February Pre-Lease Rate Falls Below Year-Ago Figure

Student housing pre-leasing momentum slowed below the year-ago rate for the first time this year in February 2024.

As of February, 57.2% of beds at the core 175 universities tracked by RealPage have been claimed for Fall 2024, compared to a slightly stronger rate in the year-ago readings, according to data from RealPage Market Analytics. Last year, in February 2023, pre-leasing rates hit 58.2%, an all-time high in the RealPage data set. In a more typical February, pre-lease rates hover around the halfway point of 50%, except in the COVID-impacted year of 2021 when February’s pre-lease rate was lower than is typical at about 40%.

February 2024’s reading, then, serves as a microcosm for current student housing performance. That is, student housing performance remains historically strong in 2024, albeit below all-time highs recorded over the last couple years.

Properties at all distances from campus reported strong pre-lease rates in February, with the highest readings seen in pedestrian assets within a half mile to campus at 57.8%. Properties within a half mile to one mile of campus had a pre-lease rate of 57% in February, compared to a 55.6% pre-lease rate at properties over one mile from campus. These three readings are also trending back toward more historical norms in terms of how tightly clustered performance is across all distances.

Annual effective rent change, while still considerably higher than pre-pandemic norms, continued to soften in February. Annual effective rents grew 6.4% in February, meaning that students who leased a bed for the Fall 2024 academic year in February paid, on average, 6.4% more than students leasing the same bed a year earlier.

Meanwhile, several individual schools posted ultra-high pre-lease rates as of February. Among the schools with pre-lease rates in excess of 80% were University of Mississippi, University of Tennessee, Purdue University, Virginia Tech, James Madison University, University of Arkansas, Illinois State University and Appalachian State University. Several of those schools have been top occupancy performers for the last several consecutive years.