By Drew Hubbard

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, college students toured apartment complexes freely as they looked for a new place to call home while they studied through school. Now, students have to navigate a pandemic world as they look for a place to live, according to a local leasing agent.

“We’ve seen a lot of people relying upon virtual tours, videos, photos, online marketing means versus more of the traditional marketing and touring methods that we’ve done,” said Jake Dzurino, leasing and marketing manager at College Town Properties in Athens, Georgia. “And then obviously, we had to figure out a way to just make sure that the people that we are taking on tours and apartments are doing it safely and respectfully to the people who live there.”

Peter Fathke, a junior anthropology student at the University of Georgia, is one student who needed to find a new place to live after staying home in the Fall 2020 semester.

“Granted, moving in with more roommates in a smaller place, I mean, of course COVID could be a possibility,” Fathke said. “But also, I needed to find a place to live.”

Students account for 12% of the total number of U.S. rental united, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council with 61% of those students located in the South. As the COVID-19 pandemic began in spring 2020, vacancy rates ranged from 40-60% in March and April as schools transitioned to online learning. according to a student housing report by CBRE Capital Markets .

Fathke lived at home in the fall since his classes were all online. As UGA transitioned to more in-person teaching in spring semester, he had to come back to Athens and find a place to live.

Fathke said he didn’t talk with a leasing agency much because the unit he wanted to rent was a sublet, adding that he spoke mostly with the former resident after he used Reddit to find an off-campus housing option with an opening.

“I did all the filings. I did all the lease,” Fathke said. “I think I called (the apartment office) once. Pretty much, I had to do all the work when it came to actually living here.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic, students often toured apartments to get a better look at where they might be living. Now, as restrictions on face-to-face interactions continue, students and leasing agencies have had to adapt to selling and buying with new circumstances.

While the coronavirus impacted apartment leasing at the start, apartment sales are beginning to return to normal and then some, said. Dzurino. College Town Properties ran out of space faster than normal, he said.

The CBRE report said 2020 began strong for the student housing market with $1.7 billion in transactions in the first quarter of the year. That total was 13.3% higher than the total for the first quarter of 2019.

“We don’t exactly know what to expect for the new normal,” Dzurino said. “So, for the time being, we’re basically maintaining the protocols we put in place for now. And then the vaccinations continue to happen and as the best practices change, then we’ll just adapt those as needed.”

Drew Hubbard is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.