Penn State students have long been an engine driving industries in the Centre Region. From retail to entertainment, every business seems to want a piece of the student financial pie.
Real estate is no exception.
According to the Penn State Office of Off-Campus Living, about 28,000 students enrolled at University Park live outside of the dorms, many within the downtown area and others across the Centre Region. Real estate developers and property managers have stepped up to provide homes away from home for the Nittany Lion community.
However, how much housing is too much?
Associated Realty and The Apartment Store represent more than 100 properties between them, from highrises such as Beaver Terrace to town homes such as The Villas at Happy Valley to individual houses that have been converted to rental use around town. Rent levels run the gamut, from about $500 to more than $2,800.
Associated Realty’s Mark Bigatel, who also is with Kissinger, Bagatel and Brower, said the downtown area apartments always have been the most popular. But an influx of developers building tempting complexes farther from the heart of the campus is starting to stretch the market thin.
“There is this misconception that there are no vacancies,” he said.
Some developers believe that student housing will always be filled with a steady stream of renters. That’s not necessarily the case.
“There are always vacancies in the outskirts,” Bigatel said. “And there are vacancies in downtown State College for the first time ever.”
There aren’t many.
Associated properties are about 98 percent filled, but that 2 percent points to a market that is perhaps becoming saturated with rental opportunities.
Many of the newer properties have the sprawling, club-like feel of a Floridian apartment complex with amenities. The Park at State College, a Scion property that caters to Penn State students, uses features including free tanning and a media lounge to appeal to its target clientele.
Parking remains a factor for many in picking their living arrangements.
Most downtown apartments do not include a parking space in the price per month, although most do have it available for an additional fee. Others outside the downtown, such as The Villas, offer free parking for drivers and include free CATA bus passes for those without car access.
That can make those properties a draw for undergrads, but Bigatel says when students turn 21, they want to come back downtown. They know they want to participate in the State College night life but are smart enough to know they want to be within walking distance instead of driving.
“Parking is just not as important as it was five years ago,” he said. “We are seeing vacancies in parking for the first time, too.”