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Hearth & Home August 2014

The Retreat in Newark, Delaware, developed by Landmark Properties.

Burning the Midnight-Burger?

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Opportunities for hearth, barbecue and patio products in student housing.

If your perception of a college apartment is a dilapidated walk-up with holes in the walls, a temperamental furnace, grimy kitchen appliances, weeds in the yard, and too many kids sharing one out-of-date bathroom, you need a reality check. Today’s off-campus college apartments are much more likely to resemble the new student residence opening two blocks from the University of Minnesota this fall.

The Marshall, an $86.7 million complex developed by EdR, features 315 one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments and townhomes, private bathrooms for each bedroom, kitchens with stainless-steel appliances and granite counters, a washer and dryer in each unit, an indoor swimming pool, fitness center, tanning beds, grilling area, outdoor living spaces with fire features, Zen garden, computer lab, and ground-level, street-front retail stores.

Despite those who believe that primitive living conditions during the college years builds character, this type of luxury student housing is growing rapidly in college towns all over the country.

“It’s a huge trend,” says Randy Shearin, editor of Student Housing Business magazine. “These upscale student housing developments are very appealing to students and they are extremely successful.”

According to Forbes magazine, the trend is being fueled by affluent Baby Boomers who seek out better and more secure off-campus accommodations for their college-age children. As one admissions officer at a large university put it, “Today’s incoming students frequently have never shared a bathroom at home, let alone a bedroom. Their housing needs and expectations are different today and we have to adapt to that.”

Adapt they have. While college administrators are stepping up their game by offering on-campus apartments with private bathrooms and kitchens as an alternative to traditional dormitory-style living, private developers have raised the bar to unimagined heights in new student housing complexes being built just off-campus.

The developers are catering to the demand for privacy and upgraded accommodations. Rentals are by-the-bed with each resident holding an individual lease, eliminating the inevitable hassles and problems for the one lease-holder in traditional off-campus apartments. But most compelling are the resort-like amenities.

In addition to the luxuries those fortunate University of Minnesota students will get to enjoy, other communities offer perks such as pet-friendly apartments, private hot tubs, professional closet organizer systems, beach volleyball courts, yoga rooms, indoor and outdoor quiet study areas, concierge service, day spas with saunas and steam rooms, putting greens, and outdoor jumbo-tron televisions that can be watched while lounging at the pool.

Upscale college residences in urban settings may have fewer outdoor amenities due to space constraints, but projects such as those by developers Core Campus and Campus Crest Communities also include feature-packed, luxury outdoor living spaces on the buildings’ rooftop decks.

Photo/rendering courtesy: 2014© EdR.
The Marshall, developed by EdR.

Georgia-based Landmark Properties has been one of the pioneers of cottage-style student residences with more than numerous communities built or under construction in Pennsylvania, Delaware and throughout the South.

One of its newest, The Retreat at Newark, near the University of Delaware, will have 196 Craftsman-style units, each with a porch or balcony, private bedrooms with in-suite bathrooms, fully appointed kitchens, a washer and dryer, and an open floor plan for the living and dining areas. Shared outdoor amenities include a resort-style swimming pool with high-end patio furniture and dining sets, outdoor grilling areas, bar islands, basketball and bocce courts, horseshoe pits and more.

The community also boasts two clubhouses, one 9,700 sq. ft. and the other 2,460 sq. ft., that house the state-of-the-art fitness center, golf simulator, cyber café and study lounges. If desired, apartments can even be outfitted with stylish furnishings for those who don’t wish to schlep it from home.

Even with amenities such as these, rental rates for most luxury off-campus communities are about the same or only slightly more than rents for traditional off-campus apartments in a given marketplace. Rents also often include most utilities, Internet, cable TV and trash services, as well.

As a result, demand for these luxury student communities has been solid, even during the recession. “These communities usually lease quickly and occupancy rates are high,” says Shearin.

Why is this trend important to hearth, patio and barbecue manufacturers and retailers? Because when they graduate in a few years (or longer, to their parents’ dismay), these college students will take with them an awareness of and fondness for fabulous outdoor living spaces and will want to recreate Outdoor Rooms at their future residences. They are the upcoming customer base for grills, outdoor kitchens, outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, patio furniture and other outdoor living products.

Collegiate housing developers are paving the way for manufacturers and retailers of hearth, patio and barbecue products by educating this new group of consumers. Our industry must be ready to respond to the needs and budgets of this new audience who will want to continue to enjoy the outdoor-living amenities they are used to after graduation, but won’t be able to afford a five- or six-figure Outdoor Room for years to come.

To learn more about student housing opportunities, manufacturers and distributors might consider attending the Interface Student Housing Trade Show held every April in Austin, Texas. Retailers might look for ways to form relationships with these young residents by conducting Grilling 101 classes at the communities’ outdoor cooking areas, or hosting a barbecue competition among teams of residents.

While the students may not be able to afford a premium, decked-out outdoor kitchen for a while, an entry-level freestanding grill or a portable grill for tailgating at the campus stadium might be within their reach, as are charcoal, wood chips and other barbecue accessories. Develop a relationship with these students now and you may have a customer for life.

Another reason college housing should be on your radar: All the visiting parents will be exposed to the products and possibilities available for resort-style living at home. As they walk through the outdoor oasis at their child’s community, their first question will likely be: How can I create an outdoor living space like this at my home?

Their expected second question: Are you sure you’re studying with all these distractions?

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