A Quick Take on Student Housing from InterFace 2018

student housing


A good thing about housing conferences is the wealth of information to learn. The better thing is that within those opportunities, extending from the hours of networking on couches and corner nooks in lounges and hallways, education sessions are prime real estate for new ideas. Yet how well the experts convey vital statistics, strategies and general housing shop talk determines whether the audience gets value (and resists the urge to check Facebook a dozen times).

In today’s information-crazed business world we are conditioned to absorb countless messages—written and oral through bytes/bits of information from social, video, audio and print platforms. And that’s just driving to work.

Conferences are no exception, in the classroom and hallways. Even in the bar we get silent doses of the day’s events on monitors plastered on walls. Nowadays, the bartender doesn’t have to be an amateur therapist or armchair quarterback to the job.

At the end of the day full of amenities, revenue management, maintenance, asset management and everything else it takes talking about to run a property, the mind can go numb.

Just how much information can we really process?

InterFace audience tunes in to ‘two-minute drill’

According to the Harvard Business Review, we’re not very good at handling information overload because we don’t condition our brains to manage it. Although our capacity for long-term memory is greater, our short-term memory has a small tank. The human mind can only remember about four pieces of information at any given time, say memory experts.

Intuitively, this year’s InterFace Student Housing conference employed a non-traditional session approach designed to hit the high notes of industry trends. No outline of multiple conversations, no back and forth between panelists, just relevant points served up through a student housing leadership drive-thru.

“Quick Takes” was the classic two-minute drill with about four minutes added—enough time for Tom Brady to engineer a half-dozen game-winning scoring drives—and 20 slides to drive home their thoughts.

In a 50-minute rapid fire with plenty of time to spare, EdR Vice President Kim Grisvard, Weitz Company Development Director Ben Bruns, RealPage’s Taylor Gunn and Dan Oltersdorf, SVP and CLO of Campus Advantage, talked about construction, Gen Z, how student housing operators can impact residents’ lives and how new construction is affecting rent growth at some major college campuses.

The pace was exhilarating but manageable. The audience was tuned in, keeping eyes glued to the steady parade of slides and ears open to the snippets of information the cast had to offer. In fact, with 16:11 left on the clock, Grisvard wrapped up her summary on what Gen Z preferences and a curious, hardly numb audience that filled rooms 402-403 at the Austin JW Marriott kept the ball rolling with plenty of questions.

The fast-paced format obviously piqued interest and stimulated eager minds.

Properties located close to campus impacted by new supply

As predicted by Oltersdorf in the opening, the audience had a few questions after Gunn’s summary of student housing rent growth trends.

Gunn, Director of Student Housing at RealPage, filled her segment with important data on student housing demand and what’s coming on line in 2018. It was a lot of information in a short time, coaxing interest from the audience.

She noted how Florida and Texas have the most off-campus beds of all states and that rent growth at communities closer to campus is receding because of new supply being built farther away. Florida State and Texas A&M have seen the most supply in the current cycle dating to 2011, combining for 64,000 new beds, and rent growth has declined at properties nearer to campus at both.

“It’s those properties located closest to campus are seeing largest decline in year over year leasing velocity,” Gunn said of Florida State.

A similar pattern, she said, exists at A&M, where 13,000 beds have been delivered in the past seven years and rent growth at communities closest to campus is down 7 percent.

“Properties located closest to campus are impacted by new supply,” Gunn said.

Operators can influence residents, Gen Z has arrived and tech aids construction

Before Gunn, Oltersdorf told heartwarming stories about the impact that people who run student housing communities have on its residents. There is a multiplying effect, no matter your role in the industry, and the opportunity to influence the lives of millions.

Grisvard, however, fielded more questions as the audience probed about virtual reality applications and social media influencers after offering insight into the psyche of Gen Z and what these youngsters are looking for in student housing. She said they’re looking for more and bigger places to study, not so much small private rooms, a lot of congregation tables, television, activities and saunas.

She said resident influencers, those who post more detail about their living experiences at student housing communities, will become a trend and operators should find them because they will influence other students about why to live there.

Bruns, who traced construction from its early days of steam shovels to now, says technology is helping builders overcome an increasingly difficult building process plagued by intense underwriting, labor shortages and pricy materials. Robotics and drones are new tools that he believes will have greater impact on student housing construction in the future.

Student housing messages received loud and clear

Before launching the session, Brun noted that future construction would be something like buying a tube of toothpaste. The industry would become more transparent, allowing developers and operators to have a better idea of costs, as if they were shopping for toothpaste from a drugstore aisle.

One listener couldn’t resist the temptation to ask Brun what that price for construction would be. With a chuckle, Brun declined to answer, prompting a belly laugh from the audience.

Sounded like everybody was listening and got the message.


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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