Austin, Texas — The 7th annual InterFace Student Housing Conference took place last week, featuring two days of networking and educational sessions from thought leaders across all facets of the industry.
The conference kicked off April 8 on the third floor of the JW Marriott in downtown Austin. The record-breaking number of attendees networked, discussed and dined over topics that spanned the current level of supply in student housing, how to address rising construction and labor costs, funding of projects, as well as how to lease up efficiently and when to tackle rent growth.
The conference’s panel sessions got underway the morning of April 9 with a consortium of CEOs from the industry’s top companies in a “Power Panel” to discuss anything and everything student housing. Moderator Peter Katz, senior vice president of investments of Institutional Property Advisors, began by noting the greater interest in investment by institutional lenders of the student housing niche in multifamily real estate. Bill Bayless, president and CEO of American Campus Communities, pointed out that investors are impressed by the industry’s stability of cash flow, incredible growth opportunities present and great defensiveness through the recession. In the same panel, CEO and managing partner of Kayne Anderson Real Estate Advisors Al Rabil remarked on the “desperate search for yield” from which student housing has benefited. Randy Churchey, president and CEO of EdR, added that investors have been impressed by the modernization of assets, calling them “institutional quality,” as well as the fact there have now been two public companies focused on student housing for a decade. “We now have 10 years of great data to show a real track record in the industry that is not volatile,” said Churchey.
Many of the panel participants agreed that the student housing niche, to use a baseball reference in the sport’s just-beginning season, is currently in the fifth or sixth inning. If anything, Bronstein said, “it’s harder today because students and parents have now seen 20 years of institutional buildings.”
After a brief break for attendees to network with colleagues and potential partners, attendees moved to a general session panel that touched on the current development boom. When selecting a site, Wes Rogers, president and CEO of Athens, Georgia-based Landmark Properties, said that his top criteria is whether the property is pedestrian-accessible to campus, has product differentiation and has submarket barriers to entry. “A lot of it is trying to solve for high land price with high rents,” he said. “If we can’t solve it, we just pass on those deals.” For Rogers, “we’re in pretty good shape as long as we can meet our investment criteria,” — a 7 percent development yield. Brian Dinerstein, president of the Dinerstein Cos., wants to offer students a good price point and a good product.
After a luncheon that found attendees catching up, discussing deals and meeting new potential partners, a general session in the JW Marriott’s Lone Star Ballroom brought together several heads of companies to discuss “The Current State of the Student Housing Industry and the Outlook for 2015 and Beyond,” moderated by Dorothy Jackman, head of the student housing practice at Colliers International.Donna Preiss, founder and CEO of The Preiss Co., noted that at her properties, 70 percent of rent payments are now paid via the Internet, and students are much more satisfied because of it. She has seen an increase in international students, full-time students, minority students and that students are staying in school longer than ever before.Nathan Collier, founder of The Collier Cos., remarked that after health care, the education sector is seeing the second highest amount of growth of any sector. “How do we capture the needs of a growing graduate student population?” he asked. Mike Peter, president and CEO of Campus Advantage, spoke to that, commenting that, “We try to target graduate students whenever we can, because they are very committed to their programs for three or four years and don’t spend much time on the property, especially medical students,” he said.
Later, Student Housing Business presented its Innovator Awards to companies for excellence in student housing development. More than 75 judges voted on more than 125 entries for the 22 awards. American Campus Communities was the biggest winner of the night, receiving eight awards, including several for its project Chestnut Square at Drexel University. Kayne Anderson Real Estate Advisors received the award for Most Creative Financing for its $816 million portfolio refinance with Freddie Mac. CORE Campus LLC won the award for the Best New Off-Campus Development of More than 300 Beds for its Hub at Tucson project.
The conference continued the morning of April 10 with more panel sessions and networking. The 7th annual InterFace Student Housing Conference brought together student housing developers, contractors, managers, operators, industry suppliers and more, and gave them a platform to discuss and learn about a robust industry that is in a state that some have compared to a “perfect storm.” Student Housing Business would like to thank our attendees, sponsors, speakers and moderators for making InterFace Student Housing 2015 a resounding success.