Operators Welcome Students Back
By Les Shaver
Communication and preparation are the keys to a successful opening.
As students rolled back onto some college campuses in August, they came home to a very different environment than years past.
Their student housing operators are also trying to navigate through a unique environment.
Brent Little, President of Fountain Residential Partners, says the 2020-2021 school year has gotten off to a strong start in his portfolio, despite COVID challenges.
“Our property management teams have done a great job of managing through the challenges,” Little says. “Our collections have been no different than pre-COVID, move-ins went smoothly, and our construction delivery was on time.”
In fact, Little says Fountain’s most significant challenge has been “over preparation.”
“The teams have been preparing for the worst, and when smaller challenges presented themselves, they were easily and quickly handled,” Little says.
While COVID presented obstacles, communication and safety remain a top priority for Jennifer Messina, Vice President of Marketing at San Miguel Management.
“We were still able to connect with our residents and prospects online and over the phone, since we were not able to connect in person,” she says. “We were still able to build a sense of community with our residents and make sure that our engagement did not stop. I truly feel like they knew we were there for all of our residents and prospects. Their safety was our number one concern.”
Early on, COVID presented leasing challenges with the March and April shutdown. “The leasing season started strong but took a slow pause for COVID,” Messina says. “Our leasing slowed down until UT Austin [The University of Texas at Austin] announced that they were doing in-person classes, and then it picked up again.”
While COVID presented a considerable obstacle in leasing, it wasn’t the only challenge for Messina. “We also had a lot of new projects open in August 2021, so we were competing with new communities that had every amenity,” Messina says. “These apartments were built to be state of the art and top of the line.”
Little is also enjoying success with one new development, even if students are only attending class online. Fountain, in a joint venture with HC2 Capital, developed 116 Flats in Sunderland, Mass., which is near Amherst.
“Our new property in Amherst, where the students are taking classes online, leased an additional 58 beds more than the original occupancy target by doubling up additional bedrooms,” Little says. “The demand outstripped supply, the response to the property was phenomenal, and we were surprised at the willingness of residents to double occupy bedrooms in the current climate.”