West Campus realty practices cost students extra

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Photo Credit: Victoria Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Early in the fall semester, panic rises surrounding the dilemma of housing. Students scramble to sign leases for the next school year before they have even attacked their first round of midterms. In order to avoid this sense of panic, students must become more aware of the various housing options so that they may choose which is the most affordable for them instead of making irrational choices based on the status quo. 

An anonymous West Campus realtor says this panic exists because the demand for apartments is there. “There are so many students,” he said. “Before, pre-leasing didn’t start until March. All the big companies start doing a big push for marketing earlier, and it’s created a panic.” 

The anonymous broker, who has dabbled in both campus and regular Austin realty, said that apartments and condominiums set prices according to square footage, amenities and proximity to campus. “Some people pay a premium to have a shorter walk,” he said. 

Additionally, properties that are available near campus are not listed on the Multiple Listing Service that all licensed Austin realtors have access to. All of the sources I have interviewed maintain that this withholding of listings is not to enable price gouging. It’s because “it’s an unnecessary cost per year to have access to the MLS when they don’t have to,” according to Alex Bartram, a recent UT graduate who now owns MoveGroove Realty and works for RealSavvy, a software company that provides brokers with deals for residential sales. 

According to Bartram, the main reasons for the competitive market are, “One, we’re in the hottest city in the U.S. for real estate. Two, there’s a lot of traffic. That increases demand, because less people want to drive to campus. Three, there’s the information problem. They can use a real estate agent that can save them money. There’s not a lot of online platforms where they can see good deals, compare things and see what fits best for them.” 

An emerging student housing startup, LoftSmart, is trying to bridge this communication gap. Co-founded by UT alumnus Sundeep Kumar, the company has created a platform that allows students to search for properties and sign leases, reducing the hassle that comes with self-searching or using a realtor. 

The platform works with some of the big property management companies near campus. Properties such as Rio West, Quarters on Campus, The Block, Regents West, Texan26 and many more can be found on the site.

While brokers are a helpful resource for those who want to review privately-owned condominium options, Kumar said, “Properties pay the brokers for bringing students to the property and having the students sign the lease … The issue with the broker model is that a lot of students want to cut out the middleman and deal with the property managers directly from the convenience of their couch.”

“We created a way to connect two sides of a broken marketplace, allowing students to discover and sign an apartment with the sort of trust, transparency and convenience of a platform like AirBnB,” Kumar said.

Students will always need somewhere to live. Due to UT’s growing population and limited land, supply doesn’t necessarily meet the growing demand, which drives up prices. To prevent unnecessary price inflation by panic-signing leases outside their price range, students must become more aware of all the housing options available.

Rahman is a Plan II and business sophomore from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @MehrazR.