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Life of Luxury in Off-Campus Housing

As developers of off-campus student housing continue to outdo each other with more opulent amenities, many college students are living a more luxurious life on campus than they’ll be able to live for years after graduation.

Today, students who live in extravagant off-campus housing enjoy more creature comforts than ever before, and there seems to be no end in sight when it comes to the features that developers are willing to add. This type of upscale housing isn’t just a perk for students; it’s also a boon for developers, as indicated by the $4.5 billion that investors poured into upscale developments last year, up from $3 billion in 2014.

Ricky Brown, vice president of revenue for the Collier Companies, spoke to NAA about real estate developers, luxury amenities, and why living in these off-campus developments is the right choice for many students.

Q: What sparked the upscale student-housing trend?
A: This trend comes from the dilapidated dorm rooms. In the 1980s, there were developers looking for different investments, and they saw opportunities to build housing around the major universities. It began with dorm-style, off-campus housing with an added pool or basketball court. This sparked a national trend, and it became a much more competitive field.

Developers started trying to one-up each other with better amenities. The housing started out as a 4-2 unit (four bedrooms, two baths), and the next guy comes along and says instead of a 4-2 we’re going to give students a 4-4, and it just exploded from there.

During the latter part of the 2000s, the trend was to become more stylish — to build luxury, high-end, condo-like amenities and finishings. In other words, this is when student housing started resembling all-inclusive resorts, with lavish amenities and cutting-edge technology.

Q: What are some of the more luxurious amenities?
A: It’s incredible what the apartments have today. Outside the apartments, you’ll see outdoor media walls, lazy rivers, infinity-edge pools, movie theaters, yoga rooms, poolside cabanas, hammock gardens, poolside fire pits, golf simulators and more. It’s really limitless. Inside the apartments, there are high-end finishings that rival any new condo that is being built.  You’ll see quartz countertops, 60-inch smart TVs, stainless steel appliances, valet trash programs, memory-foam mattresses and the list goes on and on.

Q: What is one feature that off-campus housing must have?
A: Student housing needs to have the latest and greatest in technology, because that’s what millennials want. They absolutely have to have a high-speed connection to the Internet. Developers have to be able to adapt quickly and listen to our demographic and know what they like.

Q: Bloomberg says that investors seeking recession-resistant assets are pouring huge sums into these developments. What makes these investments recession resistant?
A: Student populations have been shown to rise when hard economic times hit. Even in a poor economy, students still invest in higher education, and those that lose their job or can’t get one often go back to school to retrain. Purpose-built student housing is seen as a very attractive alternative because of convenience for students (all-inclusive) and a smaller liability for the rent. Demographically, the millennials are a huge population, which will be in college and grad school for a decade or more.

Q: What do you say to parents or students who believe that students won’t get a traditional college experience if they live off-campus?
A: These days, “dorm” is almost a four-letter word to students, because they think “dorm” and then they think rules. It’s almost like living with a parent, and they want a little more freedom than that. But with off-campus housing, you can still capture a traditional college experience because you’re very near the school and you’re still living just with other students. At The Collier Companies, we try to really build a sense of community in our developments, so students can meet their neighbors, workout together, study together and create life-long bonds. We take extra measures to ensure this happens at all of our communities because we want our residents to feel as if this is truly their home.

Q: Do universities feel the need to compete with the off-campus housing?
A: Universities are trying to catch up. Schools are building their own versions of luxury housing. It’s interesting: The off-campus industry emulated how the dorms were set up initially, and now the schools are copying us. They’re trying to bring the small community feel back on to campus, and trying to upgrade the student-housing experience.

Q: Are upscale developments out of many students’ price range?
A: It really depends on the market, but in many instances, living off campus is cheaper than living in the dorms. For example, for one market where we work in Florida, the dorm rates are going up 10 percent this year. After this increase, many of the students who live in the traditional dormitories on campus are paying more than they would living at one of the off-campus luxury communities. In my mind, many students overpay to live on campus because it is conveniently located, and they assume the cost of living off-campus would be too much. At this point, if they do their research on housing options, they would quickly find out that these cutting-edge, luxury student apartments are actually much more affordable than they realize.