly popular.
“It used to be you had to offer internet & cable,” said Cochran. “Kids don’t care about cable anymore, but they need fast enough internet to be able to use all the streaming services. So you need to upgrade.”
“Internet is effectively a utility,” agreed Zikra. “There’s no regulation, so it’s up to you to make sure what you have is adequate. We’re programming buildings around faster internet.”
Still, some of the traditional amenities should not be ignored.
“Don’t forget simple things like Free Food Fridays,” advised Cochran. “College students, no matter the generation, will always enjoy that.”
While many student properties are making moves toward paperless marketing and reducing paper at turn, many organizations are still having a hard time giving up their files altogether.
“I find it a challenge not to have a lease folder,” admitted Zikra. “I love talking to these people. I’m not looking at a screen.”
Beach agreed. “We’re going paperless from a marketing standpoint,” she said. “Change management is key. Some managers are going to hoard files.”
But Millhaus Management has transitioned to completely paperless leasing offices, and Cochran is convinced that it can be done without a loss of service levels or accessibility.
“I assumed everyone else was paperless too,” said Cochran. “We’ve committed to it. We do frequent file audits and pre-lease reports. Going paperless makes things simple. We checked in a thousand students in one day, and all we had for them was a little envelope with their swipe card. Anything they needed to sign, they signed on the iPad.”
Keeping all files and records digitally also means that someone in the corporate office can take a call from a resident or parent and have access to all the information they need to answer questions. Cochran advises that leadership buy-in is essential if you’re going to get site staff to accept the transition, but ultimately everyone benefits.
“You can play up that you’re on the cutting edge of technology,” she said. “You’re that much more valuable as an employee.”
The Personal Touch
One thing being debated by student housing managers is how much face-to-face interactions today’s students want from their property management team. Many students prefer texting to phone calls, and are perfectly happy signing leases online.
“We’re testing processes to see if conversion rates change when we inject personal communication into the process,” said Beach. “Or do people just want to be left alone to do their thing?”
Although residents may not want to meet in person with leasing staffs or discuss issues on the phone, human interaction is still an essential element in a student housing community.
“We focus on the lifestyle of each property,” said Zikra. “We’re rebranding so each property has an identity. Then we’re selling that lifestyle and having community events where residents can interact.”
“I’m a big believer in community events,” Cochran agreed. “Encourage site staff to befriend people who are new. They don’t know the area. The office staff for a lot of those kids are the only people they know in town.”