How technology can disrupt the student housing sector in 2019

Anindya Dutta & Sandeep Dalmia, Co-Founders, Stanza Living Over the last decade and a half, the adoption of emerging technologies has become the cornerstone of the evolution of the Indian real estate industry, with market players (developers, buyers, sellers, renters, investors and real estate professionals) beginning to rethink traditional principles of designing, constructing, discovering, transacting, promoting and operating Real Estate and Real Estate-linked businesses. The earliest innovators within the real estate tech space in India, like, and were essentially online classifieds and listing portals, which advertised properties and shared information at a quick click. The key business logic behind these early start-ups was to create online avenues for disintermediation of property transactions and reduced information asymmetry. These businesses had robust growth through the property boom years from 2004-10, when their solutions enabled better and faster decision-making for an interested consumer who had faced limitations from the erstwhile offline ecosystem.

The sector slowdown years of 2011-15, saw the launch of evolved aggregator platforms of the likes of, and PropTiger, which focused on understanding consumer behaviour and mimicking their decision-making journey. They looked at some of the key parameters that aid a buying/ renting decision - comprehensive property information (property amenities, walkthroughs, proximity details), sales-related documentation and offered a 360-degree suite of solutions, which addressed these efficiently. They also used new age tech to better sort, select, list and refine consumer recommendations. This complete ownership of the consumer experience was a differentiator that kept consumer interest alive during the slowdown period.

However, in the latest wave of emerging technologies which current entrepreneurs are bringing to the real estate sector in India, the scope of these technologies has extended to more substantive areas of value creation with focus on changing the way people interact and engage with properties and building complexes through the use of modern computing methods in property design, smart space planning, incorporating Internet of Things (IoT) or tracking user behaviour and their usage patterns for building services and integrated facility management.

Today, the consistent focus on consumer experience and the bid to drive operational efficiencies has become central to real estate planning and management. So, whether it is the promise of higher effective rents per unit area in co-working spaces (think WeWork, AWFIS etc.) or improved utilization of residential apartment spaces to provide localised travel experiences (think Airbnb), new-age, real estate-backed businesses are using technology as an enabler to a differentiated consumer experience.

Student living is fast-emerging as an asset class which is ripe for the delivery of such technological disruptions, particularly in the context of India. This is largely on account of two key reasons -
Firstly, Student living in India has very strong experiential elements which are immensely valued by students and parents alike. The delivery of such experiential elements is susceptible to tech interventions.

Secondly, Generation-Z, to which most student living consumers belong, are very technology savvy and have grown up in the era of social networking.

Real Estate Tech to solve for consumer experience and operational efficiencies in the Student Housing Sector:

Student housing in India is a $17 billion industry, driven by a population of over 12 million students that migrates domestically for higher education. The sector is largely unorganized and suffers from significant quality and infrastructure gaps, which makes consistent and quality consumer experience, nearly impossible. Against this backdrop, laser-focused student housing start-ups like Stanza Living, Placio etc are re-imagining the student living experience. Consumer life-cycles, right from the very acquisition of the consumer to on-boarding, from daily residence management to the delivery of value-added community services, are being integrated by these players through seamless technology frameworks which are helping drive higher transparency, stronger understanding of the end-consumer and better quality of services.

We believe, disruption in the sector will be delivered by treating student housing as a holistic experience product, which is differentiated from conventional real estate asset classes as well as traditional hospitality products. Thus, high-quality student housing businesses are radically rethinking existing systems by focusing on innovation at each step. This will not only impact how businesses are operated but help effectively control the end-consumer experience.

To give an example, in the traditional PG and hostel set-up, feedback and complaints systems are often ineffective, due to issues of documentation, lack of process streamlining or even intent. However, we have created an entire tech-enabled ecosystem front-ended by a dedicated consumer app which can create an engaging, convenient and real-time platform for communication between property managers and students. The app can enable streamlining of the complete workflow, where residents can log service, housekeeping and maintenance requests as per convenience which is then backward integrated with our ecosystem and vendor partners to ensure swift and timely resolution and tracking of real-time progress status. This can thus bypass the speed and efficacy of a manual feedback and complaint-redressal process.

For a digital-native audience that spends most of its time on smartphones, such solutions open-up the possibility of valuable exchange, on a platform of choice. Today, we can create a rich student living ecosystem by connecting all residents on this platform, sharing information on community engagement activities, delivering third-party brand deals centred around student needs, automating rent, documentation and attendance management process, and more. Thus, every element of a student residence solution can be carefully managed, ensuring that they enjoy a hassle-free, safe and high-quality living experience.

Taking this concept forward, tech-enabled student housing start-ups should look at building models for data-driven insights and predictive analysis into consumer behaviour patterns for personalised service delivery. Extrapolating this to business requirements, the consumer learnings can aid efficient supply and logistics decisions, guide vendor management and drive overall cost benefits. Against this context, the Stanza Developer Lab has been set-up to work with cutting-edge IoT-enabled applications and devices, that can effectively provide insights into student behaviour, consumption patterns, building usage trends, preferences etc
Another aspect where technology can be a huge differentiator is in the context of enabling real estate sourcing - taking away the footwork from property prospecting and subsequently driving project management at scale. Businesses which can develop scalable solutions to expand their operations and establish student housing infrastructure, will derive true benefits of this real-estate asset class.

The consumer-facing, residential spaces market, has already seen significant gains for buyers and sellers on account of reduction in intermediation costs through real estate tech. Property owners have also recorded lower marketing spends.

The entry of tech-enabled players, is expected to create a similar disruption in the high-potential student housing industry, turning it into a greenshoot for Indian realty. Such players are creating a win-win ecosystem with better rental yields and lower upkeep costs for landlords and developers, better end-user experience and integrated, hassle-free service delivery for customers and consumers; and strong profitability metrics for themselves through better space utilization, rate premiumization on account of higher quality service delivery and sustainable cost leadership through the unequivocal embracing of technology as a key growth lever for business.