BY PAIGE FRANK
Safety in single family. Terry Shockley had a good thing going with his Eugene-based Property Management Concepts for 18 years, building it by 2007 into a seven-employee operation managing 500 single-family homes and duplexes with 2,000 beds. With the University of Oregon in his front yard, the former fast-food franchisee and real estate agency principal had opted not to wrangle student apartment renters. Eugene is the original Animal House town, after all, and who wants to get mixed up with less-than-conscientious tenants?
A reluctant risk. At the request of two property owners, Shockley in 2007 agreed to test out the student-rental waters. Housing near the university looked dated to the influx of out-of-state students driving the university’s nearly 20% enrollment growth from 2007 to 2011. Investors began tearing down single-family rentals near campus and replacing them with snazzy apartment buildings, and students on Mom and Dad’s tab snapped them up.
“A lot of our students, they’re living on a lifestyle of $50,000 a year,” Shockley says. “There’s a sense of entitlement. We’re learning how to deal with that.” One tactic: expanding his two-page rental agreement to 21 rule-laden pages. “I would say at least 90%, probably more, of our students are wonderful,” Shockley says. “They’re not destructive.”
Shockley’s move immediately paid off. Year-over-year revenues increased 20% in 2008, 29% in 2010 and 38% in both 2011 and 2012. Today Shockley manages 3,000 single-family and duplex beds and 3,000 student-housing beds, tripling the size of his office to 17 full-time and four part-time workers.
Won’t stop believing. A shortage of classroom space is depressing the UO’s once manic enrollment growth, which inched up by less than 1% to 24,591 students last year. National student housing developers have built or will build big projects that would flood campus and downtown neighborhoods with about 2,800 beds. Some of Shockley’s property owners, accustomed to vacancy factors of less than half a percent, were shaken by last fall’s 4% rates.
Shockley remains a convert. He’s encouraged by the big developers’ presence and predicts his owners’ studio, one- and two-bedroom apartment buildings will remain popular with upperclassmen and graduate students who’ve tired of sharing space with roommates in three- and four-bedroom megacomplexes. Shockley expects that the Oregon Legislature’s vote to give the UO and Portland State University their own governing boards will usher in classroom construction and spur another enrollment boom. Preleasing is strong going into fall, he says: “That 10-year picture looks remarkably good.”
Turns out catering to the college crowd can be a good business strategy — at least in a college town.