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Friday, January 28, 2022

The renting rush for the high-rise life: A shift to central living adds to Madison’s November signing frenzy

Just 15 years ago when the land the Embassy sits on was an IHOP, students often lived in Madison neighborhoods far and wide and began looking for their next apartment in the spring. Fast forward to 2012: Madison Property Management received its first inquiry on Aug. 17 for a lease that would start a year later.

The addition of high rises close to campus has given students more housing options. They help revitalize a downtown Madison that once was sprawling by bringing more people downtown and making services for students more centralized, according to Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8.

But high rises’ presence indirectly reinforces the Madison housing myth: that if you do not sign a lease by November you will not have a home for next year.

“There’s a fear, one that if you look at some of the larger websites, that that’s all the apartments out there,” Resnick said. “It makes a panic on campus, and I think it’s an artificial panic.”

Connor Dura, a freshman at UW-Madison, said he was planning on waiting to see which housing was available, but some of his dormmates have already signed.

“A lot of people just get caught up in it,” Dura said. “They want to make sure that they have friends … and they think that housing’s going to run out for apartments that they want.”

Madison Property Management began showing apartments in its high-rise buildings, such as Equinox and Grand Central, starting Oct. 11, and will show smaller properties after Nov. 12.

Adam Welton, the leasing office manager at MPM, said starting showings later would disadvantage the company against its competitors because students typically start lining up to look early.

“There’s a large core of the student population that is on the ball and looking right off the bat for their next year’s housing. It’s kind of unbelievable to me,” Welton said. “That’s just what people expect when they become a student at UW.”

After a state law, Senate Bill 107, went into effect at the beginning of this year and streamlined housing laws throughout the state, the city government has less ability to enact ordinances that help student renters make informed housing decisions.

And old city ordinances related to landlord and tenant relations—such as one that said security deposits could be no more than one month’s rent, or another requiring landlords to wait until one-fourth of the lease was up to show units—were thrown out.

Resnick said Common Council had been developing an ordinance that would push back the date that landlords could show apartments to late November or December, which would delay the rush to rent, but after the law came into effect discussions stopped.

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“The City Council … has had that power taken away,” Resnick said.

Madison Property Management is leasing two new campus-area high rises, X01 and Vantage Point, for August 2013, in addition to the six it currently manages.

As MPM and other larger management companies add housing near campus, many students tend to view neighborhoods dominated by students 15 years ago, like the James Madison Park neighborhood, being too far away.

“With a lot more high-rise and more densely populated buildings, [a neighborhood house] seems a little further away for some folks,” Welton said.

Keller Real Estate, which owns around 100 units downtown, many on West Washington Avenue and Doty Street, does not start showing apartments until January, after tenants tell the company whether they intend to renew.

Dan Keller, who manages Keller Real Estate, said employees at his company do not feel they have to compete with other companies by showing units earlier.

“It works out better for, I think everyone,” Keller said. “Those that have apartments closer to campus probably feel more pressure to get them rented.”

They usually rent three-fourths of their downtown units by March.

As companies that manage properties close to campus compete with each other for students starting their search in October, Dura said he felt more pressured to look earlier because of his peers who are already signing.

“There’s a lot of students that are in competition with one another,” Dura said. “Of course [management companies] are going to put pressure on us, and we only fuel the fire by pressuring one another. It’s a vicious cycle.”

This cycle is tied to the student trend to live as close to campus as possible.

Keller said in recent years students have not wanted to live further than West Washington Avenue and tend to only look at properties on West Doty Street, two blocks farther down, after all West Washington Avenue houses are leased.

Most houses such as Keller’s in the Bassett District are around a century old and take more effort to manage than newer, more energy-efficient buildings that often have a higher return on their investment. As more people move downtown, demand for high-density housing grows.

And now the Bassett neighborhood is changing over as old houses make way for modern living. Currently a 58-unit apartment building is being constructed on the 500 block of West Doty Street, with another student-oriented housing development proposed on the 500 block of West Dayton Street.

“That’s the future of the Bassett neighborhood,” Keller said.

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