Report Examines What Students Want in Off-Campus Rental Housing

Oct. 1, 2007
Better understand the needs of the off-campus housing market by finding out what students look for in off-campus apartments
A new research report by the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC), titled "What Do Students Want?" provides information on what students look for in off-campus apartments. With information from students at nine universities, the report can help apartment owners and property managers better understand the needs of the market.

"Today's students prefer off-campus student housing to dorm life for a variety of reasons, such as cost, freedom, and more space," says NMHC's Jim Arbury, "but they appear to be most interested in the social opportunities these properties enable and encourage." According to the report, one of the key factors students use to rate a property is how lively it is, with students favoring properties where a "central space" combines clubhouse and recreation amenities (a pool, volleyball courts, and picnic areas) and promotes social interaction. These types of amenities, not surprisingly, rated as more valuable than academically oriented amenities, such as computer labs.

Property amenities, however, came in second to apartment layout in order of importance. The No. 1 request from students was for larger kitchens with more counter and cabinet space, dispelling the stereotype of students living solely on pizza. Bedroom size and storage space were also important to students, with focus groups choosing larger bedrooms over larger living rooms.

The report also noted the nearly unanimous preference of students to rent by the bed instead of sharing a lease with their roommates. Students also prefer all-inclusive rents, doing away with the juggling of various utilities and cable/Internet bills. Properties that offered such bundled rents, however, were also encouraged to publish a "base rent" to allow fair comparisons with competitors.

Through compiling the information from the focus groups, an interesting pattern emerged that had little to do with the apartment buildings themselves. "While we went into this research project primarily looking to identify the ‘must-have' amenities for off-campus student housing, we ended up hearing as much, if not more, about how student renters want to be treated," says Arbury.

The priority in most focus groups turned out to be fair and respectful treatment from landlords. As moving into an off-campus property is a rite of passage for most students, it is sometimes approached with trepidation; students assume they will not be treated with the same respect given to older renters, quick to see failures in leasing or management processes as a confirmation of their preconceived notions.

In light of this information, the report suggests that apartment firms ease the transition by providing students with model questions to ask leasing agents, plain-English summaries of leases, and "how to" guides on caring for an apartment. "If the industry hopes to create a positive impression of rental housing in the minds of these customers, who are, by definition, tomorrow's renters, excellent customer service may be more important in this sector than in any other," says Arbury. "Students repeatedly said that if they could find a property with the right amenities, affordable rent, and a management staff that treats them honestly and with respect, they would stay for 2 or 3 years."

Based in Washington, D.C., NMHC is a national association representing the interests of the larger and most prominent apartment firms in the United States. NMHC advocates on behalf of rental housing, conducts apartment-related research, encourages the exchange of strategic business information, and promotes the desirability of apartment living. Nearly one-third of Americans rent their housing, and over 14 percent live in a rental apartment. For more information, visit NMHC's web site at (

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