Real Estate News

Today's college students want comforts of home

LOS ANGELES -- At apartment complexes near college campuses across the country, gym-tan-laundry is just the beginning.

Consider West 27th Place, an upmarket complex near University of Southern California. From the fountains, landscaping and custom outdoor light fixtures to the granite countertops and big-screen HD television sets in every unit, this is luxury for students. There also are televisions in the well-appointed gym, along with a professional-grade Sundazzler -- a walk-in tanning booth that resembles a science-fiction movie prop.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries is building an outlet on the ground floor. Other restaurants are set to follow.

Making margaritas? The kitchens include ice makers. Revelry can spill over to the billiard room, swimming pool and a hot tub that is supposed to hold five people.

"It's usually either two or 10" in the tub, quipped David Hilliard of Symphony Development, the owner of the complex.

Sound deadening doors and windows seal tightly to keep out traffic noise. That's not to say the place is always quiet -- it is student housing, after all.

In Beaufort and near the University of South Carolina Beaufort's New River Campus and Technical College of the Lowcountry, apartment complexes compete to attract students as renters. For example, Ashton Pointe on Robert Smalls Parkway in Beaufort, has a zero-entry pool with grilling area, Internet cafe and a cutting edge fitness center with speed bag. The complex also has a game room with air hockey and card/game table, billiards, foosball, a DVD library and a tanning salon.

Those who remember college housing as spartan dormitories or crowded cracker box apartments might be seized with envy -- or the urge to give denizens of luxury student housing a sermon on how spoiled they are. Get over it. Students today expect more from their college experience, including all the comforts of Mom and Dad's sumptuous home, according to developers who are rushing to fill the growing demand for deluxe digs.

At the University of California-Riverside, the year-old Camino del Sol complex on campus boasts a 24-hour fitness center, billiards, a hot tub, barbecues and a resort-style pool with a sun deck and cabanas. University Gateway, which opened last year just outside the University of Southern California, is "almost like a youth-oriented luxury hotel," said developer Dan Rosenfeld.

"It's a national trend," he said. "There is competition among schools, and to attract students, universities have to provide a competitively attractive student environment."

The $55 million West 27th Place complex is a model for off campus housing, said Henry Cisneros, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary who is now executive chairman of CityView, the Los Angeles investment firm that helped fund the project.

With tuition at some universities topping $40,000 a year, students want housing that meets their refined tastes. Old dormitories are being refurbished and new units that house fewer students are being built to the latest environmental standards.

"Students come on campus tours and want to know where they are going to live; where they will work out, where they will sit with their friends," said Kristina Raspe, who is in charge of real estate development at USC. "The cinder block dorms I lived in do not meet current demands."

Some student-oriented apartment complexes have study rooms on each floor, a room to park many bicycles, hardwiring for the Internet and satellite TV, plus in-room and communal Wi-Fi. Recreation areas sometimes include a club room with a pool table and a big-screen television where management will host game-day parties. If a resident gets sick, some management companies will deliver a get-well package with chicken soup and ginger ale.

It doesn't come cheaply, of course. For example, one-bedroom unit at West 27th Place, which can house two students, might cost more than $2,500 a month. A four-bedroom, two-bath unit shared by eight students starts at $680 apiece, or more than $5,400. Parking is extra at $150 a month.

In Beaufort County, apartments near campus are less expensive. At Courtney Bend at New River, where many USCB students live, a two bedroom apartment starts at $920. The complex has a resort-style pool, tanning and a club room with pool table.

In two bedroom units, two bathrooms are desirable.

"Most of us (university students) live with at least one roommate, to save money," said Carolyn Weis, 20, a sophomore education major who lives in an apartment complex in Bluffton. "But I definitely want my own bathroom."

On campus at USCB's New River Campus, the Palmetto Village student apartments are new, furnished and filled with modern amenities, including wireless high-speed Internet, cable TV, washer and dryer, dishwasher and microwave, and on-site parking. Students can share a room or have their own bedroom; bathrooms are shared. The apartments cost $4,750 to $6,350 per student for the academic year from August through the beginning of May. Students who live in Palmetto Village are required to purchase a meal plan, according to the university's website.

With much of the nation's student residences dating to the baby boom era, housing for their children will grow in importance as expectations and tuition fees rise, said University Gateway developer Rosenfeld.

"Given what college costs today," he said, "a lot of kids and parents are expecting more than a camp-out."

Staff writer Carol Weir contributed to this report.