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Housing for Chinese International Students: How Owners, Operators Can Provide Information, Promote Trust

by Sarah Daniels

With over 317,000 Chinese students studying at the graduate or undergraduate level in the United States, and with that number likely to grow rapidly, student housing for Chinese nationals presents a wealth of opportunities for owners and operators. COVID temporarily decreased international student enrollment, but now students are returning.

This surge reflects an ongoing, global trend. A 2022 report from market research firm HolonIQ projects that the worldwide number of international students is set to increase from 5 million students currently to 8 million by 2030.

“The demand amongst Chinese students for off-campus housing is likely to stay high,” according to Jason Yin, first founder and CEO of Uhomes, a platform that provides international students with a direct connection to U.S. providers. These student residents prefer off-campus housing and have an overwhelming need to select accommodations remotely and in a way that accounts for their preferences.

Yin explains that the recent January reversal of China’s zero-COVID policies will increase demand for such accommodations. Also, recent announcements by the Chinese government mean that in-person, overseas study has suddenly become the only acceptable path for Chinese international students. “All Chinese international students must study abroad in order to have their degree recognized in China,” says Yin. “That means their diplomas and certificates will be useless in China if the international students just study online.”

High rankings for colleges and universities in the United States already attract students from around the world. A Western education improves the prospect of finding jobs and economic advancement in China after college. But how can owners and property managers keep up with changing preferences and make Chinese international students feel appreciated and accepted?

“Being proactive and friendly is the best way to gain trust and help students feel welcomed,” says Yin, whose company provides tools that allow international students to “experience a property and connect on an emotional level. Whether it’s live streaming conversations with an on-site team, direct messaging, video elements to see inside actual units or reviews from current students, these residents appreciate a multitude of options to connect with the off-campus housing they are considering.”

Off-Campus Housing Appeals to International Students

In order to attend a higher education institution in the United States, all international students must obtain an I-20 form from their chosen school as an essential step in requesting a study visa. This process can be time-consuming and often excludes these students from registering for on-campus housing.

Furthermore, the events of 2020 have solidified the status of off-campus apartments as attractive and dependable places to stay. Students with off-campus accommodations during 2020 could remain in place even as campuses shut down. The reliability and flexibility of off-campus housing make this accommodation the preferred option for international students.

The Selection Process — Providing Information, Ensuring Trust

International students need reassurance and a wealth of information when it comes to picking a place to live. This reality differs very little from how non-international students pick their housing, except that international students often need to select their accommodations online before ever seeing the unit they will call “home.”

Chinese international students and their parents want what all college-age renters and their families want, but with some additional assurances:

  • Helping students feel thoroughly informed and safe. “Chinese students and their parents are very leery of being scammed or misled by deceiving property advertisements and brokers,” says Yin. “They want to know that they are working with an established company that will not allow this to happen and will be there to help if there are any problems. Uhomes offers what is known in Chinese culture as guanxi, or a system of social and business trust. This trust is similar to using a travel agent versus booking on one’s own. The onus is on Uhomes to ensure the details are right and everything goes smoothly. During COVID, Uhomes earned that trust by working closely with off-campus suppliers to have leases extended, deposits returned and more.”
  • Clear policies on lease cancellation. This consideration is a must-have in the unlikely event that a student is denied a visa.
  • Easy-to-understand floor plans, in-depth information on Wi-Fi, simple breakdowns. Student crave detailed information about what is included or not included in the price of rent.
  • Ways to “visit” and connect with both the unit and the community. In addition to image galleries, floor plans and reviews that renters have come to expect, live-streamed tours allow students to interact with on-site teams. Students also want to select specific units, rather than being randomly assigned. Live listings allow owners and operators to connect by adding new promotions, updating content and providing direct interaction. Instantaneous translation on sites, like on the Uhomes webpage, makes for a streamlined process.
  • Reviews add to student satisfaction. Videos and reviews of actual units uploaded by current students can help prospective renters feel they know a property better. Because Chinese students can leave reviews in their own words, they can help other international renters focus on what is most important to them in terms of culture and expectations. The thousands of student-made videos on Uhomes paint a clearer and more personalized picture for residents making housing decisions.

As the number of Chinese international students is unlikely to slow any time soon, it is imperative that off-campus owners and operators meet students “where they are.” Yin sees a shift amongst developers as they acknowledge changing needs. The percent of international students worldwide increased 62 percent in just the years from 2019 to 2023. But it’s not just international students coming to the United States. Yin says, “All the major owners and developers we work with in the United Kingdom are targeting expansion in the United States, including big names like Vita and Scape.”

JRA domestic international applicant trends

Domestic/international applicant trends for 2019 until 2023.
Source: Common App Trends — Dec 1, 2022. By Judi Robinovitz.

By offering a wealth of information through a platform that students know, use and feel a sense of community and ownership in, the student housing market can be at the forefront of new trends and attract a growing demographic.

— This article was written in conjunction with Uhomes, a content partner of Student Housing Business. For information about Uhomes, click here.

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