How to Leverage Data for Student Housing Property Management Success


Last modified on July 8th, 2024

Data Management for Successful Student Housing Property Management

In any business, data is king. Capturing, analyzing, and, most importantly, utilizing data sets high performers apart from the competition. The real estate industry is no exception. In student housing property management, the specific timing and nuanced cycle of leasing season further amplifies the importance of data management.

So, if data management is the cornerstone of strategic planning and decision-making, why is it so challenging for student housing management businesses to get the data they need to optimize their operations?

Simply put, consolidating accurate information in one easy-to-use platform remains challenging. Despite the data-driven nature of student housing, many operations still rely heavily on manual spreadsheets. Even when data is accurate, it’s not very useful if the processes to maintain, retrieve, and leverage it are not easy or speedy.

Let’s examine how efficient data management processes and centralized software can boost operational efficiency and, potentially your bottom line.

Three Common Data Management Hurdles for Student Housing Operators 

1.) Manual Spreadsheets 

Individual spreadsheets pose several issues for sophisticated, modern data management, since they: 

  • Can be cumbersome to maintain across staff members and locations
  • Rely on manual entry, making them prone to errors 
  • Often require transferring data from one spreadsheet to another, further increasing the chance of introducing inaccuracies
  • Make it difficult to make strategic decisions quickly without first aggregating data and visualizing it for business insights
  • Are time-consuming, which means potentially missing out on essential and actionable information in real-time

 2.) Disparate Platforms 

 To stay competitive in the ever-changing student housing market, a user-friendly consolidated platform has become a technological necessity for success. Without access to pre-leasing metrics and historical comparisons from one centralized system, making smart business decisions to lease up your properties effectively is difficult. 

3.) The Very Real “Need for Speed”

In the fast-paced student housing sector, leveraging data is crucial for weaving a narrative that predicts future leasing activities based on historical data. Quickly adapting to evolving market conditions and aligning with changing student preferences is vital for managing staffing, optimizing budgets, and streamlining operational processes.

Types of Data Needed for Stellar Student Housing Management

Now that we’ve covered the primary challenges, let’s explore the information you must access and utilize to improve business outcomes. Understanding the specific types of data that are unique to student housing property management is the first step toward leveraging it effectively.

This data falls into two main categories: macro and micro.

Critical Types of Student Housing Management Macro Data

1.) University Enrollment

First, tracking enrollment numbers as macro data helps to anticipate demand for housing. Consider the University of Tennessee’s (UT) recent housing shortages as a real-life illustration.

Due to enrollment increases, UT had to enter into lease agreements with a local Holiday Inn Express for the 2022-2023 academic year while developers raced to build new apartment-style accommodations for over 500 students by the spring of 2024, with additional resident halls still in construction for the next few years.

This university is far from alone in such housing crises, with many schools forced to turn single-occupancy rooms into doubles and doubles into triples as short-term solutions.

2.) Student Housing Trends and Renter Preferences

Understanding what student renters value will allow your teams to assess your portfolio and better align it with the needs of future residents. The demand for more privacy is a significant shift, with fewer shared bedrooms and bathrooms.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, preferences shifted sharply away from shared spaces. Only 5% of student housing built since 2010 provided double occupancy, highlighting the move toward more private living spaces. This necessitated a new way of navigating the pre-leasing season and, ultimately, reconfiguring (or remodeling) units to meet new demands.

Additionally, recent trends point to students preferring more upscale amenities, such as resort-style pools, fitness centers, gaming rooms, and smart, remote-access controls.

Given the rise of online and hybrid classes with digital testing and assignment submissions, today’s students also require reliable and robust Wi-Fi technology.

3.) Understanding Shifting Needs for Flexibility

Studying abroad, taking internships in urban centers, and transferring from one school to another are common aspects of the modern higher education experience.

As such, students often require, or even expect, short-term or flexible leases to accommodate their changing needs. Some may even only need housing for one semester at a time.

Both students and their parents value flexibility. Rigid leasing options will be a deterrent now and in years to come.

4.) Typical Lease Structures 

Finally, when it comes to macro data management, knowing the prevalent lease structures in the market helps to align your offerings with market expectations.

If by-the-bed leases are the norm in your market, but you prefer joint and several leases, you may face competitive challenges.

Micro Data to Mine for Optimized Student Housing Operations

In addition to macro data, it is critical to capture, leverage, analyze, and apply microdata management to your student housing property management operations. This includes current and existing data, as well as historical data.

Information, such as current weekly conversion rates by property and existing unit types, provides insights into current performance and where to continue — or redirect — resources.

Meanwhile, historical information spanning 10 years of conversion rates by property and unit types can reveal trends and inform future strategies.

Having this data at your fingertips can significantly influence your leasing strategy and drive growth in your net operating income.

Property Management Technology Considerations for Student Housing Operators

Despite its critical role, data collection and management in student housing is often inefficient and fragmented, particularly in leasing data.

Operators typically rely on various disparate systems to gather information. This means many teams often resort to maintaining multiple spreadsheets to track data in a customized yet manual manner.

Thankfully, this laborious process can be streamlined with property management technology solutions that aggregate data with ease, thereby enhancing strategic planning and results. The ability to see all your data in one place, creating a single source of truth, allows for enhanced data leverage, which leads to faster — and more informed — insights and decision-making.

These property management technology tools offer historical and existing data on your properties to help you price your student housing units competitively. When implemented correctly, student housing data management can be a high-growth opportunity segment.

To fully capitalize on this niche real estate market, you need tools that allow for flexibly allocating units based on market demands. Because this is such a growing demand among prospects, adjusting your leasing and property management strategy based on real-time market data is more crucial than ever.

Easily Accessible Data Leads to Effective and Efficient Student Housing Operations 

Overall, the successful management of student housing hinges on the effective collection, analysis, and application of data. 

From predicting leasing trends based on historical and current portfolio performance to understanding renter preferences and adjusting your business accordingly, data is an indispensable tool for student housing property management.

Now is the time to hone your skills, tools, and strategies, as industry experts project the number of students in higher education will reach 594 million by 2040.

Despite the challenges of data collection and analysis, adopting specialized tools and platforms — with an emphasis on utilizing one powerful, consolidated source of truth — can significantly enhance the accuracy and efficiency of student housing operational processes. When done right, this ultimately leads to making faster, better-informed decisions and achieving more successful outcomes. 

Have you recently evaluated or invested in your data management strategy and software capabilities? AppFolio can help position your student housing property management business for long-term success.

For more ideas on how you can efficiently manage your student housing portfolio, download our free guide below. 

Student housing property management guide






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