Ira Singer: Top Investor-Friendly Student Housing Renovations

by Katie Sloan

Student housing may be experiencing a surge in demand, but the large, glitzy new Class A buildings are out of reach for many college students. Tenants looking at Class B housing pay rent, too. A growing number of budget-conscious students and their families are seeking more affordable — but still safe, fun and comfortable — alternatives. 

Affordability doesn’t have to mean sacrificing amenities or aesthetics. Renovations that strike a balance between cost-effectiveness and quality can meet and even exceed the expectations of today’s students while remaining within a reasonable budget. 

However, poorly thought-out renovations tend to miss the mark and not result in rental income increases or additional student residents. Following are recommendations of what to do — and not to do — to make over your Class B student housing building into an attractive option for students.

Tablestakes: Do This No Matter What

When considering a capital improvement, you can lean into a welcoming aesthetic without overspending by emphasizing sleek and contemporary design elements, including quartz countertops, resilient wood plank flooring, colorful carpet tiles as an accent, LED lighting and refaced cabinets. These upgrades not only enhance the aesthetic appeal, but also contribute to a more functional and durable living space that is less expensive to maintain than high-end alternatives. New, stainless-steel appliances are expected including a dishwasher whenever possible.

Fostering a sense of community is crucial and best achieved by creating intentional communal areas where residents can socialize, study and unwind. Gathering spaces like lounges, game rooms, study pods and outdoor gathering areas encourage interaction and engagement among students. Finally, a well-equipped, centrally located fitness center is expected, including group high-intensity cardio and yoga classes. 

Branded signage, mural walls and photo boards are gaining popularity and can reinforce the identity of the student housing complex without breaking the bank. They contribute to a sense of belonging among residents.

Given Gen Z’s reliance on their smart phones to live their lives — whether messaging, scheduling or socializing — robust Wi-Fi and smart home technology are no longer luxuries, but expected. Students are looking for ease and convenience when entering the building, as well as their apartments, and today’s mobile apps can provide these services. A safe environment is important for the students, and even more so for parents, so security features are often sought out when signing a lease.

Lastly, owners must ensure that the property is equipped with high-speed, dependable Wi-Fi infrastructure to support the academic and recreational needs of residents. Given multimedia classrooms, remote learning and streaming needs of today, the importance of this amenity cannot be underestimated.

Maximizing Returns: Sustainable Solutions for Long-term Savings

Once the student-focused amenities are accounted for, it is crucial to address immediate building improvements that drive long-term return on investment (ROI). By conducting an initial property assessment, an owner can identify areas where larger capital projects can lead to a better ROI and significant reductions in operational expenses over the course of owning the asset. 

Investing in energy-efficient and maintenance-free windows and doors, as well as LED lighting, can provide substantial savings on utility bills and repair costs over the years. While the initial investment might be significant, the lower ongoing expenses offer a compelling case for prioritizing these upgrades.

The Significance of Outdoor Spaces

Considering outdoor spaces is crucial. Beyond mere aesthetics, outdoor spaces play a pivotal role in shaping an environment that fosters well-being and community. Providing outdoor spaces with individual units (think: private patios or balconies) also extends personal space, offering residents opportunities for relaxation and social interaction.

Another long-term cost-saving move is to integrate time-controlled irrigation systems. These systems provide a low-labor method for maintaining vibrant greenery, enhancing the community’s ambiance while saving on landscaping maintenance costs. 

Also popular are lounging spots such as hammock structures or simple sunbathing areas for quiet relaxation, and grill stations for communal meals. Thoughtful placement of outdoor lighting also can further enhance the transition from day to night within these spaces, with an added security benefit.

If your building is pet-friendly, which should be considered for the ROI with deposits and pet fees, an outdoor pet area would also be enticing to potential residents who bring a furry friend with them to college.

A Delicate Balance

When looking at renovations, a delicate balance exists between necessary renovations and unnecessary expenditures. For example, upgrading inside-the-wall plumbing and electrical systems or modifying the unit layout (incurring demolition, framing and drywall costs) can quickly escalate costs. 

Opening walls or floors can lead to unforeseen expenses, including repairs to components damaged during the process. In addition, any renovation involving core infrastructure can cause significant disruption to residents and should be completed over the summer months or at other times when school is on break. 

By prioritizing upgrading and modernizing the interiors, essential amenities and communal spaces, owners and investors can further cultivate a strong sense of community for generations of students.

—Ira Singer is a co-founder and chief marketing and communications officer with Mosaic Construction. He brings more than 30 years of experience to the firm’s work in student housing, multifamily and commercial renovation and design/build construction.

You may also like