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Investing in the College Rental Market in Virginia

Illustration about a graduation hat referring to the potential investment market surrounding college
December 5, 2018 Virginia

If you’re thinking about acquiring rental property in Northern Virginia, college students are a potentially lucrative market for the first-time landlord. In the Northern Virginia area alone, local colleges and universities include George Mason in Fairfax, Marymount in Arlington, the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, and Northern Virginia Community College, which has campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Arlington, Loudoun, Manassas, Reston, and Woodbridge.

So what are the advantages of tapping into the college student market?

  • College students represent a huge pool of prospective tenants in need of housing.
  • College students – or their parents – are often willing to pay top dollar for proximity to campus.
  • You might be able to rent out your property on a room-by-room basis, thus enabling you to charge more than you could if you rented out the house as a single unit.
  • The constant demand for housing near a college or university means that market fluctuations aren’t likely to affect rents as much as they do in other areas, so rental prices tend to be fairly stable.
  • College students aren’t likely to break the lease mid-year, as they’re too busy with school activities to think about moving.

There are, of course, some challenges to consider:

  • College students, particularly younger ones, can be hard on a property. You’ll need to be vigilant about property maintenance and also take this into consideration when setting the security deposit for the property (up to a maximum of two months’ rent, by state law).
  • You’ll have a narrower window of opportunity in which to rent your property – college students typically only seek housing during the semester breaks, so you’ll likely experience an influx of potential renters wanting to move in during the months of January and August. If you experience a vacancy at any other time of the year, it may be more difficult to fill.
  • College students tend to be transient. At most, your tenants will only stay for a few years.

As a first-time landlord, these steps will help you in your efforts to appeal to college students:

  • Choose a property that has between three and five bedrooms. Larger bedrooms are better since this allows students to double up.
  • Check the zoning laws before you purchase your rental property to make sure there aren’t any provisions limiting the number of unrelated persons allowed to share a dwelling.
  • In the case of undergraduate students, or students without full-time employment (or a spouse who works full-time), ask for a parent or other co-signer. You need to make sure someone on the lease has sufficient income to cover the monthly rent.
  • Ensure that all residents living in the home have been screened and are on the lease.
  • Make sure that your rental contract has a provision entitling you to inspect the property during the term of the lease. Take advantage of this agreement by stopping by a few times, especially at the beginning of the tenancy.

As long as you are willing to be a firm and vigilant landlord, you need not fear renting your property to college students. If, however, you have any doubts about your ability to handle any difficult situations that might come up – tenants late on their rent, neighbors complaining about noise, damage to the property – you can always hire a property manager to attend to these details. The money you stand to make from renting to a group of college students should more than offset the additional cost of having someone else handle the hassles for you.

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