RCA Insights

US Student Housing Prices Have Never Been Higher

By on June 26th, 2019

Prices for U.S. student housing investments have never been higher. The forces propelling prices to such high levels are varied, with some help from the broad macroeconomic forces boosting property price levels overall. There are also forces in action that are unique to the student housing sector.

Student housing was once a property sector dominated by assets that were not managed by professional investors. Institutional investors have “discovered” this sector in the current economic cycle and price performance has reached record highs as a result. The question, though, is whether the high prices can be maintained.

1906 student housing prices-01

Buyers active in this space are attracted to the story on the growth in demand and have compressed cap rates to record lows. Looking at cap rates for student housing assets vs. vanilla apartment buildings outside of the 6 Major Metros, the spread had averaged 14 bps from 2003 to 2007. However, into the period from 2014 to 2019, investor interest has pushed this spread in the opposite direction, with student housing cap rates averaging 16 bps lower than that for apartments in the non-major locales.

With cap rates moving to such low levels, sale prices are now at record highs. The prices per bed are now above the $90k level. The growth rate in prices has been impressive with a 10% CAGR in the price per bed from Q1’14 to Q1’19. Are these prices and growth rates sustainable?

The process by which institutional capital “discovered” the student housing sector cannot last forever. As investors with lower costs of capital moved into the property type, cap rates were crushed down and prices were pushed up at double-digit rates. At the start of the current run-up in prices, investment managers, REITs and cross-border investors were behind 30% of all acquisitions in the sector, a figure which grew to 50% by early 2018.

With cap rates for student housing now below those for more vanilla apartment assets outside of the major metros, there should be less upward price pressure from new entrants with professionally-managed capital. Still, less pressure upward is not the same thing as saying that price levels will retreat. The sector has ongoing organic demand from the demographic push of Gen Z, as well as the demand for the replacement of obsolete cinder block dormitories typical of on-campus housing.

Alexis Maltin provided data analysis for this article.

Analysis of the U.S. student housing market appeared in the latest edition of US Capital Trends. If you are a Real Capital Analytics client, log into the RCA website to download The Big Picture report and reports for the five major property types. To learn more about RCA’s data and publications, contact us.

Also on RCA Insights:

What Difference Does a Year Make to US Cap Rates?

Student Housing: Just a Temporary Yield Play?

Jim Costello

Jim Costello

Executive Director, MSCI Research

Jim is chief economist on the MSCI real estate research team and is based in New York. He previously led the U.S. research team at Real Capital Analytics, which MSCI acquired in 2021, and spent two decades at Torto Wheaton Research, working in urban economics. He is the lead author of the US Capital Trends publication and a frequent speaker at commercial real estate conferences. Jim holds a master’s degree in economics and is a member of the Commercial Board of Governors of the Mortgage Bankers Association.