NAA Helps Draw Realistic Portrait of Mysterious Millennials; COOs Optimistic about 2013

Las Vegas — Several speakers and panels discuss the reality of Millennials, while executives weigh in on the present and future of student housing.

Michael WoodWEBMichael Wood of TRU speaking at the sixth annual NAA Student Housing Conference.Las Vegas — How well do you know Millennials?

 

This was a question put to the test at the sixth annual National Apartment Association (NAA) Student Housing Conference & Exposition held in Las Vegas Feb. 25-27.

 

The answer, surprisingly, was not as well as you might think.

 

Senior Vice President of youth research firm TRU Insights Michael Wood, the event's keynote speaker, shared several research-based revelations about these young people that companies including Disney, Gap, Vans and Abercrombie & Fitch rely on him to deliver.

 

Namely that a vast majority of them are seeking security, strong relationships, happiness via their careers and value versus excess, recklessness and overspending. Unlike Generation X, Wood reported, Millennials are all about school spirit, social causes and sports, versus gangs, smoking and cutting class. The market, Wood said, needs to oblige the generation these trends.

 

Wood showed two music videos during his lively presentation. The first, a scene of promiscuity and money falling from the sky in Fat Joe and Lil Wayne's "Make it Rain." The second was the more humble and self-aware post-recession hit "Thrift Shop," by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, with a video that has been viewed on YouTube more than 125 million times.

 

The takeaway is that youth isn't as wild and untamed as it once was. The recession, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the first African American president and an early understanding of global warming have created a generation that is conservative in its spending, inspired by inclusivity and diversity and more dedicated than any other group to environmentally conscientious living.

 

Wood shared data from TRU's research that was derived from 12 to 29-year-olds across the United States and from a wide range of regions, NAA opening receptionWEBThe National Apartment Association's welcome reception at the Aria resort and casino in Las Vegas was sponsored by Campus Apartments.ethnicities, income brackets and representing genders equally. The TRU studies are conducted more than once per year. The data he shared at the conference will be released in September.

 

Sixty-seven percent of 20-somethings and 63 percent of teens would prefer to have a secure life that's not exciting, over an exciting life that's not secure. As for their consumer spending, which has risen over the past few years, Wood pointed to Marni for H&M as an example of the type of product young people want to buy. The popularity of this fashion designer's clothes for bargain prices speaks to a desire for high quality at a low price point.

 

To that end, he advised those in the student housing industry that potential renters want granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, but at low and valuable prices.

 

Wood cited examples of ways in which Amazon interacts with its customers and advised student housing operators do the same. Amazon, he said, is massive, but personal; caring and trustworthy and fully transparent. The online behemoth retailer offers honest reviews of its products, points users to other sellers who might have better pricing, and frequently communicates with its customers with no intent to sell anything, such as well wishes when your football team wins a big game.

 

The same philosophies should be adapted into student housing's touch points with its renters and prospective renters as well, Wood said, presenting an organization that is totally transparent and aware of how their competitors communicate in the online/mobile world.

 

Additionally, Wood reports that Facebook is boring to young people, who these days are experiencing "Facebook fatigue." While Facebook ages, other smaller sites, such as Twitter, Instagram and tumblr are filling the void.

 

In another session, developers and architects discussed designing to millennials. Design concepts, the panel said, should be taken from resorts and hospitality influences, not by looking at other student housing properties. One panelist, Michael Augustine of The Bainbridge Companies, said his designs aspire to have sophisticated and communal spaces, like a bar or bistro, and all his projects generally contain an art gallery, which encourages student renters to care for the property more than if it has a party atmosphere.

 

Other breakout sessions addressed topics including how to turn around a distressed asset, ensuring Fair Housing compliance, designing effective turnover in student housing, serving and retaining international students, managing catastrophic loss and the state of student housing investments.

 

Tuesday's breakouts wrapped with a general session in which Student Housing Business magazine Publisher Richard Kelley talked to six of the industry's top COOs about leasing, major concerns about the industry and insights into various markets. The executives revealed oversupply to be a chief concern and shared which markets they like and in which markets they struggle in occupancy rates.

 

The answers varied. Some companies' stronger markets are another's weaker. While The Collier Companies does well in Athens, Ga., for example, Campus Apartments reported the company has had challenges compensating for their asset's distance to campus, even with a shuttle service.

 

Campus Apartments EVP and COO Miles Orth told the audience that owner-operators should teach their staff to be open and honest about a property's data, even if it seems to be unflattering, because student housing is still a niche with a dearth of accurate numbers.

 

The conference wrapped with several additional breakout sessions about social media, utility costs, using technology in maintenance routines, tools to support collections efforts and a closing session that will feature college students who participated in a detailed Facebook project conducted by TRU Insights.

 

Approximately 140 exhibitors were present, showcasing a variety of goods and services to help the student housing industry.
For updates on Twitter, follow the hash tag #NAAStudentConf.

 

— Lynn Peisner

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