Student housing market spins up for a busy summer as studies wind down

Worn out sofas litter boulevards, and U-Haul trucks crowd driveways and city lanes. Cars weighed down by mattresses weave in and out of traffic, and university towns across the province grow a little quieter… at least for a few months.

Certain sights are an indication of the changing of seasons, as sure as the onset of the spring rain itself.

Yes – it’s April, and the annual exodus of undergraduate students from the City of London will be well underway by the time exams wrap up at month’s end.

A summertime without students means a more peaceful season for most Londoners, but for Realtors who specialize in the student housing market the busiest time of year is just getting underway.

“Towards the end of April and into the beginning of May is when we usually see a lot more activity on the selling end of things,” says 26 year old Erik Erwin, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Peter Benninger Realty in Kitchener, Ont.

Erwin is a relative newcomer to the real estate business, but in the past year he’s rapidly carved out a niche for himself in Waterloo’s busy student housing market, where trends in seasonal activity closely reflect those found here in London.

At an institution as large as Western University, where the undergraduate student population rounds out above 30,000, not all students can hope to find suitable on-campus housing. As a result, most seek lodgings beyond the bounds of the campus and in parts of the city dominated by student rentals.

While it’s understandable that students living on a tight budget will always seek cheap accommodations, the monthly rent they pay to landlords can be governed by a wide range of factors, Erwin says.

“For property owners, the bottom line is always cash flow. This can be influenced by all sorts of circumstances… but location is always key. The closer you’re living to campus or transit hubs, the more you’re going to be asked to pay.”

“But this also really depends on the investor,” Erwin continues. “Some people are looking for a turnkey property, while others look for properties where value can be added, and rent increased down the line. So that could be something as simple as new flooring or paint, or as big as a wholesale demolition and rebuild or redevelopment. It all depends on the investor’s goals.”

Erwin defines a “turnkey” property as a rental where minimal work is required on behalf of the landlord before the house can be leased out. Typically, turnkey properties are the most cost-effective option for students looking to live off-campus. But if a new investor purchases a property with the aim of remodeling and boosting property value, students will be paying a lot more for nicer digs.

“At least in our market at this time of year, being able to find a fully-tenanted student lodging house as a buyer is a major bonus,” says Erwin. “But that’s why things are so busy for agents like me. New investors are constantly looking to get into the market, and university towns will always be great targets for landlords. Students might move on after three or four years, but more will always be back to fill those vacancies.”

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