Katy Smerko: Surviving Move-In — First impressions and having fun

A few time-tested tips for pulling off one of the hardest feats in the industry.

Katy Smerko

Move-in season is a rite of passage for many people who are new to the student housing industry. It’s also what separates student housing from conventional multifamily housing. Move-in typically occurs in mid to late August and is the time of year when student housing managers around the nation welcome—often in one day—more residents to their new home than the typical apartment community sees in an entire year.

It’s also the one time of year when student residents and their parents descend on student housing communities at the same time. This makes move-in critical for creating good first impressions that can lead to renewals at the end of the year

I’ve lived through many move-ins throughout my 12-year career in student housing and have come up with my list of the top five tips for a successful move-in that I share with my own staff as we prepare for move-in.

Make sure you are organized: Have all of your stations ready to go before move-in day and make sure you have a system for moving residents through the stations. The faster they get through the process, the happier they will be. No one likes to wait in line.

Make sure you have COLD beverages and lots of snacks: Most move-ins will occur during hot weather — really hot weather. Have plenty of cold drinks. Fill coolers up the night before, so you are not rushing in the morning. People also will be hungry, so have a variety of snacks to keep them happy. One trick is to fill a wagon with ice and cold drinks and pull it around the property on move-in day. Your residents and guests will appreciate the small gesture.

Make sure keys and electronic gate/door codes work: Before move-in, walk all of your move-in units to check that the keys are cut, that they work and that they have been put into packets. Also, test all gate and door codes. Your move-in will go south quickly if people are waiting outside of units or locked gates because keys or codes don’t work properly.

Set the stage for community activities: Move-in is the one time of year when you often have a captive audience of both the students and their parents, so show off your residence life program(s). Display photos of your property’s past residence life events. Proudly display event scrapbooks and residence life calendars so parents see the types of activities offered and so residents can mark their own calendars and plan to attend. Also, encourage residents and parents to “like” your social media pages.

Most importantly, make it FUN!: This is the day you have worked hard for all leasing season. Play music in the office, grill by the pool, decorate your office, hire a local disc jockey to play music. Take advantage of all of your property’s promotional items and consider stocking up on even more before move-in day. I have seen balloon arches, custom cakes, decked-out golf carts…just be creative. Ask vendors to participate in your move-in as well. They will often bring free food, and who doesn’t love that!   

All of these tips focus on residents and parents. If you’re a manager, don’t forget to take care of your staff. Move-in is probably the most stressful day (or days) your staff will face all year, so make it fun for them, too. Turn it into a day of team building and of having fun as a staff to survive the insanity for which move-in is known. Residents will pick up on your staff’s enthusiasm.

Also approach move-in with an extra dose of patience. Your staff will look to you as the calm in the center of the storm. Provide that leadership, and the day will go that much better for everyone.

Finally, be glad that move-in only happens once a year. Once it’s over, you have 364 days to come up with new ideas to make next year’s even better.

Katy Smerko is national director of marketing and leasing for Campus Advantage, which is a leading student housing company based in Austin, Texas. 

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