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6 Tips for Filling Spots After the Semester Starts

Don’t get stuck with vacant beds. Build relationships with college programs, secondary schools and local businesses to help boost occupancy once the school year starts.


By Katy Smerko, VP, Campus Advantage

With classes now in full swing, student-housing providers have survived their busiest time of year: August. Students have moved into their new apartments, the stress from turn has finally lifted, and everyone is gearing up for renewals—well, almost everyone.

Those stuck with occupancy rates of only 80 percent in markets where rates are closer to 95 percent are still trying to fill their remaining bed spaces. For some, no traffic is coming through their doors.

Owners at these communities might have to fund the property in September just to cover expenses. Lenders are asking why they failed to meet their budgeted occupancy. Leasing offices, meanwhile, are asking, “Now that classes are underway, how can I get the additional occupancy I need to be successful?”

For the past 12 years, Campus Advantage has been stepping in to manage properties after a missed lease-up and has helped owners in desperate situations. The Campus Advantage leasing team has created customized marketing plans to help properties reach budgeted occupancy to avoid the financial pressure of an underperforming asset.

It has developed a six-step action plan that can help drive traffic and achieve targeted occupancy rates after a missed lease-up.

Implementing these strategies after move-in can backfill vacant beds. These steps also will help relieve the financial pressure on staff so the leasing team can begin focusing on how to meet budgeted occupancy and increase revenue for the following leasing season.

1. Reach out to international and study-abroad programs. International study programs bring in students throughout the year. Establishing relationships with these programs can create a pipeline for additional students who are not on a traditional academic lease term. By making sure the programs are aware of availability, staff can establish strong relationships that could pay off.

2. Contact secondary schools. Most college markets include secondary schools, such as community colleges, technical schools and cosmetology schools. They can serve as a strong source of traffic throughout the year because their programs typically run on a different academic calendar. Creating promotions that target these secondary schools will show the administration that the apartment community is focused on their students and is dedicated to creating the best living and learning experience for them.

3. Seek young professionals. Young professionals who have stayed in the area after graduation are another traffic source. These prospective residents often have a lot in common with current residents and can still benefit from residence life social and career programming. Campus Advantage reaches out to this target market by implementing a preferred-employer program with area businesses, such as hospitals, traveling nurses, engineering firms, local sports teams and large corporations. Building relationships with the human resources department is an excellent place to start because those offices are often directly involved with new hires who may need housing recommendations.

4. Capitalize on poorly executed move-ins nearby. At least one property in the market always misses the mark when it comes to turns and move-ins. Follow what students are saying on social media, as well as peer-review sites such as Yelp and Google Business, to discover poorly executed move-ins in the area. Then, send those who had negative experiences at those properties direct mailers that promote your positives.

5. Strengthen relationships with the university. Many universities overbook their on-campus residence halls, expecting that many students will not stay past a few weeks. They are banking on the fact that they will eventually be able to accommodate everyone. Overbooked rooms can become very trying on students and faculty, and those affected may need a place to send overflow students. Inform the university about remaining vacancies, and work to take on that potential load.

6. Take advantage of digital marketing. Students are online 24/7 with mobile phones, tablets and other devices. Don’t overlook the role digital marketing can play in creating awareness about a property, driving traffic for the leasing team. A combination of strong search-engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click campaigns with mobile-optimized text and image ads can capture eyes.

SEO ensures that the community stays at the top of the list for search traffic. Pay-per-click allows you to create geographically and demographically targeted ads featuring the latest offers. These ads can drive students and guarantors to the community’s website. Retargeting can serve eye-catching banner ads to those who have visited the site, and it will place the ads on their favorite websites or blogs. It keeps a community’s name in front of them until they fill out a contact form or apply online.