Remote-Work Boom During Covid-19 Pandemic Draws Real-Estate Startups

Park in San Francisco social distancingDavid Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A group of real-estate startups is aiming to cash in on the remote-work phenomenon.

With many corporate offices closed because of the pandemic, many young professionals have left cities like New York and San Francisco for warmer, cheaper places. A number still plan to return after their offices reopen, leaving them reluctant to buy homes or sign long-term apartment leases.

That situation is creating fresh demand for furnished housing on a short-term basis, a fast-growing niche that many property startups and their venture-capital backers are rushing to fill.

One of them is Landing, which runs a network of furnished apartments across the U.S. When it launched in 2019, the Birmingham, Ala., and San Francisco-based company initially planned to operate in about 30 cities last year. Instead, it expanded to 75, largely because demand grew much faster than expected, said Landing Chief Executive Bill Smith.

“Covid has taken a decade of change that I was thinking was going to happen between now and 2030 and kind of compressed it into a year,” he said.

Legions of remote workers also offer these firms a chance to make up for reduced tourist and corporate business. San Francisco-based Sonder, which rents out furnished apartments by the night, ramped up its marketing of extended stays during the pandemic, according to Chief Executive Francis Davidson. Stays of longer than 14 days now account for about 60% of the company’s business, up from less than a quarter before the pandemic, he said.

Kulveer Taggar, CEO of corporate-housing operator Zeus Living, said his firm experienced a steep drop in demand as companies hit the pause button on employee travel and relocations. But he was able to make up some ground by renting apartments to individuals. People working from home now account for about a quarter of the company’s business, Mr. Taggar said, up from virtually nothing before the pandemic.

Unlike Sonder and Zeus, remote workers were a key part of Landing’s business before the pandemic. Its customers pay an annual membership fee, which gives them the right to rent furnished apartments in any city. The minimum length of stay varies from 30 to 60 days, and the company asks for a month’s notice before a customer moves out.

The company is popular with college-educated young professionals who don’t want to be tied to a single location. Since the start of the pandemic, it has seen a growing number of customers leave New York and San Francisco and move to cities like St. Petersburg, Fla., and Denver, Mr. Smith said.

In November, Landing raised $45 million in venture funding from a group of investors led by Foundry Group and including Greycroft and Maveron, along with $55 million in debt. Mr. Smith said he hopes to expand to 25,000 apartments by the end of this year, up from around 10,000 today.

That growth carries risk if demand from remote workers were to disappear again after the pandemic is over. Still, Chris Moody, a partner at Foundry Group, said the number of furnished apartments available under flexible terms is still so small that he doesn’t worry about a lack of customers.

“Even at the end of 2021, we won’t really have scratched the surface,” he said.

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Source: realtor.com

The Cost of Off-Campus Rent at Top Colleges

Which university costs more: Harvard, Yale or MIT? It’s relatively easy to compare tuition and even dorm fees — but off-campus housing costs are harder to pin down. They also can make a big difference in the tab for a higher education.

In fact, 80 percent of the towns where elite colleges are located, based on U.S News & World Report’s newly released Best Colleges of 2017, have median rents above the national median of $1,408 a month, according to a new Zillow analysis.

The median rent in Cambridge, MA, where Harvard University and MIT students gravitate for off-campus housing, is $2,594 a month, while Yale University students who live off campus in New Haven, CT, pay just over half that: $1,428 a month.

Those figures don’t account for the size of the rental unit or for roommate situations, but they do reflect the starkly different real estate markets in Cambridge and New Haven.

Although off-campus housing costs might not come into play until sophomore or junior year, they’re worth weighing into the college-cost equation.

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“As students and their parents are filling out applications this fall and are crunching the numbers on financial aid and student loans, they should also factor in cost of housing,” said Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow’s chief marketing officer. “Looking at both on- and off-campus housing prices, and thinking through whether they’ll likely live with roommates or alone, will help them gauge an accurate picture of the student loans and financial aid they will need in order to obtain their degree.”

Beating the Bay Area blues

Housing around Stanford University was the highest among top-ranked colleges. Reflecting the Bay Area’s astronomical housing costs, the median rent in Palo Alto is a whopping $6,139 a month.

However, Stanford houses almost all of its undergraduates in university housing, where they pay about $14,600 for room and board for the school year. Some 60 percent of Stanford’s graduate students live on campus and pay $12,300 for rent plus $5,800 for food.

The university provides a subsidy for the other grad students, so that their cost of living approximates that of students living on campus, according to Lisa Lapin, associate vice president for university communications at Stanford.

Chicago sings a sweeter tune

Most college towns are not as pricey as Palo Alto — and they’re great places to live, according to Peter Cassel. He’s in Hyde Park, the neighborhood adjacent to the University of Chicago, and is director of community development for Mac Properties, the biggest landlord in that neighborhood.

Hyde Park is that rare South Side Chicago neighborhood that’s known for being safe — in part because the university has its own police force.

It also offers a tremendous quality-of-life boost, whether you’re a student or not. “From my perspective, to choose to live in a neighborhood that doesn’t have a large university in it seems crazy,” Cassel said.

He enjoys the people who are attracted to the university. “They create a level of diversity and enthusiasm that is very positive.” And he relishes the amenities that pop up around it. “There’s some sort of music program going on every night of the week. There’s a local neighborhood symphony, a radio station, multiple local theater groups – all of which in some way are supported by the university.”

Mac Properties offers one-bedroom apartments in Hyde Park that start at about $1,200 a month. That’s better than the Chicago median of $1,687 a month — but still higher than South Bend, IN, where the University of Notre Dame is located, and Winston-Salem, NC, which Wake Forest University calls home. Median rents there are $723 and $994, respectively.

Bargains aren’t out of the question

Medians are by definition in the middle, though, which means some students will find deals.

Jessica Dougherty beat the $1,286 median rent in Durham, NC, when she was a graduate student at Duke, No. 8 on the U.S. News and World Report list. She paid just $900 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. It didn’t include Internet or cable, but she did have an in-unit washer and dryer, and was a three-minute bus ride to the building where most of her classes were.

Dougherty graduated last year and moved to a place that costs $1,370 a month. It’s a little farther from work, but the complex has both saltwater and chlorinated pools, plus trash “valets” who pick up garbage at her door at 8 p.m. every night.

Friends are jealous, Dougherty reports, and Durham’s best restaurants and other offerings are just down the street.

Related:

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  • Leaving the Nest: College Students and Renters Insurance

Source: zillow.com