Students are a unique market for property managers because they’re young, tech-savvy and likely on their own for the first time.
Follow these tips to organize an effective marketing plan to attract students.
Most students are on a tight budget, so they’re looking for avenues to save money. At the same time, their parents have often just spent a great deal on tuition, books, etc., and are always looking for deals. Luckily, there are many minor financial incentives you can offer students that will help everyone save money, says Mitchell Smith, IREM associate member and director of marketing and resident services for the Scion Group, a Chicago-based real estate services partner to higher education institutions. These incentives should be offered early in the leasing season to motivate students to sign early. He suggests offering any of the following:
- Waive the application fee or security deposit, or even defer the deposit for 30 days: This takes stress off the lease-signing process by reducing upfront expenses or giving students more time to come up with the money, Smith says. Property managers should plan for these discounts when they create their budgets to mitigate any negative effects on the property’s net operating income (NOI).
- Offer a gift card: “Students always respond well to any incentive that puts cash in their hands,” Smith says. Depending on the market, determine how big you want your gift card to be. Smith says he’s seen gift cards range from $100 to $200. “Typically the main purpose of a gift card is to ultimately reduce the financial impact to the resident without actually lowering your rate,” he says.
- Give a concession, such as half off the first month’s rent: “It’s easier to (offer incentives) to a student with the idea of an immediate financial impact, such as rent off their first month,” Smith says. He adds that there is also risk because your residents will likely remember the incentive the next year and wait until it comes out again to re-sign.
The Art of Convenience
Students are busy and distracted, often looking for the most convenient way to get through their packed schedules. That’s why Bill Levy, CPM, CEO of Best Management Onward Campus Inc., a student housing management company based in Madison, Wis., says it’s smart to adjust your property’s accessibility and amenities to meet certain student needs, such as:
- Adjust office hours: Busy with classes, extracurricular activities and possibly a part-time job, students get home later, and Levy says they’ll appreciate a property that works better with their schedule. Consider adjusting 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office hours to 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Include a small fitness center in your properties: Exercise is usually a primary concern for active students, and Levy says your fitness area doesn’t have to be a full-blown gym. But students will appreciate a few cardio machines and free weights to get in quick, convenient workouts.
- Provide a common space: Students love socializing. Levy recommends including a courtyard, lounge or computer lab on your property where students can gather. “Young students need that social interaction space,” he says. “It’s part of their lifestyle.”
- Offer furnished, move-in-ready units: “With student housing, you’re dealing with people who have probably never lived on their own before or who have lived on their own for only a year or two,” Smith says. For this reason, he recommends providing amenities such as cable-ready units, free Internet access and limited furniture to ease the transition.
Cater to the Audience
It’s a safe bet that students today are looking to the Web, not the newspaper, for apartment listings. Become more tech-savvy with your marketing to reach students.
- Craigslist: Students use Craigslist to find everything, especially when it comes to apartments. Another added benefit is that the site is free and easy to use.
- Mobile marketing optimization: Students today are more likely to text than talk on their phones. Smith recommends running a website with content specifically formatted for mobile devices. These are necessary because so many students carry smartphones and conduct searches on them. Managers also can use text message marketing, which requires a mobile website. “When an individual texts any predetermined word, such as ‘info’ or the property name, for example, to a predetermined number, they get a text message back with information about our property and you get their contact information in return,” he says.
- Active Twitter and Facebook accounts: Not only will this help you connect better with students through social media, but it also will help your search engine optimization, Smith says. Don’t just tweet or post about your specials, Smith recommends. Instead, post about topics to which students will want to read and respond.
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