The Future is the Smalls at Smaller Colleges
BMOC, Inc. recently represented at the National Apartment Association Student housing conference, Campus Connect, about “smalls”. BMOC has been focused on this market segment for over 25 years. We define a small as a student housing community with 500 beds or less. This segment is not popular with the huge firms or REITS because the old quote is “it takes as much work to manage or build 1,000 beds as it does 250 beds.” It is obvious where the money is.
Our firm has had interest in this market and entered this market based on that philosophy. We understand how to budget, market and staff a small community. For those of you thinking about building a small, they fit on land that might be directly across the street from a college or on the campus. We work in some large markets and the large firms are exhausting themselves with concessions and “how low can they go” in pricing. The small traditional communities have the market to the themselves or compete with small local houses.
Why a Small
Why a small in a small market? Students make choices to attend a smaller college or university based on many reasons. Particular majors, or to seek a small school atmosphere where you may know most students, close to home, economics and ability to apply and meet their requirements or they come from a smaller town and they be a first generation to college. What they have in common with all other students is a college lifestyle and atmosphere. In small markets, their choices are run down houses or older nice homes that the owner may still live in the building. We enter the small market and build purpose-built communities and provide a similar experience that they would get at the big college in that state.
A great deal of the smaller colleges and university do not have housing and may not have any of the infrastructure to serve the after-hour students. We provide a residential life model based on the number of students in the community. We build newer buildings with common space for student interaction with the latest cameras and safety equipment. We have events each week from building wide to just floor centric. There is always an event that you could attend that would spark your interest. Smaller schools provide a great deal of student activities and, because we work with them and do not compete with them, we incorporate the colleges events into our calendar. We interweave our programming into the design of the community and the college.
Smalls do not waste money on lazy rivers, ice rinks, indoor driving ranges or spa sized work out facilities. We focus on academic achievement. The market we serve is not seeking a resort atmosphere, they are looking for an education. The students and their parents want the full advantage of academic success and not hot tub parties. We have a three-room academic model that is successful. We have small collaborative rooms that have a small four top table with a 42“ TV with Bluetooth. Students can share homework or projects with a few students that are in their class. The next is a group study room. This room can hold 15 people with a 75” TV on the wall to share information through Bluetooth. This also can be used for students in student organizations. We are accessible after traditional hours and we even have student governments use the rooms because of the latest Bluetooth and wireless capabilities. Then there is the classroom. This is for living learning, campus meetings, community meetings where we invite organizations from the community to use our faculties. In many markets we may rent the land from the county and this is a way of giving back to the community.
We also have a small gym with mostly cardio equipment and not big on weight lifting. We have a larger room as a TV theater with lounge chairs and a huge TV. In this room we also provide an Xbox and the ability to use it wirelessly to watch movies and sporting events. The last room is our multipurpose room. This room can be used for university receptions, learning, summer programs as a activity space it is normally the largest room and also has the computers and 24 hour coffee machines. If you are just outside the building we have basketball courts, volleyball courts, grilling area and fire pits where allowed. This enables the student to experience a lifestyle that would get on a much larger campus.
We follow our philosophy through to apartment design. We try and achieve a 900 square foot four-bedroom unit. Each unit has a galley kitchen with all appliances including dishwasher. We install a washer and dryer in the hallway just off the kitchen. There is one bathroom for each two bedrooms and a small living room. We are not building party palaces. We would rather the living room hold four students comfortably. We have used the extra space in a common area layout. We recently have placed Bluetooth shower heads and memory foam mattresses in as an upgrade. We have a wood floors look, spacious bathroom with showers. We do build some two bedrooms that are laid out like two studios. They rent quickly and we can get a premium for those units, but we focus on affordability. We try to stay around $600 to $700 a bed per month. Students pay their own utilities and cable.
In my next article I will write about the staffing, relationship with the colleges and operations of the smalls!