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Year-out lease signing in East Lansing causes stress among students

November 1, 2022
Landmark apartment complex, located at 205 E Grand River Ave, towers above East Lansing on Oct. 19, 2022.
Landmark apartment complex, located at 205 E Grand River Ave, towers above East Lansing on Oct. 19, 2022. —
Photo by Jack Patton | The State News

With a high demand for student housing in East Lansing, the year-out lease signing cycle has students in a last-minute crunch to find housing.

Typically, students start to look for off-campus housing a full year before they end up moving in, and they have to sign at a location fairly soon after they do move.

“It's kind of stressful you have to figure out already a year in advance what you're doing, where you want to live,” international relations junior Noah Scudder said.

Scudder currently lives in a four-bedroom, four-bathroom apartment, where he and his roommates had to sign last October. Having spent his freshman year online, he found it stressful to have to look for housing for his third year so quickly into his second.

“I mean October is still the beginning of the year,” Scudder said. “So yes, you've already met people by that point, but you don't really know them well enough to be making your housing decision for a full year, already, almost a year in advance. So it was just a very stressful process.”

Matt Hagan, an agent at Hagan Realty which leases over 200 places in East Lansing, said the timeline for signing leases has gotten earlier and earlier each year.

“I've been doing this 26 years, I think, now,” Hagan said. “It has gotten to the point where it really can't get any earlier, because ... property managers are dealing with turnover and returning deposits and that kind of stuff. But I think that over time, the demand for the A-plus locations increased.”

Hagan said the company starts receiving inquiries on some properties over a year in advance, especially for properties in prime locations, like around Grand River Avenue.

He believes part of the reason the timeline has gotten earlier is because the demand for prime locations is higher; it becomes a cycle of students trying to beat other students for the houses they want. Additionally, students likely prefer to tour houses in the summer months rather than in the winter.

Since the demand begins so early, Hagan said property managers must be ready by that time too.

“As a property manager, if we're not ready to go when the demand is there, then that's a problem for us,” Hagan said. “If we were the one company in town that said, ‘No, we're gonna wait until December to start renting our houses,’ we would be behind.”

This leads to the process beginning early for current tenants of properties as well. 

Normally, leasing companies give the tenant a deadline for when they have to re-sign before marketing those properties to the public. When potential new tenants are already inquiring about properties in the summer, those who currently live there have to figure out their plans early into the school year.

“(Signing) comes in the time of starting classes, where you're trying to figure out your class schedule, you're trying to get books," special education and learning disabilities junior Raelene Barr said. "You're slapped in the face with, ‘Hey, you got to figure out where you're gonna live next year already.'"

Barr has been living in her off-campus house near Cedar Village — which she only got because her sister previously lived there — since her sophomore year. 

Barr and her roommates, who she met on Facebook, decided to re-sign for this current year by the beginning of last October. The re-signing process included reapplying through the leasing company before singing. 

“I lived with those girls ... for three weeks, at the point of having to then be like, ‘Yeah, I want to live with these people again next year,’” Barr said. 

After re-signing, they were told their rent was being raised as well.

This signing season, they were unsure on whether to re-sign or not. One roommate was graduating early, and the leasing company told them that without a full group, they would be putting the house back on the market.

Although they ended up keeping their house, it created more stress at the beginning of the year for them.

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“I think (leasing companies) could communicate with us more,” Barr said. “We've obviously stayed in this house for two years now, we want to stay a third year. They should know that we genuinely meant we want to stay a third year, and they wouldn't even let us sign with us three.”

Barr suggests others focus on who they’re going to live with prior to looking for a place, rather than the other way around, to avoid stress of not having enough people.

Hagan says he typically sees 25-to-30 percent of tenants re-sign each year. Once the company knows what properties will be up for rent the following year, it can determine the first signing day.

The more high demand properties up for grabs usually results in higher demand from students — so the earlier and busier the first signing day is. 

Hagan's signing, specifically, is done in a public drawing where groups come and available houses are listed off one-by-one. Groups then say if they are there for that property and if more than one group is there for the same house, they are narrowed down by dice roll until one group wins the house. 

This year Hagan had as many as 36 groups for the same house, all leaving their future address up to a game of sorts

The signing day for the 2023-2024 academic year was Sept. 30 and Hagan Realty had a record 63 leases. In the past, it averaged 40 to 50.

Although most people think they have to start looking a year before to find a place to live, Hagan says places will always be available later in the year, maybe just not at the prime locations everyone is seeking.

“Everybody thinks that ‘Well, if I miss out on a house on that first day, or that first week that I'm not gonna have one,’ which is just not the case,” Hagan said. “Yes, there is obviously the big push to get places early. But there is definitely still housing available later in (the) season for those who are not ready to make a decision.”

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