For Andrew Stark and Nathaniel Fowler, principals of Timberline Real Estate Ventures, management of the company’s student housing portfolio has evolved through the years. Stark and Fowler entered the management business in 2011 with the creation of Campus Evolution Villages (CEV), which Stark had envisioned as “next level management” for student housing. Following its innovative vision to create value with student housing properties, Timberline grew rapidly. But self-managing its portfolio through CEV became overwhelming, so in 2017 Timberline created a joint venture with conventional multifamily management giant Pinnacle to operate the portfolio as Pinnacle Campus Living, effectively ending CEV.
In 2019, events transpired allowing for a new business model: a joint venture between Timberline and Des Moines, Iowa-based BH Management Services to create a new student housing management company. The venture allows Timberline to continue driving the internal and external-customer focused approach that was the fundamental principal behind Stark and Fowler’s original company vision. The resulting management entity, B.HOM Student Living, combines the multifamily operational depth of BH Management with the student housing expertise of Timberline.
“We are launching into an area of the sector that is in need,” says Stark. “We are combining our efforts as owners with a rich history in student housing with BH’s history of running hundreds of thousands of multifamily units.”
BH Companies, the parent company of BH Management Services, was founded in 1993 by Harry Bookey after he discovered the management company overseeing the multifamily properties he owned was stealing from him. As a result of that experience, he launched his own management company that has since grown to become the nation’s ninth largest multifamily management company, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. BH grew its ownership portfolio mainly by acquiring value-add properties. President and CEO Joanna Zabriskie joined the company in 2013, when BH had 45,000 units under management. The company now manages just under 100,000 units in 26 states, including the Timberline portfolio.
Currently, B.HOM’s student housing portfolio spans 16 states and 24 universities. Student properties are located coast-to-coast, from San Diego and Las Vegas to Texas and the Carolinas. Properties under management include Halo 46 near the University of South Florida in Tampa; Echo 1055 near UNLV in Las Vegas; Howe Place Apartments near Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut; and Radius on 15th near the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The company’s largest student housing assets under management are Terrapin Row, a 1,493-bed property near the University of Maryland in College Park, and Northpoint Crossing, an 1,842-bed community adjacent to Texas A&M University in College Station.
B.HOM is just finishing its first full year of operation; a year that was complicated by the company’s launch in the midst of the pandemic.
“It’s hard enough to merge cultures in a normal environment,” says Zabriskie. “Despite the pandemic getting in the way of travel and personal connection, the heart of who we are came through to employees. It is a great marriage. We spent the latter part of 2020 getting to know one another.”
The challenge for the BH side of the equation, says Zabriskie, was getting to know the student housing industry. BH has 27 years of experience operating multifamily properties. The company is an expert at managing resident data, creating efficiencies behind the scenes, and masters at creating scale for growth.
“Over the past seven years, we have really turned BH into an innovative, tech-forward platform that is ahead of the curve in multifamily management,” says Zabriskie. She cites the examples of BH using paperless office technology and virtual tours well before the age of COVID. “A lot of the technology that allowed us to be contact free was already in place across our platform.”
With B.HOM, BH is taking the information that it uses to drive decisions in the multifamily universe and its proprietary BH Fusion data visualization platform and applying those to its student housing portfolio.
“It is taking everything to a new step in the ladder for student housing,” says Stark. “There is not a lot of real-time, quality data that exists in student housing. Our BH Fusion platform creates that for us within the portfolio. Every day, we are getting smarter because we are able to rely on our own information.”
Culture is important to B.HOM and the company has made it a priority that employees — as well as residents — come first. That culture is enhanced by small rewards, like giving employees paid time off on their birthday and the BH peer-to-peer recognition platform. The company’s policies also extend to diversity and inclusion in the workplace: 60 percent of BH’s executive team and 49 percent of the company’s workforce is female, and 51 percent of BH team members are minorities.
“If we lead with taking care of our employees, our assets, investors and residents are well cared for by our team members,” says Zabriskie. B.HOM has also been able to hire a number of student housing industry veterans to aid its entry into the student housing realm.
B.HOM has helped residents throughout the pandemic, proactively reaching out to students about rental payment plans rather than waiting until residents became delinquent. In addition, they have sought to help residents by sponsoring food trucks, lunches and breakfasts for those studying at home.
“We went in empathetically with the message ‘we are here to help,’” says Zabriskie. “We wanted to provide resources and be as accommodating as we could be.”
Growing B.HOM to a larger scale by taking on third-party management clients is one of the major goals for the venture over the next few years. In 2021, the company will onboard a major portfolio of student housing properties that will significantly grow its presence in the sector. The company currently manages 13,000 beds and has contracts to assume the management of 13,000 more beds in 2021. At the end of 2021, B.HOM expects that 40 percent of its portfolio will be third-party managed properties, while 60 percent will be the Timberline portfolio.
“The company is poised for very significant growth in the first and second quarters of 2021 with new property management assignments,” says Stark. “It’s exciting for B.HOM, our team and our clients as the BH relationship helps us branch out into new areas.”
—Interview by Randall Shearin
This article was originally published in the January/February 2021 issue of Student Housing Business magazine. To subscribe, please click here.