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College-Area Rents Are Falling Behind as Schools Move Online

The rental market has softened across the country during the coronavirus pandemic, and especially so in college neighborhoods

-- Rents in college neighborhoods have been hit especially hard this year amid widespread campus closures and moves to online lectures during the coronavirus pandemic. The average rent in college areas has fallen 1.2% since February, while it's grown 1.4% in ZIP codes with fewer college students.

-- College-area rents are now the furthest they've been below rents everywhere else in several years.

-- Two million more college-age Americans are living with parents or grandparents compared to last year.

Sep 17, 2020

SEATTLE, Sept. 17, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Rent prices in college neighborhoods have fallen this summer as colleges and universities across the country have opted for remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic. The drop throughout college areas stands out even in a rental market that has softened across the board since February with rent price growth slowing and landlords offering more concessions

Data from The Chronicle of Higher Education and Davidson College show 44% of U.S. colleges and universities are operating fully or primarily online for the Fall semester, while only 27% are offering classes fully or primarily in person. A new Zillow® analysis shows reduced demand in this largely remote environment is having a noticeable impact on rents in ZIP codes in which at least 20% of the population is college students, who make up about 8% of the U.S. rental market in a typical yeari

In these neighborhoods with a high share of college students, average rent prices were growing 4.7% year over year in February. By August, when many students would typically move back near campus, rents were down 0.5% from the year before, marking the first time since at least 2017 -- the earliest Zillow data is available -- in which college-area rents were lower than the previous year. Meanwhile, rents in ZIP codes with a lower share of college students were up 2.6% annually.

In May, the average rent was only 1% lower in college areas than non-college areas. By August, that gap had widened to 3.4% as rents continued to fall in college areas but rose elsewhere. That's the furthest college-area rents have fallen below rents elsewhere since at least 2017.

Pricier areas with a high share of college students are often seeing steeper rent declines. For example, the average rent is down 7% year over year in Boston's 02115 ZIP code that includes Northeastern University, which is made up of about 60% college students, and down 5% in the 94704 ZIP code in Berkeley, Calif., with about 70% of the population being college students. 

"The softening rental market across the country is more stark in college neighborhoods as pandemic-mandated campus closures and opportunities to complete courses online have provided motivation for young people to move back home," said Zillow senior economist Cheryl Young. "With many leases ending at the end of the summer or the beginning of the fall, we can expect even greater impacts in the months ahead. The good news for rental owners is administrators seem to be itching to bring students back to campus as soon as they can do so safely, so it's possible this will be a relatively short-term shock to rent prices." 

Rising unemployment and campus closures, among other factors, pushed about 2.7 million American adults to move back in with parents or grandparents last spring. Those numbers dwindled during the summer months, but there were still 2 million more 18- to 25-year-olds living at home in August than there were a year earlier, an 11% increase. The jump in the share of these college-age Americans living at home was sharpest among Black and Asian and Pacific Islander young adults. Nearly two-thirds (65.7%) of Black 18- to 25-year-olds were living at home in August, up from 56.5% last year. 

With demand for rentals softening, landlords are offering discounts or other incentives as they strive to attract new tenants. Rent concessions on Zillow listings across the country are nearly twice as common as they were in February. Even small discounts or short-lived vacancies can have a big impact on landlords -- previous Zillow research has shown rental owners typically spend more than half of their rental income on fixed costs of property ownership such as mortgage payments, property taxes and insurance. 

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i Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2018 American Community Survey


For further information: Alex Lacter, Zillow,