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Written by Matthew Keller, Corporate Leasing & Marketing Coordinator​

Those who work in student housing management have said for decades “adapt, adapt, adapt.”

The student housing industry is one that has required adaptability since its origination. With everything from shifting dynamics in the academic space and our customer base’s evolving needs and desires, to shrinking turn schedules and tighter and leaner operations, it is truly a culture of its own, requiring innovation almost every day.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a proving ground for this level of adaptability and certainly tested us, and the industry as a whole, in providing a responsible, socially-distanced move-in experience that still met our standards of customer service.

We learned a lot, and are still learning. In the meantime, we wanted to share our key findings with other student housing managers in the hopes that it will be of benefit to the industry.

Tip #1: Don’t wait!

Campus Advantage approached the 2020 academic move-in with one thought in mind: “How can we continue to provide an excellent experience while maintaining safe and responsible socially-distanced protocols?” The answer turned out to be pretty simple – digitize.

Campus Advantage forecasted a modified move-in experience very early on during the COVID-19 pandemic and implemented a task force well in advance to prepare for this new environment. The task force evaluated what parts of our current process would need to be modified, based on COVID-19 safety precautions, and began early planning with these precautions in mind.

With winter 2020 move-ins just around the corner, it’s a good idea to work with your team now to identify any modifications to current safety protocols that need to be set in place.

Tip #2: Ditch the paperwork.

Before a resident moves into an apartment, there is a list of things they must complete: application, lease agreement contracts, guarantor forms, renters insurance, security deposit, pet registration, placement preference form — and the list goes on and on.

While these documents are necessary, we recommend ditching the printed forms.

With tools such as Microsoft Forms and Google Forms, most things can be digitized. If your specific process is not something that can be easily digitized or if it’s contingent on the resident (i.e., paying first rental installments) the key is to communicate. This year, Campus Advantage was able to achieve the highest level of pre-paid first installments we’ve ever experienced with any move-in. This was accomplished through a combination of digitizing our systems and coordinated email, phone and text blasts to our incoming resident pool.

Tip #3: Don’t fight the current environment.

Lean into the primary need of residents and their families during this time — safety. Move-in day proved to be of concern in this area as we looked at some properties that would require 1,000+ students and their families to be in the same place at the same time.

We adapted in multiple ways. First, we split move-in into two days in some cases. This was accomplished through an organized effort of communication to our future residents and their families far in advance. Scheduling move-ins on multiple days drastically cut down the number of people that needed to be onsite at one time.

Next, we scheduled move-ins in 15-minute intervals. By selecting a handful of students to arrive, for example, from 1:00 PM-1:15 PM, and at separate move-in stations, we could easily get that 1:1 time to introduce every resident to our community in a socially-distanced, responsible, and fun way. A lot of our communities even took this initial idea a step further and created drive-through move-in stations, all while providing the same excellent customer service and move-in experience our residents have come to expect.

Tip #4: Turn the situation into a positive and use it as an opportunity to become more efficient.

We were able to achieve next-level efficiency and utility in our standard move-in process by adapting it for 2020.

One primary example is with our move-in condition forms. The move-in condition form is traditionally one printed sheet with a list of every possible item that could be broken, dirty or missing in a unit upon move-in. This was a time-consuming process where the resident would have to check hundreds of items as either “ok” or “not ok” and then explain their reasoning. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, a lot of unit condition forms go unreturned or incomplete.

This year, Campus Advantage brought an application-based function to this process, allowing our residents to easily and quickly walk us through their unit by using their cell phone and submitting their findings. This created a rich database with hundreds of photographs available to our communities instead of having to store, sort and interpret hundreds and hundreds of handwritten forms upon move-out.

This process was not one born of necessity, as we could have just sent a .pdf version of the form, but the current situation allowed us the opportunity to improve upon our process to better serve our residents.

In Conclusion

This year has brought us all by surprise, but the need to continue to create great experiences for residents is still, most certainly, there. As many students return to their college town for hybrid learning, and as we look ahead to winter 2020 move-in, it’s up to student housing management companies to make the process as smooth as possible and help get residents excited about a new, albeit very different, academic year.