Roxy Wu: The Surprising Demographic Fueling Operator Profits

by Katie Sloan

The U.S. has long been the most sought-after destination for international students, with the country attracting millions of young, ambitious people from across the world every year. 

Chinese families are particularly interested in a U.S.-based education for their children — so much so that the country is the number one source of international students in the U.S. In fact, according to our data at NYStudents, over 150,000 Chinese students come to the U.S. every year, with about 500,000 students in the country at any given time, ranging from middle schoolers to post-graduate optional practical trainees. 

International students, as a whole, have a large presence on American campuses, and the number continues to grow following the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report by the nonprofit Institute of International Education and the U.S. State Department, enrollment by international students rose by 3.8 percent to 948,519 in the 2021-2022 school year, compared with 914,095 the year prior. 

A great majority of these future leaders gravitated towards major cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston, which in turn raises the unexpected hurdle of searching for and securing quality off-campus housing.

As the single largest student placement organization for Chinese students in the U.S., we help tens of thousands of applicants every year. And while each client comes with their own needs and wants for university living, there are certain aspects that are overwhelmingly — and even surprisingly — in demand. The following are eight of this student group’s must-have amenities:

A well-equipped mailroom. This one may seem surprising at first, but over recent years, we’ve seen this particular feature climb to the very top of clients’ lists. Whether this is a result of society’s overall growing dependence on on-demand deliveries or just international students craving ethnic products, it’s clear that the efficiency of a mailroom is far more important to international students when it comes to considerations for leasing and renewals. Innovative new technologies are working to enhance this experience, like package concierge services, a tool that sends an email notification to residents whenever they have a delivery. When they pick up their package, residents would have the option of going through a mailroom attendant or can either scan a barcode or enter a delivery PIN to retrieve their package from the locker. Whether this demand is because international students often receive packages from home — or because they are simply ordering products and food that they can’t find locally — a high-functioning, modern mailroom is at the top of the list for many Chinese students in particular.

Influencer endorsements. While parents tend to be concerned about the practical details of their child’s new space, we have found that students are more interested in finding buildings that come with an unexpected perk — clout. Prospective tenants are on the lookout for well-known properties — such as Jackson Park, The Copper, One Manhattan Square and 555Ten — where influential individuals have lived or currently reside. Instagram influencers — such as Cass Dimicco, celebrities like Hu Ge and Mengyao Xi and even the former Japanese princess — are well known for staying at certain luxury residential properties in New York City, and many international students look to their taste and aesthetic when deciding on a living space.

Prime location. The golden rule of real estate holds true for international students. While this can depend largely on where a student plans on attending school or going to practical training, a centrally located, accessible location is always a top request. In a city like New York, for example, having a good location means offering seamless access to mass transit and trendy restaurants, but also allowing students to easily tap into tastes of home, such as authentic cultural restaurants and supermarkets. 

Modernized, luxurious amenities. While amenities hold a certain draw for every renter, international students are increasingly drawn to properties that boast a truly holistic resident experience and provide more advanced lifestyle perks — such as fancy swimming pools; more specialized fitness areas like basketball courts; golf simulators; bowling alleys; and more. The most in-demand amenities include outdoor spaces and rooftops, study spaces and state-of-the-art gym space. 

Responsive, involved property managers. While this may not yet be a consideration for prospective residents, existing tenants notice and appreciate how quickly and efficiently maintenance responds to service requests. As such, a few bad reviews from current or past residents on public forums and review sites (Google, Yelp, etc.) can have an outsized impact on prospective renters. 

Safety and security. Understandably, attending a university abroad is a nerve-wracking experience for both the students themselves and their families back home. Consequently, the safety of the neighborhood in addition to that of the building is top of mind. There are many preconceived notions about certain neighborhoods in cities like New York. For example, West Harlem, near Columbia University, actually has much lower crime rates than Midtown Manhattan, near New York University (NYU) — however, due to media sensations, clients often have a distorted perception of neighborhood safety. Regardless of where a student decides to live, familiarizing them with the area, walking them through nearby public transportation, and providing local resources are great ways to build trust and set residents up for success. 

Lease guarantees. International students with no income and no U.S. credit history will require a guarantor. Chinese students and their parents prefer the ease of using a professional guarantor service. TheGuarantors is the preferred choice of the luxury properties our renter clients want to reside in, and they staff a specialized Chinese-speaking team dedicated to supporting Chinese students and their families seven days a week. This demographic would not be able to rent in a building without a professional and operationalized guarantor program like TheGuarantors. 

Sustainability. As more renters on the whole value eco-friendly properties and turn an eye toward environmentally-conscious lifestyle choices, sustainable design features in rental units (such as energy-efficient lighting and washers/dryers) become increasingly important. Moreover, many international students come from communities where sustainability in apartment buildings has either been extremely common practice for a long time or alternatively, has simply not been available to them at all — and therefore are prioritizing this aspect in their U.S. apartment search. 

The impact of international students in the U.S. is tangible. Not only do they bring diverse perspectives and new ideas to their respective institutions, but international students at U.S. schools also contribute significantly to the economy. At NYStudents, our clients spend an average of about $150,000 a year while studying at U.S. schools. Chinese students are a valuable cohort for luxury properties in the U.S. For property owners seeking to attract these international students to their buildings, it is important to stay ahead of the competition. By investing the appropriate time and resources into fostering relationships with this demographic, property owners would be able to more fully understand what their residents are truly seeking out of an apartment living experience. 

—Roxy Wu is managing director of NYStudents, one of the largest Chinese student agencies in the country, responsible for aiding with securing educational placements, visas and housing in the U.S. NYStudents has offices in Boston, New York City and California, and assists tens of thousands of Chinese students who come to the U.S. to study each year. 

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