Senior house signing begins sophomore year

Photo by Adam Cvik.

ISAIAH STRONG | STAFF REPORTER | istrong@butler.edu

For many students, the decision of where to live for their senior year is made as early as their sophomore year.

Students who wish to live on campus after their junior year can choose to live in University Terrace, Apartment Village, Christian Theological Seminary apartments, Greek houses or in one of the many houses near campus typically rented by senior students.

The homes in the Butler-Tarkington area are leased by a few community members or small real estate agencies like Prime Meridian Realty. A majority of senior houses signed by students are leased by Weybright Property Management.

The pressure to sign early is felt by many students across campus. Sophomore pharmacy major Chris Bollinger signed a lease for the 2018-19 school year through Weybright Property Management in September 2016.

“We wanted to do it then because it felt like everyone else was signing,” he said.  “We wanted to have a group solidified and get a decent house because we felt like if we waited all the good ones would be taken.”

Doug Howell, associate director for Residence Life, said the university recognizes the pressure students face when it comes to signing for a senior house.

“For several years we have been actively encouraging sophomore students to wait to sign leases for off-campus housing,” he said. “However, the landlords and their agents try to really push them into signing very early in their sophomore year. I’ve even heard some first-year students say they have been contacted.”

As early as September, houses disappear from the market while students rush to sign their leases to ensure they have the best and most affordable option before it’s too late. The process of touring and signing for a senior house can be a bit overwhelming and unclear for some students.

Parents are just as confused about the process as well. Many parents, who may end up footing the senior house rent, have serious questions about why their child signs a lease as early as the first couple months of their sophomore year.

The Butler Class of 2019 parent page is littered with posts from parents expressing concern about the early signing of leases by their children.

The concerns cited by parents are echoed by some students who go through the process. Andrew Ross, a senior history and economics major, signed for a senior house through Weybright the second semester of his sophomore year.

“It was a bit chaotic and without much guidance or even transparency as to what we were getting ourselves into,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on getting a ‘good house’ regardless of the cost or fine print.”

Students looking to balance cost, quality and location for their residence have to start early to get the best option. Even then, because the market for senior houses goes through one of a few companies, some students have expressed concern.

“Weybright has so much leverage on you that at times we have felt treated as just another number,” Ross said.

Weybright was contacted for this piece, but declined an interview.

While Weybright is a large player in the senior housing market, some homes are owned and leased by smaller local landlords.

The university also has said they would prefer for students to sign for senior houses closer to the middle of their junior year as opposed to early sophomore year.

“If you look beyond the Butler neighborhood market, most landlords won’t even give you a lease more than six months out,” Howell said. “However, students feel like they are going to miss out, so it is natural that they sign this lease too early. Hopefully, over time, and by asking the right questions, the mindset will change to a more appropriate mid-junior year timeline.”

The demand for senior houses may only increase as time goes on, considering class sizes have increased over the past few years. That trend may continue with this year’s first-year class being the largest in school in history.

It remains to be seen how or if anything will change on Butler’s campus in regards to the options available to seniors for housing or if anything will be done to change the process of signing for senior houses. Even students who ended up in the right houses still see a need for change.

“I do not regret my decision,” Ross said. “I enjoy my house and the people inside it greatly, but it’s definitely not a calm and balanced process.”

While there may be no immediate solution to prevent students from signing so early, there may be hope. If student behavior and mindset regarding senior houses changes, Howell said he foresees the pressure to sign early for a senior house slowly dissipating.

The best way to really change the mindset and help fix this issues really rests with the students,” he said. “The students are the consumer, they need to be asking the right questions when it comes to the ‘buying’ decision…. ‘Do I need to do this right now, so early?’ Usually the answer to that, despite what they might hear otherwise, is, ‘No.’”

The future of senior housing is not certain on Butler’s campus. As for now, students of all years will continue to be part of the senior housing market.

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