Student Renters: Defining the Future of Multifamily Experiences

Apartment managers trying to forecast the wants and needs of tomorrow’s renters need look no further than the occupants of today’s student-housing communities. Based on the insights of panelists in the Student Renters: Defining the Future of Multifamily Experiences session at 2022 Entrata Summit, the apartment industry needs to prepare for a different kind of resident.

Student-housing operators in the session reported their renters are more focused on technology, sustainability, and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives than preceding residents. They also have exceedingly high customer-service expectations, demanding lightning-quick responses and resolutions to their problems, panelists added.

“When something goes wrong, they’re expecting a response immediately,” said Lindsay Brown, Senior Vice President of Leasing and Marketing at Campus Advantage. “It’s the Amazon effect.”

Similarly, college students’ expectations for internet services at their communities goes beyond simple availability, Brown added. “You can have the fastest internet, but if it’s not reliable it doesn’t mean much,” she said. “It needs to be fixed quickly if it goes down at 3 a.m.”

Their reliance on technology to conduct their lives also has made them leery of in-person interactions with onsite associates, according to Brown. “Once they’re a resident, that person-to-person communication is almost non-existent,” she said. “They’re terrified to talk to someone, so you need to have the technology to meet them where they are.”

That means multifamily operators will need to offer a full array of communication technologies – such as texting and resident portals – to allow residents to interact with associates in their preferred way, panelists added.

Krystle Coleman, Vice President of Business Operations at The Scion Group, noted another manifestation of college students’ demand for a technologically advanced living experience: their desire to use a digital wallet such as Apple Pay or Venmo to make their rent payment. “They want to be able to pay conveniently,” she said.

One of the most defining characteristics of today’s student-housing renters is their focus on environmentalism, equality and responsible business practices.

They want operators to provide transparency with the supplier partners they use, according to Brooke London, Entrata Systems Administrator at Cardinal Group. “They want to know: do these vendors align with their values?” she said.

Coleman noted that attendees of a recent student housing fair didn’t take home promotional cups because they didn’t want to be wasteful.

Along these lines, students also want to make sure their rental communities are providing equitable living and work environments.

Cardinal Group has created business resource groups for team members from various communities, including the Black, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Latinx And LGBTQ+ communities, London said.

Such groups can help operators better understand the needs of these communities while also giving team members a safe place to be themselves. This kind of support helps associates’ interactions with residents, London observed. “You’re comfortable, you’re authentic,” she said. “That trickles down to the site level.”

Simply asking students their preferred pronouns goes a long way, according to Brown. “Residents will say, ‘Thank you for asking me that,’” she said. “They know your values, that you’re going to take care of them.”

Panelists also discussed how they’ve adjusted some of their marketing and leasing strategies to appeal to today’s college renters.

For example, Campus Advantage enjoyed what Brown described as its most successful campaign ever by giving prospects or current residents $1,000 in Bitcoin for each new lease or renewal.

The Scion Group has implemented centralized leasing to ensure prospects receive an optimized and consistent experience. The change was met with some skepticism from onsite associates, according to Coleman.

“We told our teams you’re not losing anything,” she said. “You’re gaining time back to take care of residents and retention.”

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