All your room are belong to us

Another year and another order of “Renew your lease now” banners and bandit signs. Ah, student housing – you have few predictable moments, but this is certainly one of them. Last year we wanted to mix it up and do something that would catch an eye because face it, no one is reading your plain text “Renew and save!” signs. They’re not, so stop lying to yourself.

So, we came up with these. I really enjoy them and was proud of the fact they had no contact info on them -they weren’t supposed to. You know where you live and you know where to go if you want to renew. The signs beg you to read them all as you’re not exactly sure what’s going on. Plus, everyone loves memes – that’s why they’re memes.


This one still sits in my office.

This one still sits in my office.

IMG_2824 IMG_2826 IMG_2821 IMG_2823

I love it. Still cracks me up a little every time.

I love it. Still cracks me up a little every time.

Deadlines are deadlines! Yeah....

Deadlines are deadlines! Yeah….

You know that feeling.

You know that feeling.

“If you build it…” …creating a Property Management company from scratch.

For the past 5 months I’ve been building a (non-affiliated) Student Housing Property Management company from scratch in Orlando, FL serving UCF and Full Sail students. Going forward I’ll be using this space to relate some of the challenges and solutions we come across in that pursuit. I guess you need a few details to understand exactly what I’m about to get into…

The asset at focus is across the street from the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!) and houses about 400+ students in an off-campus, dormitory-style setting. The community is known as CVI-Orlando, or more formally: Collegiate Village Inn. It boasts; a 6000+ Sqft restaurant/dining hall which serves about 22,000 meals each week, weekly housekeeping service, and private 24hr shuttle to Full Sail University.

this guy

I totally used to live there!

It also once housed Donovan McNabb when he played for UCF back in the late 90’s.

Cool, right? I’m excited already.

Upon arriving in October, I got to spend a few weeks with the departing Business Manager who had worked with the former partner/director for 11 years. It became clear immediately that this was an incredible opportunity. Every aspect needed updating and reworking in some way – some major overhauls, others just minor tweaks. In addition to the entire operational. marketing, and pricing overhaul we were about to undertake, the entire community was going to get a multi-million dollar face-lift. Every room, every common area, all the amenities – it all had to change, and change fast.

Two things were readily apparent: 1. The staff was dedicated to making CVI the best it could be. Many had been working here for some time and all were open to learning about industry standards and best practices. 2. The ownership cared deeply about rebuilding the community. With long ties to the property and the area, they’ve committed major dollars to setting new heights for UX (user experience) and fiscal returns.

I’ll update you regularly with pictures, policies, procedures, and the philosophies we’re employing to get the job done. If we succeed as planned, there is another CVI in Tallahassee that’s presently awaiting the same system. We’re building something great here and it’s going to be the start of something very big – both for the Residents and the staff alike.

I leave you with our new Mission Statement as it’s absolutely vital to everything we’re doing and everything I’m going to be talking about. Till next week!


What you need to know before signing your lease!

Congratulations! You’re an adult! Crazy, right? You get to vote; buy tobacco (though you really shouldn’t), and play the lottery (really, don’t – keep your money). Oh yeah, you also get to make legally binding agreements. Hurray!

There are a handful of basic things you should know and look for before you (and your roommates?) decide to sign on the line that is dotted. Trust me, we’ll make it brief and to the point…

Know what you're doing before you sign it!

Know what you're doing before you sign any contract!

First overall tip: Read the whole lease!
“Ugh, it’s so long and boring!” I know. But this isn’t the terms and conditions of use for your itunes account. This stuff is real right here! So get a pad and look for the answers to these questions before you sign.

1. What are the dates of move-in/move-out?
Are they going to work for you? Are they what you agreed to? Are you planning on attending summer school? If so, most student leases end prior to the completion of the summer term. Make sure you’re cool with that or you feel reasonably comfortable moving in the middle of finals!
2. Monthly rental rate? Annual Sum add up correctly?
Again, make sure these numbers are correct and if there was any special offered (like a month free or an iPad) that you have an addendum to the lease that clearly states the conditions of the special and how it will be redeemed. Many “specials” are billed back to you should you fail to fulfill the terms of the lease.
3. What are the late fees and when is the rent due without penalty?
What is the policy on mailing a check in? Most places don’t care when the post mark is, only when it arrives. Additionally, many have steep late fees of up to $180 a month (adding up per day) which they’re not inclined to waive, regardless the excuse! If the grace period for rent is up on the 3rd, they often won’t accept it on the 4th without the fee attached! No one plans on being late, but it’s better to know the policy before you wind up in a jam.
4. How do you terminate the lease? Can you? Errrr….
This is a biggy! More often than not, there is no option to terminate the lease – other than subleasing the unit, for which you’re responsible for finding the person to take over your lease. Don’t take the Agent’s word for it, it’s not as easy to do as it is often made out to be! If it were, the Community would be inclined to do it for you at great financial reward to themselves. This can happen from time to time, but is incredibly rare in the student housing market.
5. Can you cancel your lease if you: Feel unsafe? Fight with your roommate? Get kicked out of school? Have a medical issue?
The answer is virtually always “NO!” If someone tells you otherwise, ask to see where it states the provision in writing and what the requirements for documentation are. Guess what? There won’t be as Apartment communities aren’t in the business of losing paying Residents mid-year when they can’t likely fill the unit. It’s not that they’re careless, they just have to be consistent. And if they’re going to be consistent, they’re going to err on the side of fiscal caution.

6. But seriously, I have an allergy and my roommate’s BF is a creeper who’s always here and I’m failing ENC1102.

Again, unless you have a specific addendum or agreement in writing releasing you, your odds aren’t good.

7. What are your options for transferring units should you hate your roommate?
Look over the transfer options and make sure you understand what the proceedure is should you have a falling out with your roommates or desire a change of sceneary, mid-lease term. Some companies offer a no-questions-asked transfer for a fee of $100-$300, or more.
8. Exactly what utilities are included?
Most “By-the-bed” student communities are all-inclusive: Cable, Internet, Power, Water, Furniture, etc… generally speaking, there is a cap on electricity per room and any overages are divided amongst the roommates. Know what this amount is and call the utility provider to get an average monthly usage for that address to help gauge what to expect. Actual usage of $45-60 per room seems to be a solid average if you don’t have the specifics for that address. Also, if internet is provided, make sure you know in what form and if bandwidth is capped at a certain amount. Wi-fi or LAN connection? One port for everyone or does each room have it’s own?
9. Damages and deposits?
Most by-the-bed leases hold the Resident responsible for damages to their own room and for an equal share of the common area (living room/kitchet, etc…) unless otherwise stated. If your roommates throw a party while you’re in Spain for the summer and wind up torching the couch, you’ll owe on it. Many communities will allow damages to be placaed on individual parties if they claim responsibility in writting for it, though you’ll want to be sure.
10. Did you pay a deposit? Doubt it!
Due to the administrative deluge that is student housing, many companies are forgoing traditional deposits in lieu of one-time “reservation” or “administrative fee” in addition to an application fee. These are usually $99-250 (per person!) and are non-refundable. Make sure you know what fees you’re paying up front and make sure you get and keep the receipt.

Go forth eager student and sign thy lease! But before you do, know full well that I’m not an attorney. Not even close, in fact. I look great in a suit – granted. But that’s about where it ends. If you have ACTUAL legal questions, find a contract lawyer and ask them to look it over. This post is only general, FAQ-type stuff and solid advice for the lay person.

RoommateFit, LLC offers “eharmony for roommates?” Hipsters & Cowboys cheer?

This guy is doing it!

Justin Mares is attempting to sell his RoommateFit Software to College Campuses for their Housing Operations

eHarmony for College Dorms?

Justin Mares today announced his new roommate matching software “RoommateFit” which he’s pitching to college campuses to aid in their dorm room assignments. The University of Pittsburgh Business student’s system will ask 42 questions, covering 6 distinct traits, in order to better match like-minded students with one another.

I recall talking with a co-worker in 2001 while working at a large, all-inclusive, student community here in Gainesville who realized the need for exactly such software. “So wait, you mean there’s no such thing as 3rd party roommate matching software out there for college communities?”, he asked me incredulously. “Not really” I said, “most people make their own proprietary system but the whole thing takes a back seat to other business aspects of the operation.” He resolved right then and there to make the first, one-size-fits-all roommate matching software for college campuses and stand-alone communities.

It’s been a decade and I haven’t heard tell of him, or his software, yet.

And that’s probably because it’s not as easy a thing to do as one may initially think. What really matters when matching roommates? It’s not like they’re dating… they just need to do a bit better than not kill each other. So, preferred bedtimes are the big deal? Drinking? Hobbies? Majors? Affiliations like Sororities or clubs? Music choices? How’s the hipster vegan from NYC going to get along with the Agriculture major from Texas who believes Bacon isn’t just a food group but a full-blown religion?

So much more common than you think

Passive-agressive Post-it notes are a staple in student apartments - like Ramen noodles and mini-fridges.

How do you correctly weight the answers to these questions and which factors hide the buried fault lines of potential friendship or ever-lasting war? That’s the problem most campuses and Property Management groups have when it comes to finding “Martin” his new “Lewis.”

If you’re a new college student and are getting an assigned roommate I have a sobering truth for you: That ‘random roommate’ is way more RANDOM than you may actually think.

Many times, and due to the actual calamity of placing/assigning units and coordinating dates/furniture/vendors, etc… roommate matching can, and is often, done based entirely on gender alone: “I got a single guy here for a 4/4, you have a space open with three other guys?” says the Leasing Manager to the Property Manager – “Yeah, done and done. Placed in 1010B, next?”More on this exact process later…

This is where Mares’ software really becomes appealing; if you can sort people to be placed together based on similar interests, reduce immediate roommate conflicts, and speed up the process so the office staff is free to focus on preparing your unit correctly for move-in, everyone wins.

The big question remaining to be seen is this: Will Mares’ system create better matches than random assignment? Significantly better as to justify the cost of his annual service? And how do you even measure such a thing? What’s a successful placement? Is this system better than letting students find their own roommates on Facebook?

Those questions are why most groups don’t see money in attempting to ensure roommates hit it off… “random” or limited review of roommate preferences has worked thus far, therefore, why spend the money?

USF Allows Transgender Student Housing. Will Apartments Follow?

University of South Florida in Tampa announced last week that (for purposes of dorm placement – roommate matching) they’d allow transgender students to indicate themselves as such – as opposed to having to select between male/female while they may be transitioning from one to the other.

Regardless of you how you may personally feel about the issue, this is yet one more example of how much things have changed since these students’ parents were in college – and not for the worse either. Prosperity and technology provide us with options, and that’s nowhere more apparent in college than in the myriad of living arrangements available to all students.

While USF leads a relatively small contingency of schools in the move to optional co-ed and transgender dorms, most student apartment communities in Florida don’t get involved in such sensitive issues as sexual preference or sexual identity. Some don’t even allow co-ed living unless all roommates agree to it and sign their leases at the same time. Further, some communities (like Gainesville, FL) have even passed local ordinances to add protections from discrimination such as sexual preference and sexual identity in areas of employment and housing.This means a student community that allows an applicant to self-describe as to either of those categories opens the door for a potential suit in the event the student ever feels discriminated against. All that equals is risk and if you can count on anything it’s business avoiding unnecessary risk.

Unlike on-campus living, parents do have more control in an off-campus apartment situation simply for the fact that they have to typically provide a “guarantor form” before their child can be approved for a lease. Withholding this document (like the car keys in high school) allows mom & dad to wield the power many parents feel should rightfully be theirs – final say whenever money is being spent. However, once the form is signed the lease IS in the student’s name and mom & dad fall into the role of silent partners on the deal. More on these forms later…

No doubt that USF’s inventory of 5500 dorm rooms leads as much to their present decision as a desire to be a progressive leader among Florida Colleges. While most student housing communities max out at around 1000 beds, you can bet that most will avoid the sexual identity issue until it is past “mainstream” due to fears of Fair Housing issues and simply not wanting another complication in their already byzantine roommate matching processes.

What are your thoughts? Should students be permitted to check a box if they didn’t want to live with a self-described “transgender” student? Do you think they should be informed ahead of time if randomly placed with one? Should College dorms and/or Student apartment communities be involved in any housing placements other than same-sex, with exception to siblings?

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