Last month, Mike Peter made his annual trip back to his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, to help new students move in. Back in the '80s, Peter was a resident assistant at UW, and he reminisced with fellow Badger alums moving their sons and daughters into the same student housing complex they had lived in as undergrads. Asked why he was there to lend a hand with the boxes and books and lava lamps, Peter replied, “I’m the CEO of Campus Advantage, and we manage this property, along with properties at 36 other universities in 21 states.”

While the white glove move-in touch was undoubtedly a surprise to his new UW clients, the fact that legacy students are also becoming legacy renters at student housing properties doesn't shock Peter. Overwhelmingly, residents at off-campus student housing properties are hearing about their eventual communities via word-of-mouth, viral marketing from friends, other students, and yes, even their parents. “People want their children to experience the great experience they had [in college], and often, that includes living in the same building, in addition to attending the same school,” Peters says. “It’s not that unusual of an occurrence for parents to bring their kids back to where they lived as a student."

In the Know
Certainly the 411 on great housing digs isn’t coming from university housing offices. According to a survey of nearly 4,000 parents with kids in college conducted this fall by Houston-based J Turner Research, only 9.6 percent of prospective student residents are directed to properties by an on-campus student housing office, compared with 21.6 percent who hear about communities from friends; 53.1 percent who hone in on comments from other students; and another 14.5 percent who simply report a generic word-of-mouth sourcing of where their kids eventually pack in for the semester.  

“Word-of-mouth is predominantly the No. 1 means of community marketing in student housing,” Peter says. “Secondary to that is the use of the Internet and social networking. All of our properties have their own social networking sites that have followings to varying degrees, but far and away, the leads are from current residents telling friends and family about the good experience they have living at a particular property.”

On Their Own
Although students seem to want to cozy up with friends who unabashedly promote the residence life component of their property, the days of bunking up as study buddies in a single room seem to be coming to a close, particularly at off-campus student housing. For today’s student housing resident, a shared bedroom is a little too close for comfort, and in addition to high-touch services, resident life community programming, great social areas, and high-tech amenities, student residents want a place to call their own. 

“The one bedroom with bath is certainly still the workhorse unit on college campuses these days. But in the off-campus world, the trend is for private bedroom and private bath,” Peter says. “It’s virtually the industry standard.” Indeed, survey results from J Turner show that a full 47 percent of students this year are opting for a private room in a four-unit suite with shared common areas. Another 22.9 percent of respondents say their student has their own room in a two- or three-bedroom apartment, while only 16.1 percent are doubling up in the same unit. The survey also revealed that when it came time for picking out a unit, having a private bedroom was the No. 1 reason for a final selection (56.5 percent).

In a sign that the lackadaisical attitudes of undergrads might be waning even as their demand for hot tech and privacy is on the increase, J Turner Research also found that 35 percent of students are helping their parents with the rent bill. The survey did not, however, query parents on whether their kids are still bringing home their laundry.