ROI of Shared Mega Amenities in Student Living

Mega Amenities: Ultimate Student Housing Selling Point or Underutilized Space?

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Nothing quite sells a student living community like a mega amenity… Right? After all, few things present the “wow factor” to potential residents like an on-site coffee bar, lounge area, or clubhouse. Maybe it’s the first thing a student sees when they decide to tour your community. Maybe it’s the final element in your close. Either way, these spaces are and will always be considered a big draw for student living communities.

Right?

Maybe.

Student needs and preferences are changing. Generation Alpha will begin attending college by the end of the decade. The fallout of the pandemic has gotten people used to having a lot of personal space.

Following recent articles highlighting student housing trends and lessons from Fall Turn 2022, we’re changing our focus to the student housing experience—and what to look for in coming years.

What will students (and parents) want? How will accommodations change? How should developers, architects, and designers adapt? We hope to discuss this and more below.

Are Developers Trading ROI for WOW?

Amenities are great at closing the deal. They’re going to wow a student. But knowing this, there are two things to remember: First, you’re baking in the cost of these amenities into the deal. Second, the students usually aren’t the ones paying. A parent may gladly sign a check for personal space or upgraded apartments, but a rock wall might not seem as appealing.

While many developers will sell students a fun, tight-knit community that gathers every Friday for open mic night, most will admit that these elaborate spaces are little more than a gimmick.

Worse, after a few years, most of these are devoid of life. At least that’s what the team over at BSB Design has seen, noting that

“[…] developers will confess that the majority of the amenity space is really an elaborate and expensive sales gimmick that takes away from the ROI (Return on Investment). Visit any purpose-built student housing project more than a couple years old, and you’ll see why…vacant lounges…empty café areas…no one in the pool! It’s as if the “cool factor” wore off before the ink dried on their lease agreements.”

Rethinking Spaces

This isn’t to say that mega amenities are completely passe. When well-planned, built, and installed, these significant investments can pay off for on-campus and off-campus players. But regardless, it’s worth considering alternatives or additions.

Here are just a few things for developers to consider offering instead of (or in addition to) mega amenities.

A Unit for Every Taste (and Budget)

The era of “one size fits all” is gone. For many students, sharing an apartment with four other people might sound dreadful. For others, it might be the best. Some want privacy, some want to be social. Students are unique—and developers need to plan accordingly.

For off-campus apartment providers, bed/bath parity may be the best way to sell a junior or senior on a space. A recent study found that 76% of students will prioritize a space with access to their own bedroom—and would pay $123 more to get it.

Additionally, it’s not just the number of roommates. Many students will take in-apartment amenities over shared ones—and will be happy to allocate their housing budget to get them. To put it in context, nearly one in five students pay upwards of $1,000 per month, according to Multifamily Executive.

How Core Spaces Delivers Diverse Room Options for Success

In fact, these are the kind of amenities that Core Spaces has offered—to great success. Offering a wide range of shared amenities, they add to this with a variety of room upgrade options.

Want an apartment with a hot tub? It’s an option. Want something a bit more approachable? Their studios with Murphy Beds might be a bit better. From micro-housing to maximum luxury, just remember the line, “If you build it, they will come.”

This diversity of housing options is one of the main reasons the developer remains successful and continues to grow.

Cater to Individuality, Support Passions

The idea of community has continued to get more and more granular. When many of us were in college, clubs were reasonably diverse. But nowhere near what they are today. For this generation of students, there’s a podcast, TikTok hashtag, or Discord group for everything imaginable.

And this is what makes the mega amenity less impressive to the new generation—its goal is to be everything to everyone. Alternatively, there are ways to elevate the living experience—and offer unique selling points to potential residents.

Instead of designing a massive space tailor a variety of unique experiences to groups of residents. Something like a podcast recording space or well-apportioned area to livestream games could go further than a traditional space. Encourage table gaming with dedicated variations of study rooms. Offer unique fitness options that the school doesn’t offer.

Ultimately, it pays to figure out what people might want—rather than push what you think they want on everyone.

Services Are Key

For off-campus (or even on-campus) living environments, many students would take access to services over mega amenities any day. Whether those services are built around security and peace of mind, convenience, or professional development, housing facilities can cater to their needs.

Consider adding a touchless Amazon delivery space that reduces package theft and front desk interaction. National players could partner with streaming services to offer free streaming as part of the lease. Shuttle services on weekends, professional headshots, or even monthly TED-style talks could help students get more from their lease.

Study Spaces: Quantity Meets Quality

Nearly anyone who’s been to college has watched the sun rise through a library window at least once. But often, it’s because there weren’t exactly other options. Off-campus living communities can provide residents with a better option than the sterile and distraction-filled spaces in dorms or libraries.

And this is why it pays to cater to the way students study. High-speed Wi-Fi is a necessity. But outside of that, it pays to get creative. Think of study spaces less as study spaces—and more like coworking spaces.

Some people work best without distractions. Others are fine—and may even thrive—in a collaborative environment.

Mixed-Use

Perhaps the biggest drawback of the mega amenity is the lack of ROI. Especially if the space doesn’t get used, mega amenities serve as little more than a place you have to maintain. But if you build with the intention of leasing to businesses as well, you can provide amenities—and profit.

In fact, according to the National Apartment Association, mixed-use student housing communities are the ideal option for developers. Not only does it deliver on the sense of community that a mega amenity tried to deliver, it provides for things students would otherwise leave the property to get. According to NAAHQ,

“By nature, mixed-use projects are perfectly suited to student housing, because students – especially the current Gen Z generation – desire to have the world at their fingertips and be in the middle of the action. […] Additionally, student housing also brings a large population that is comprised overwhelmingly of those in the same age demographic, with similar habits, to a single location, making the selection of other product types a straightforward process and attracting commercial residents who recognize these unique demand drivers.”

Naturally, this might not be for every space. A mixed use space might concern parents worried about security. The decision to offer space for a bar tenant might add unnecessary noise and light. But when done right, like at Hub Champaign Daniel, the results are astounding.

Bonus: Take Mixed-Use Further with a Pop-Up Space

While a first floor Starbucks, convenience store, or bar might be a welcome addition to any student living community, a unique way to connect with the community at large is to offer a space for pop-up shops. Instead of one tenant providing the same thing every day, a pop-up could deliver a unique experience every month.

From art galleries to apparel shops, leaving a retail or restaurant space open for short-term rental could keep your community in the spotlight all year round—even during the summer.

At Morgan Li, We’re Building Better Spaces

As one of the fastest growing manufacturers of hospitality-grade furniture for the student living space, we’re proud to support developers, architects, and more.

From the bedroom to the bathroom, kitchen to living room—and even shared spaces, our custom casegoods, furniture, and more can transform a space and create an unforgettable experience. 2022 was our biggest year in student housing so far following the grand opening of ōLiv Auburn and Hub Tampa, two projects totaling more than 1,700 beds.

Paired with previous successes at student apartments near USC, University of Illinois, and Temple University, and we’re continuing to get the job done on time and on budget. Get to know more about our expertise and get in touch when you want a student housing furniture partner who does more.

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