Darren Vanecko: Hold the Upgrades! Why Luxury Amenities Are Not a Top Priority for Students

by Scott Reid

Elaborate fitness facilities equipped with heated salt-water indoor pools, billiards and recreational rooms, tanning salons and community cafes – what do these all have in common? These are just some of the lavish and luxurious amenity offerings that are appearing in purpose-built student housing facilities across the nation.

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on offering a diverse range of luxury amenities in purpose-built student housing, but are lavish amenities what student renters really want? Some renters and parents would argue, no.

Rental Rates Are Still the Most Important Factor for Students

In 2012, J Turner Research surveyed 11,195 students and 3,605 parents from 159 different colleges and universities (Survey Says! Apartment Features, Amenities and Programs That Sell To Students and Parents, J Turner Research, 2012). One of the key findings indicated that for students, the rental rate/price was the most important factor for selecting an apartment (47 percent). Parents on the other hand, were a little less concerned with price, with only 20 percent indicating rental/rate price as the most important factor. Meanwhile, only 1 percent of students and 2 percent of parents indicated that community features and amenities were the most important factor.

Without a doubt, this information demonstrates that added amenities and luxuries aren’t exactly at the top of the priority list for either students or their parents.

Traditional Amenities Seem To Be More Important Than Luxury Amenities

Following their 2012 study, J Turner Research produced another fascinating report in 2013 on student housing that echoed some similar findings. Perhaps the most interesting finding was that luxury amenities didn’t rank particularly well. Students were asked to rank their favorite amenities from eight choices. The top three were all traditional amenities: larger units, in-unit washer/dryer and storage space. Meanwhile, the luxury amenities fell below in the following order: fitness center, pool, community café, game room and training room (What Millennials Want – Residential Preferences in Student Housing Design and Amenities, J Turner Research, 2013).

Skipping the Upgrades

A common trend for new student housing facilities is the option to upgrade from the base model to a unit that includes various amenity or utility upgrades. What’s interesting to note, however, is that when parents and students were asked what service or utility upgrade they would be willing to pay more for, the top response from both groups was no utility/service upgrade (parents – 42 percent and students – 26 percent). The second choice for students was high-speed Internet service (16 percent) and for parents, shuttle service to campus (22 percent). Based on these findings, it’s fair to assume that both student renters and their parents are somewhat conservative when it comes to spending more money for added benefits and luxuries that aren’t considered essential accommodation features. This leads to the question, if students and their parents are not showing interest in special amenity or utility upgrades, what are they interested in?

What Do Students Really Want? Survey Says…

Oddly enough, some of the features and amenities that students were most interested in were traditional ones. When students were asked to rank the most important amenities, the top three results were as follows: in-unit washer and dryer (79 percent), each roommate has his or her own bathroom (68 percent) and extended cable/Wi-Fi included (54 percent). Adding to this information, students were also asked how much more they were willing to pay in rent per month for various special features. The top three responses were open floor plan ($137), more than one/own bathroom ($123) and hardwood floors ($123). It would appear that students are willing to pay more money for special features, but they aren’t newer luxury amenity upgrades but rather more traditional ones.

What Does All This Mean for Student Housing Operators?

Student housing operators should consider that while luxury amenities and upgrades are becoming more common in new student housing facilities, they aren’t exactly the top priorities for student tenants or their parents. It would appear that more traditional amenity offerings and upgrades take precedence over luxury ones. This is not to say that luxury amenities and upgrades should be dismissed as features that aren’t important, but it’s evident that they are not key selling points.

Darren Vanecko is President and CEO of Places4Students Inc., a company specializing in providing colleges and universities with off-campus housing solutions.

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