College student enters his new apartment

Rooftop decks, pools, private bathrooms — new student housing developments at major campuses have amenities you won’t find in your average dorm.   

And while these upscale offerings are appealing, there’s room for properties that can’t offer those perks to compete. Some students (and parents who co-sign leases) are looking for more affordable options, while others prefer the lifestyle at a smaller property, says Pete Tverdov, who manages student rentals near Rutgers University as owner of New Jersey-based brokerage and property management company Tverdov Housing. 

To better compete with new development locally, Tverdov encourages clients to fix up off-campus properties marketed to students. Some upgraded kitchens and bathrooms, while others gutted their units. 

“Put yourself in the parents’ shoes. Their kid can live in a brand-new place with granite countertops, or they can live in an older home with 100-year-old galvanized pipes and single-pane windows. Some parents say they’ll pay an extra couple hundred bucks a month so their kid lives in a place that’s safe and a cool place to live,” he says. 

Beyond updated units, here are some of the apartment features student housing experts say are most in demand today. 

1. Privacy, please

Even students who want roommates prefer having a private bedroom and bathroom, says Miles Orth, COO at Campus Apartments, which provides on- and off-campus student housing at more than 50 colleges and universities. The company’s larger units for four or more students typically have a bedroom and bathroom per person, with a common living space. 

In units with double-occupancy bedrooms and one bathroom, adding privacy walls and a second vanity can heighten appeal, says Jeff Githens, PeakMade’s president of development. 

2. Proximity

Location is key, and PeakMade aims to put its properties as close to campus and surrounding retail areas as possible, Githens says. 

Owners whose properties are steps away from campus or other amenities popular with students, like shopping centers, grocery stores or dining options, should highlight that proximity in rental listings. 

3. Top-notch service

Students like working with property owners who are easy to communicate with and can quickly address issues and concerns, says Harrison Cohen, co-founder and principal at Harbor Property Management, which owns small- and medium-sized apartment buildings near the University of Chicago. 

For instance, Cohen’s company has a 24-hour number students can call in case of emergencies, in addition to an online portal where residents can submit work orders for the maintenance team. 

“Students want to feel supported and heard by their housing provider, whether that’s through responsive maintenance and repair services, clear communication about lease terms and expectations or access to resources about the local community,” he says. 

“Students want to feel supported and heard by their housing provider, whether that’s through responsive maintenance and repair services, clear communication about lease terms and expectations or access to resources about the local community.”
—Harrison Cohen 

4. Pets welcome

Students might not want to bunk with a roommate, but pets are a different story. An estimated 66% of U.S. households own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association. College kids don’t want to wait for graduation to join the club and seek out properties that accommodate pets, says Jenn Cassidy, Senior Vice President of Student Housing Operations at Denver-based Cardinal Group, which manages more than 80,000 student housing beds across the U.S. 

Options for owners concerned about potential pet damage include charging pet deposits, move-in fees or pet rent. 

5. Speedy Wi-Fi and communal study spaces

Offering cable is no longer table stakes, but fast, reliable internet is a must, Cassidy says. Some Cardinal Group communities offer residents smart TVs or Roku devices and they evaluate bandwidth and connection speeds to support students’ streaming services. 

Students also want areas where they can work on group projects or study with friends, Orth says. Campus Apartments is designing spaces with Wi-Fi robust enough for students’ streaming needs, a variety of seating options and break-out conference rooms with smartboards. 

While some properties don’t have room to add shared study spaces, high-speed internet is an excellent investment at any student apartment building, he says.   

6. Fitness and outdoor spaces

Wellness amenities like fitness centers, outdoor courtyards and green spaces are important to students, Githens says. In urban areas, PeakMade tries to maximize outdoor space on the rooftop with amenities like pools, fitness centers and club rooms. 

“While they add to the project’s budget, they are an efficient use of space and a great way to increase the outdoor footprint of a project,” he says.   

Consider adding features that will help residents actively use outdoor spaces, like a seating area with lighting or a heat lamp. If outdoor space is limited, use indoor planters or furnishings with a natural feel to bring the outside in. 

Making the most of natural light in units and amenity spaces also makes a difference, as does optimizing indoor air quality with increased filtration, Githens says. 

Read more from this series on student housing for real estate investors: 
3 things to know before investing in student housing 
How to evaluate a student housing market