While online ratings and reviews matter to the multifamily industry as a whole, they take even higher precedence in the student housing sector. Due to the competitive nature of this market – a limited pool of prospects, a strict leasing window – and Generation Z’s reliance on being online all the time, reputation is a defining factor that may even have more of an influence than price.
The most recent NMHC/Kingsley study highlights the importance of online ratings and reviews to prospects across all markets. An impressive 63% of renters referenced apartment opinion sites, and 72% of those renters decided not to visit a community as a result of the reviews. That’s a significant percentage of prospects who won’t consider your communities past the research phase in their search journey.
A recent J Turner Research study, “The Evolution of Online Reputation: Do Reviews and Responses Matter?”, emphasizes the particular importance of online reputation to the student housing market. According to the study, 86% of college students say that they rely on online reviews and ratings when making a housing decision. In addition, more than half of the students surveyed stated that the star ranking of a property was one of the most influential criteria when they were evaluating review content. Those all-important stars matter more to students than the number, sentiment, or frequency of reviews for a property.
The student housing market has seen a push toward higher-end housing – complete with luxury amenities – as a way to attract renters over the past few years. However, the student population didn’t take the bait. According to a November 2017 BisNow article, “The purpose of college to [Generation Z] is to get the degree and get to a job. That means study lounges and private space are at a premium rather than upscale gyms and rooftop pools.” Prospects are looking beyond amenities and beyond price, and they may instead be reliant on the opinions of others to help them make a final decision and move from research to lease. No matter how upscale the property, its online reputation still must be managed carefully.
Because online reputation is so important to student housing, proactive management is critical. This requires keeping an eye on online review sites and social media pages and responding professionally to each comment and review. It also means you may want to consider proactively surveying residents to uncover concerns and issues. It may be easier to outsource reputation management to a reputable partner that will keep an eye on your mentions across the internet and then respond to them appropriately than to attempt to handle this with an in-house staff that has other daily tasks on their plate.
Rather than being enticed by high-end amenities, today’s student renters want their next home to have value that includes not only the cost of living but also an atmosphere that is conducive to work and study. This demographic is extremely aware of what others have to say online about your property, which means that even a handful of negative reviews can make it harder for your property to attract leads. There may be a substantial time investment required to manage your online reputation proactively, but the benefits make it worthwhile.