How Will Student Housing Operators Fare This Fall? The Answer Depends on Which Universities They Serve

Owners in markets where universities are reopening in person are seeing a surge in demand as students are pushed into off-campus housing.

Student housing operators are optimistic about demand in markets where universities will hold face-to-face classes this fall, but have a gloomy outlook for markets where universities will shift entirely online.

Uncertainty looms over off-campus student housing operators in markets where universities have elected to go entirely virtual, says Sean Baird, director of the national student housing group with real estate services firm Colliers International. They do not know whether students will honor the leases they signed or what their final occupancy will look like for the upcoming academic year. They are looking at the upcoming school year through unfavorable lenses and expecting high vacancies.

For student housing owners in markets where universities are reopening in person, there is a great amount of optimism, says Baird. A number of these universities are re-evaluating their on-campus housing strategies by eliminating double, triple, and quadruple occupancy bedrooms, while also taking entire on-campus dorms off-line in order to use as housing for COVID-19 positive students to quarantine. That has created a surge in demand as more students are pushed into the off-campus housing market.

Nationally, the student housing pre-leasing level for the fall 2020 semester stood at 74.9 percent as of June 2020, according to Carl Whitaker, market analyst with RealPage Inc., a provider of property management software and services. That was about 500 basis points below the June 2019 reading. According to data provider Yardi Matrix, student housing pre-leasing level through June 2020 was 2.9 percent below last year’s levels, according to Doug Ressler, manager of business intelligence with the company.

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