Going to college is full of choices and challenges. Picking a major, deciding what to pack - even deciding where to live. For most students the first year or two means they're doomed to the dorm, so when the time comes to make the move off campus - the decision of "where" to move is a big one.
Although there are real estate companies that will help students find digs, and even some schools that offer at least a referral to an apartment finder service, some collegians are turning to the Net for help. A Web site called CollegeRealEstate.com, the brainchild of Charles Silver, a junior at the University of Miami, Florida, is hooking students up with housing.
Silver explains. "An instructor was teaching that the Internet wasn't increasing sales. A light bulb went off in my head and I realized the largest market, the college real estate market, wasn't being targeted." This set the stage for his entrepreneurial epiphany in the Fall of 1999.
"I wanted to get a job where I could at least be working in my neighborhood, but I could make a decent amount of profit and be going to school at the same time. So the best thing I could do is. ...Become a licensed real estate agent. I did that at 19," he says. "I came up with the idea in my dorm room and now I work out of my family's garage." Since then Silver has put more than 100 listings up on CollegeRealEstate.com.
Here's how it works: From the home page, a student hits "search for listing by college," picks a school and a price range, and bingo - the choices pop up. Students get the address, contact number, price and how far it is to campus by walk or by wheels, plus a picture of the location.
Although the site only serves Florida colleges and universities right now, that's about to change. "We're adding 50 [colleges] in the next four weeks," says Silver, then adds that he hopes to list at least one college in each of the 50 states. "We plan to have at least ten listings per school."
CollegeRealEstate.com is already a hit on campuses, scoring 1,000 hits in just two days in January. "I found out about it by word of mouth [then] jumped on it," says Daniel Erdberg, a student at Florida International University. "I believe it's very simple to use, it's a very simplified design. It's only two or three clicks to get right where you can see a place and take a look."
Not only did Erdberg find a place he liked; he now shares the wealth. "I have referred this site a ton. I can't even put a number on it. When I talk to people in school I try to say it as much as possible because it's so simple for students," agrees the FIU student. "It's going to save dollars and time. Most guys hate going to the mall shopping, let alone finding an apartment. This site really takes out a lot of that time. It's just great," he says.
Time is one factor, but money is another. College students aren't charged for the service. "Anyone who wants to look for an apartment now or forever, it's free," explains Silver. He does plan however, to charge companies or private owners who list locations on the site. "It will be 25 bucks a month, $125 for a half year or $200 for a year. ...There's no other way to expose your property on a global level to a college market than [on] our site."
There are other options for students looking to move off-campus, but they will cost them in one way or another. Real estate companies, for instance, usually charge a finder's fee. "We have 11 offices here in the San Diego area and we do a lot of business around San Diego State University and other area schools," explains Tim Hintz, the office manager with for Re/Max Realty in San Diego. "We have a lot of people who call and want to buy a condo, then rent it to their daughter and roommates who go to SDSU, and then they rent it out until they retire," Hintz says, then admits, students are just a small part of their business.
For collegians who don't mind the legwork, there are free services that will assist in digging up off-campus housing - although it may or may not be available at certain schools.
"There's an organization called the Off Campus Student Organization and they put out an off-campus housing guide each year, and we constantly have students come by and ask about housing off-campus," shares Shannon Cloyes, a double major senior at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. "I think if there was that Web site [the guide] would advertise it as a source for students."
Cloyes also points out that students at Oklahoma State also go about getting housing the old-fashioned way. "So many of the houses in Stillwater are owned by residents who live in Stillwater, or students who live here. They just go to friends or people they know that live here to rent houses off-campus."
Students at the University of Houston have the option of using another free service - one that offers assistance in doing some of the legwork. "What we do is, when a student comes in and we cannot house them, we have gone out and looked at some apartments within [a] 15 minute drive of the university," says Andy Blank, director of housing. "Plus we also give them a service that hunts for these things, which is free. It's an apartment finder type thing. But that's all we do for off-campus housing. That's something that there certainly is a demand for -- housing."
Silver with CollegeRealEstate.com isn't worried about competition. He thinks his Web site is the way of the future for students looking to make a move off-campus. "Everyone I've talked to, they know somebody who's looking for a place. [The Web site is] just making it more efficient."
Although he's not making money yet, Silver has already turned down several offers to sell. "'Cause we're college students, we know time is on our side. Basically we know our concept is like gold."