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Web site helps students with housing search

Justin Tardiff | Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Off-campus housing now has a home, and it’s online.

With Campus1Housing.com, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students can view local properties for rent and contact the property manager through the Web site.

Two Miami University (Ohio) graduates launched Campus1Housing.com in September 2005. Beginning in 2006, it will serve 40 schools. Notre Dame was one of the original schools involved.

Though the site has been around for almost a year, it won’t be the same for much longer, as 2006 will bring a major overhaul.

“[The year] 2005 was kind of a test launch for us. We wanted to get the concept out there, get the Web site out there and get feedback from the property managers and, more importantly, the students,” Campus1Housing.com founder and CEO Jake Burns said.

The Web site, based out of Minneapolis, Minn., consists of a five-man team, including a real estate broker and a Web master.

“If [students] are looking for off-campus housing, Campus1Housing is going to be their answer,” said Joe Condit, vice president and director of sales for Campus1Housing.

Burns and Condit said they hope to launch again at Notre Dame early next year with a much more comprehensive list of properties. The service is absolutely free for students, and there are no listing fees.

“Our goal is to provide the students with a one-stop shop for off-campus housing where they see all the property managers, they see all the properties, their parents can easily look at pictures and get the information they need,” Burns said.

Burns said Notre Dame is unlike most schools in that fewer students live off-campus.

“Mostly the people that will be hitting our Web site looking for housing will be juniors, maybe some sophomores -people that want to get off campus and enjoy a little more freedom,” he said.

Student feedback has played a big role in shaping and reshaping the Web site, Burns said. Initially, Campu-s1Housing had a contract with only one property manager in the South Bend area, but about a month ago, the Web site underwent a process of “reinventing the wheel.”

“What the students really want is this comprehensive list of off-campus housing,” Burns said. “We have opened up our doors for business for all the property managers around Notre Dame.”

Originally, Campus1Housing was launched as an auction Web site in which students could bid on properties. Again, student feedback changed that, and the Web site shifted focus. Campus1Housing now concentrates on listing properties and connecting potential tenants with property managers in the most efficient way possible.

Burns and Condit said they’ve gotten a fairly even distribution of positive and negative feedback. They found out students liked the idea of being able to see all the properties and being able to contact the managers and set up meetings from the comfort of their dorm, but they did not like the auction format.

Burns and Condit listened. They scrapped the auctioning that was once the key idea for their business. The Web site will be reconstructed accordingly in early 2006.

“We’ve adjusted our business model,” Burns said. “We’re moving from a transaction-based Web site into a non-transaction-based Web site. We found out that you cannot take the personal relationship out of finding houses because you’re not buying an MP3 player, you’re living in a place.

“You need to meet that manager, understand their expectations, see that property … and the deal ultimately gets done in that property manager’s office. We found out that it’s got to be that way. You cannot change that. We’re adjusting to make the process that’s already in place faster and more efficient and much easier than it’s ever been before,” Burns said.

Mark Kramer, owner of Kramer Properties and landlord to many Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students, agrees with this principle.

“I never want to get away from the personal level,” Kramer said. “In fact, one of my complaints initially [with Campus1Housing] was, you know, I want to make sure students have an opportunity to see the properties firsthand, and I like to show them firsthand and have that interaction with them. I think that’s very, very important.”

Kramer, who advertises properties through the Web site, likes the continuing changes in Campus1Housing.

“I’m always looking for different ways to market my properties. I like the idea that it’s not necessarily a bidding war because I don’t want tenants to get into a bidding war on properties,” he said. “Under the new program that they’ve got set up, I like it a lot better.”

Kramer said Campus1Housing is not his main resource for renting out properties, but that he sees it as a good supplement to his usual business. Under the old system, students didn’t seem to be responding well, he said.

“I haven’t really had a lot of responses yet, but I think partially the reason for that is because [students] aren’t aware of it,” Kramer said. “I think as time goes on and they become more and more aware of it, they may take advantage of it, but the majority of my leases currently are coming from word of mouth, and also I’ve got my own Web site.”

Burns and Condit hope that they can kill two birds with one stone by further involving the students while advertising the site.

“We want to put the power into the students’ hands and say, ‘Listen, we’ll give you the tools, we’ll show you what we’ve learned … you figure out how to get the word out to the Notre Dame students,'” Condit said.

Condit said Campus1Hou-sing cannot emphasize enough the importance of involving students not only in molding the Web site but also in being a part of it.

“We have onsite marketing teams at every university we launch at. We have a person on campus who is basically our project manager, and he builds up a team. It’s almost like an internship, and it actually will be an internship next year,” he said.

Burns likened Camp-usIHousing to a software provider.

“We don’t go into a property management company and say, ‘Let us list your property,'” he said. “Really all we do is provide a platform where property managers can list their own properties.”