Katy Smerko: Five Steps to Increase Occupancy after the Semester Begins

by Scott Reid

It is the first week of school, and the majority of students have moved into their new apartments. The stress from turn is finally lifting, and everyone is starting to gear up for renewals – except at your property. Your staff is still trying to fill your remaining bed spaces, and you have no traffic coming through your door. Your property is occupied currently at only 80 percent in a market that is occupied at 95 percent.

As an owner, you may have to fund the property in the month of September just to cover expenses. Your lenders are asking what issues kept you from your budgeted 95 percent occupancy, and you are asking yourself how this happened. What you should be asking yourself is, “Now that classes have started, how can I get the additional occupancy that I need to be successful?”

The leasing team at Campus Advantage has developed a five-step action plan that, when executed correctly, will help you drive traffic and gain those needed occupancy numbers after a missed lease-up.

The five steps to obtaining higher occupancy after move-in day include:

  1. Reaching out to international and study abroad programs: International study programs bring in students throughout the year. Establishing relationships with these programs will bring in additional students who are not on a traditional academic lease term. Study abroad programs also have students who will be returning from their semester overseas. By making sure the programs are aware of your availability, as well as your residence life program, your staff will be able to establish a strong relationship with these departments.
  2. Contacting secondary schools: The majority of college markets have secondary schools, such as community colleges, technical schools and cosmetology schools. They can serve as a strong source of traffic throughout the year to help fill vacancies because their programs typically run on a different academic calendar. Creating promotional items that target these secondary schools will show the administration that you are focused on their students and dedicated to creating the best living and learning experience for them.
  3. 3.     Seeking out young professionals: Young professionals who have stayed in the area after graduation are another option to obtain higher occupancy once the traditional leasing season has ended. They often have a lot in common with your current residents and can still benefit from the social and career programming offered by your residence life program. Campus Advantage outreaches to this target market by implementing a preferred employer program with local businesses in the area, such as hospitals, traveling nurses, engineering firms, local sports teams and large corporations. Building relationships with the human resources department is an excellent place to start as those offices are often directly involved with new hires who may need housing recommendations.
  4. Capitalizing on poorly executed move-ins: It is inevitable that at least one property in your market missed the mark when it came to turn and move-in. Follow what students are saying on social media, as well as peer review sites such as Yelp and Google Business, to discover poorly executed move-ins in your area. Once you have identified these properties and issues, you can send a direct mailer to each of their residents letting them know about all of the positives you have that counterbalance their original dissatisfaction with their move-in experience.
  5. Strengthening your relationship with the university’s housing department: Many universities overbook their on-campus residence halls anticipating that many students will not stay past a few weeks, and they will eventually be able to accommodate everyone. The overbooked rooms will be very trying on the students and the faculty, and they may need a place to send the overflow students. You can inform the university of your remaining vacancies and how your residence life program can help foster a relationship between the students and the university, making them more likely to be a successful student.

By implementing these strategies after move-in, you will be closer to backfilling your vacant beds and obtaining your budgeted occupancy. This plan will help relieve financial pressure and allow your team to begin focusing on how to meet budgeted occupancy and increasing your revenue for the following leasing season.  

— Katy Smerko is vice president of leasing for Campus Advantage, overseeing corporate-level leasing and marketing efforts for student housing properties nationwide. She is responsible for developing and executing leasing and marketing strategies to ensure the portfolio reaches optimum occupancies

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