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INSIGHTS AND TIPS TO HELP YOU MANAGE UTILITIES BETTER

Scaling the Student Turn Mountain

If resident turnover rates were landscapes, rates for conventional multifamily communities would be the Smoky Hills of Kansas, and student housing rates would be the steep, jagged Rockies in Colorado. Because while both community types may experience similar turnover amounts annually—for the most part—the time frames for that turnover are drastically different.

In conventional communities, resident move-ins and move-outs are sprinkled throughout the year—making it easier for multifamily property owners to perform pre-move-in maintenance, budget for lost expenses, and even renew leases.

Student housing, on the other hand, typically experiences a year's worth of turnover in 2-3 weeks (or months), with more than 60% of their students moving in and out at the exact same time of year—a time that is often called "Turn." Because of this, property owners in the student housing space are much more susceptible to risk and loss if their proverbial ducks are not in a row. So, to better assist them in their efforts, we have created this article to highlight some of the things that need to occur before, during, and after Turn to successfully scale this mighty mountain.

Be Prepared

As Christine Richards, the Former EVP & COO of EdR Collegiate Housing and current President of Management at Core Spaces, once said, "If there's ever been a Turn that hasn't gone as smoothly as you'd like, it's because they weren't as organized as they should have been." And that organization and preparation can come in many forms, but here are a few areas that you might want to pay especially close attention to as you develop your Turn strategy.

Maintenance and Vendor Management

When a large majority of your students are moving in and out simultaneously, you do not have the luxury or capacity to handle pre-move-in updates in-house. You will need to screen and contract out vendors for everything from paint jobs to repairs to ensure your property and its amenities are not only up and running, but running smoothly by the time students return with their parents.

Expert Tip 1. Book your vendors as far in advance as possible, and try to avoid using the same vendors every year. This will provide you with more negotiating power and leverage. It will also help you to guarantee support if your properties have a lot of competitors in the area.

Expert Tip 2. To minimize the amount of repair work that is needed between mass move out and mass move in (aka Turn), perform regular maintenance audits and quarterly inspections throughout the year.

Budgeting

Prior to the pandemic, the average cost of turning a student housing bed was roughly $150 per bed. Using some very basic math—and an average student housing community size of roughly 10,000 students—a 60% turnover could end up costing the property a whopping $900,000. And that does not include expenses like overtime pay (which will definitely occur), lost revenue from non-renewals, or move-in event-related expenses like pizzas, balloons, signs, etc. This means property owners and their accounting teams must spread that cost out, or carefully budget for that expense, to prevent huge financial losses.

Coordination and Communication

I know this may sound like a given, but you must coordinate and communicate clearly with every affected party to ensure they are 100% aware of your expectations and needs. This includes students, parents, vendors, staff members, stakeholders, local law enforcement, other competing colleges in the area, and any other individual or entity connected to your Turn. Otherwise, you may be susceptible to a rippling rockslide of delays, frustrations, and losses.

Remember, in the student housing world, clarity is king. And if you need to be a little redundant to accomplish that clarity—then by all means—be redundant.

Expert Tip 3. If you live in an area where there are multiple campuses in close proximity, work with the campus’ managers to ensure nobody is experiencing issues due to overlapping Turn cycles.

Expert Tip 4. Where most people affected by Turn are not in the Student Housing trenches, it may be a good idea to clearly communicate the scope of Turn. For example, some vendors may feel that pushing some paintwork back by one day does not make a difference—and, to be fair, for most of their day-to-day clients, it probably wouldn’t have an impact. But in the Turn world, a pushed-back paint job could lead to pushed-back maintenance work, pushed-back cleaning, and so on.

Expert Tip 5. If you are a current Conservice partner, please review and update your move-in and move-out lists regularly—and notify your utility experts if any changes need to be made. This will help us to ensure your students' final bills are mailed and costs are recovered in a timely manner.

Advertising Renewals

Much like turn cycles, the approach to renewals in the student housing market also differs from that of conventional multifamily housing. Instead of waiting until a lease is almost up to advertise a renewal, successful student housing operators will often advertise weeks or even months before a resident's move-in date to get ahead of turn woes and minimize future turnover rates. It is a classic example of “the early bird gets the worm.”

Brave the Mountain, Enjoy the Climb

As the dreaded mass-move-out and mass-move-in dates arrive, try to remember that even the most organized, experienced Turn planners will still encounter issues—but they are successful because they continue to follow through with their plans and commitments, even when difficulties arise. And that is exactly what you must do.

For example:

  • If you tell vendors that they need to complete a certain list of tasks before the move-in date arrives, inspect each unit to ensure all of your needs were met.
  • If you tell your employees that they will have ample break or relaxation time to destress throughout the week, honor that promise.
  • If you tell a parent that repairs will occur in their child's living space, make sure the maintenance work is documented, scheduled, and completed promptly.
  • And if you communicate that move-in day will be exciting, fun, and painless—ensure that it feels that way for everyone.

Expert Tip 6. Though Turn can be stressful, it can also be a festive and positive experience—if you make it that way. You can have some low-budget games, activities, and perks. Or you can get a little fancier and provide catered meals, spa treatments for staff members, and a hired DJ or musician. The sky's the limit (just try to remember to budget for the "experience" expense).

Take Time to Reflect

After Turn has officially passed, you and your team members may want to take a long, well-deserved break. But while the events of Turn are still fresh in your mind, it would be wise to discuss how things went.

Start by asking the following questions.

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • What went well?
  • What did not go well?
  • Did some properties perform better than others? If so, why?
  • Did our tech solutions help us? If not, is there a better solution?
  • What should we change next time?

Document your takeaways, work the improvements into next year's strategy, then continue forward with Turn preparation...and your break.

Expert Tip 7. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback from everyone involved. That means parents, students, vendors, staff, and community members. Doing so can establish trust and minimize the chance of repeated mistakes.

Lighten the Load

Lastly, don't make Turn any harder on yourself or your team than it already is. There are so many applications, support systems, and outsourced teams that are waiting to assist you with everything from utility expense management to vendor management. Find them, use them, and start lightening the load to ease your Turn climb.

 

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