Boutique "Plug and Play" Student Housing

October 31, 2019 | By Jeremy White


In campus towns across the country, a perfect storm is brewing. The scarcity of available land is combining with increased enrollment numbers at expanding Tier 1 and 2 universities. Developers are eager to capitalize on the higher demand, but viable sites for traditional large-scale projects seem to be few and far between. So how can you continue building in these desirable student housing markets?

Start by rethinking your site selection strategy, and finish with an innovative product solution. 

This strategy can keep you actively building in the hottest markets, but it has additional benefits to the end user. Although thousands of beds are being delivered nationwide, recent studies show that the majority are targeting the top 5% of income levels. Smaller, prototyped buildings can bring more affordable beds to markets where the remaining 95% of consumers are currently under-served.Although many large, edge of campus sites are filling up, smaller sites are still plentiful. 


Armed with smaller, more nimble designs, developers can secure multiple small sites (.5 to 1 acre each) within close proximity of one another. Smaller, repeatable prototype buildings coupled with low-cost surface parking will enhance the combined profitability of this multiple-site approach. Boutique designs look amazing and can each yield up to 60 beds per acre.

Reducing square footage is the first step in reducing costs. Size rooms based directly on the furnishings and appliances that will actually be used in the finished unit. Plan to incorporate efficient, built-in or even movable furnishings that maximize space. As designers, we can no longer presume to know what residents will use. We have to actually ask them.


For example, one of our clients recently noticed during turnover that a large percentage of residents had never even used their ovens. Many still had instruction manuals taped inside, and others had been used for shoe storage. Spending up to $600 a unit on an appliance that rarely gets used is a questionable investment. Removing ovens represents a per-unit savings that can really start to move the affordability needle. It might seem like a bold move, but with a bit of explanation, even skeptical parents will agree that “we’ve always done it that way” doesn’t really make sense in this case.

Finally, even though the individual suite sells units, communal spaces still matter, especially to your pro forma. Simple, efficient designs will eliminate redundancies while still creating highly livable, interactive communal areas. Multiply this efficiency by constructing the same prototype building on several small lots, and you’ll multiply profitability, too.

To help our clients key in on the shifting nuances of the student housing market, designers must continue to explore solutions that can better address the challenges of affordability and speed to market within a quality communal lifestyle. The demand is there, but delivering on that demand requires flexibility and creativity to meet the lifestyle preferences of the ever-evolving student resident.

Interested in this topic? Email Jeremy White to start a conversation.