Does Statesboro have too many apartments? Local property managers are beginning to wonder as the leasing "season" hits full stride.
Lisa Hyatt, property manager of Statesboro's largest apartment complex, Campus Club, said the rental market which targets Georgia Southern students primarily appears to be approaching a crossroads.
"With the opening of two new major apartment complexes, this market is becoming more and more competitive," Hyatt said. "We haven't seen the rental rates for this spring and next fall get discounted yet, but it is almost if everyone is waiting for someone else to make the first move."
Hyatt estimates that there are at more than 10,000 apartment bedrooms for lease in and around Georgia Southern's campus. Her numbers do not include student housing provided by the university.
"Typically, apartment complexes rent housing by the bedroom to students, not by the apartment unit," she said. "That is the easiest way to explain the number of people that can be housed on your property. It is one student per bedroom."
The two newest players in the Georgia Southern apartment "game" are The Exchange and Copper Beech. Each is in the final stages of construction and both are actively leasing to students for this spring and the coming fall.
The Exchange, which is located just off of the Statesboro Bypass on Stambuk Lane, is composed of 240 apartment units containing 840 bedrooms. It is the second largest apartment complex in Statesboro, second only to Campus Club.
Wyatt Graves serves as property manager of The Exchange. He said leasing of the apartment units began later than planned.
"We started our leasing campaign this past December," Graves said. "That was really more than a month later than we had anticipated. We had hoped to begin leasing in October for this spring and the following fall. We were a little bit behind and have had to play catch up."
The other new complex to open, Copper Beech, did begin leasing last October, and their numbers appear to reflect that.
"Our first move-in date for residents is May 1," said Jessica Smith, assistant property manager of Copper Beech. "We are almost 90 percent leased."
Smith said each of the one and three bedroom units have been rented which is a significant amount of their total inventory of 754 bedrooms.
"The units we have left now are a few two bedroom and 20 or so four bedroom," Smith said. "Things have slowed down a little bit, but only because our available inventory is becoming limited."
Copper Beech appears to be winning the "leasing for the next school year" race as the other major apartment complexes and many property managers are reporting 41 to 58 percent of their inventory as being pre-leased.
Graves said his complex is approaching the 50 percent lease mark and he is confident that with marketing efforts, such as the pool party held this past Friday, The Exchange should be fully rented by mid May, early June.
"I really don't think we will have to alter our monthly rental rates to fill these units," Graves said. "It is a great, state-of-the-art complex, and the students seem to love it. We just started a little late, but based on the traffic and the response, I think we will be just fine."
Much has been made of the apartment construction boom near Georgia Southern's campus. With the construction of a new complex underway on Lanier Drive, the opening of the Cambridge apartment complex this past year, and several others in the last few years, local property managers are concerned that the market is becoming over built.
"To drive around and see the number of apartments that are actually here now is just amazing," said Alison Jordan, owner of Perimeter Properties, a rental property management and real estate firm located near GSU's campus.
"So far, we are renting at about the same pace that we normally do," Jordan said. "And, our rates have remained in place. However, we are wary, because there is so much inventory now that pending on what is still available two or three months down the road, you may see the rates drop to get those units rented. Only time will tell."
"And the reality is that students tend to go to the newest properties," she said. "There are a lot of 'older' properties in this area that do not have the amenities that these new complexes have such as computer lounges, game rooms, workout rooms, and large pool areas. I just don't know how the rental of these older units is going to be affected. Frankly, that is the big question."
Hyatt said the market has become extremely competitive, and although rates have remained steady, complexes have begun to offer different types of incentives such as a cancellation of some up front fees and move-in bonuses.
"We don't require any type of reservation fee or deposit at Campus Club," Hyatt said. "We have almost 1000 bedrooms in 276 units. That is a lot of space to fill. We have been very successful, but it has become a very competitive market, and you have got to work to fill that space."
"Students just don't run in and sign up anymore," she said. "The process has definitely slowed down. The urgency doesn't seem to be there."
Jenna Durrence is the property manager of Hendley Properties in Statesboro. Hendley Properties has been renting townhomes, duplexes, and houses to students for over thirty years.
"I have noticed that the process of leasing to students has slowed," she said. "I guess that they have so many options now that they are taking their time to decide where to go. We are filling up at the same rate that we normally do, but we are doing more marketing. We even have a mascot."
Local residents may have noticed Hendley Properties' dancing frog which appears in front of their offices on Fair Road most weekday afternoons from two until five.
"We decided to try a mascot this year to give us a little more visibility and to have some fun," Durrence said. "I really believed it has helped. I have even heard that other companies are planning to have mascots. Remember, we have the frog."
With an estimated 40 to 50 percent of available rental property still unleased for this coming fall, property managers are keeping a watchful eye on the market.
"It is hard to say how things are going to end up," said Darrell Finch, owner of Statesboro Realty Group, a local property management firm. "It is 'so far, so good' for now. I was wary at first, but things seem to be okay."
Jordan said she assumed that many of these complexes were being built based on student enrollment numbers that have continued to increase over the years."It is my understanding that enrollment actually declined this past fall, particularly freshmen enrollment," she said. "Let's hope that enrollment is back up for this coming fall. That would be a big help."