Move-In is a Month Away — Are Your Student Housing Properties and Portfolios Ready?

by Katie Sloan

While a great deal of uncertainty remains surrounding the fall semester in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, in one fact we can be certain — the summer is almost over. With students set to move back to campus in the next month, universities, owners and operators of student housing properties are hard at work planning for their safe return.

Student Housing Business hosted a webinar last week — sponsored by Leap — to check in with four leading operators and property managers to see what they are planning and how they intend to execute on what will be the most challenging and complicated move-in and fall occupancy this industry has ever faced.

The panel included thoughts by Jenn Cassidy of Campus Advantage, Casey Petersen of Peak Campus, Keith Thompson of The Scion Group and moderator Jake Jarman of Redstone Residential.

“If you’re on this call, you’re hoping that you’re going to get information about what turn should and will look like,” began Jarman. “We’re going to do our best to keep one thing in mind, however, and that is that we have no idea what five weeks from now is going to look like. A successful turn is only truly amazing if there are students moving it — you have to have occupancy — and this has been and continues to be a really tough year for leasing.”

“We cracked 85 percent this morning, which was a big celebration,” responded Thompson. “We’re really excited to have seen leasing pick-up, especially since June 1. Walking into the pandemic, we had established about a 4 percent lead year-over-year in terms of pre-leasing. We were really optimistic this year for one of our best pre-leasing seasons to date.”

“Obviously the pandemic threw a curveball in the mix,” continued Thompson. “We saw a pretty steady decline walking into the second part of March and the beginning of April. In looking at our seven-day moving average since the first week of April, we’ve actually seen positive leasing trajectory. June is when we started to really out-perform year-over-year and we’re continuing that trend here in July, so we’re optimistic.”

“2020 was shaping up to be a great year,” echoed Cassidy. “We had set the internal bar for our team pretty high and they were exceeding expectations. We entered the COVID-19 period about 10 percent ahead of last year and we saw that shrink down during the peak of uncertainty in April to just 2.2 percent positive. Over the last six weeks, we’ve seen our velocity trend about 35 percent better than historically. We’re now back to about 5.1 percent ahead. We celebrated, exceeding that 80 percent milestone this week and we’re continuing to see strong velocity.”

Casey Petersen of Peak Campus has seen a similar trend in preleasing during the pandemic. “Like everyone has said, we were off to the races in 2020,” he said. “The most frustrating part of this whole pandemic, other than the global health crisis, is the fact that we were on track to have our best year ever from a preleasing perspective. We were about 400 basis points ahead on our same-store portfolio going into the pandemic and then we came to a grinding halt in March and April where we were down to 30 percent to 40 percent of our year-over-year velocity.”

Interested in hearing more? Click here for complimentary access to the webinar, sponsored by Leap. Topics include:

  • General fall preleasing trends in the student housing sector
  • California State University system and the impact of its policies
  • Pre-turn and vendor expectations on properties
  • Safety concerns​ for student housing properties: Move-out procedures, sanitation and PPE, partially occupied units, emergencies and outbreaks
  • Move-ins and resident life experience

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