Renters offered many deals


A resident at Lexington Crossing Apartments passes a sign offering a deal to current residents.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, January 26, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 11:06 p.m.

Apartment hunters are finding more incentives to move in or renew their leases - from a free month's rent and waived fees to cash and even free cruises - as more apartments compete for fewer students.

Occupancy rates have gone from percentages in the very high 90s to the low 90s, with many complexes in the 80s, according to Vanessa Neale, manager of Apartment Hunters.

Five new major complexes with nearly 2,000 units opened in the fall, and more houses and condominiums converted to rentals in a slow housing market, while the University of Florida cut enrollment by 1,000 students as part of a plan to cut 4,000 students over four years.

"So you had a double whammy of new places and less people to put there," Neale said. "It was a lot tougher for a lot more properties."

Apartments are now signing people up for next fall when UF enrollment is scheduled to drop by another 1,000 students and even more apartments will come online. Canopy will open with 240 units and 770 bedrooms at SW 20th Avenue, while The Crossing at Santa Fe is growing by 156 apartments and 468 bedrooms before the summer.

That means more choices and better bargains for those looking to rent.

"Never have we had a year where we had to give so many concessions," said Cesar Garcia, who has worked at several properties and is now property manager at The Enclave on SW 35th Place.

In the past, he said, they would waive application or deposit fees, eventually started offering TVs and cash back, and recently began offering a free month's rent.

The Enclave is offering new renters a free month and is waiving move-in fees, while renewals get the same rental rate and whatever concession was offered last season, he said.

That was enough to convince Sabaa Kamal, a first-year law student, who is sharing a three-bedroom apartment for about $1,400 a month. After looking at several high-end apartments, she said the free month prorated to save $130 a month made the apartment about $500 less than a comparable new complex she was looking at.

"In comparison, it's like a huge deal," she said.

She recently renewed for next fall when offered the same deal. "We weren't going to be signing our renewal unless we had some incentive to do so, but I wanted to renew for the next year because I love the place so much," she said.

Occupancy is particularly low at The Enclave - 46 percent - because construction on half the units was completed after the school year began, Garcia said.

Owner Nathan Collier of Paradigm Properties said he prefers not to give away a free month.

"You give away 8.5 percent of your revenue. You might as well sit with 8.5 percent vacancy," he said.

But Garcia said that changed this year because a lot of the competition started offering a free month.

He said the most generous offer he's heard is two free months.

Pine Rush Villas is advertising two free months. The property management company did not return calls for comment.

Lexington Crossing is offering two tickets for a free five-day, four-night cruise to the Bahamas, Mexico or the Caribbean for new leases and renewals. About 10 people have taken the offer since December, said Amber Dunaway, assistant property manager.

She said fall occupancy was 85 percent and it's difficult to maintain occupancy rates with so many new properties opening.

"We're just trying to do it to come up with something different than money all the time or cash rebates," Dunaway said.

Other deals in the area include free furniture, $1,000 debit cards, discounts at local businesses or free Internet and cable.

Collier said they are also renovating some older apartments with new cabinets. The Laurels on SW 34th Street recently got $150,000 worth of new refrigerators and appliances.

Collier said he accepts collective responsibility for overdeveloping the market. He also owns the Crossing at Santa Fe.

He said very few apartments are raising rental rates.

Neale said some rates for next fall are going up by a meager $10 or $20, while others are going down. She said she expects more offers for new paint and cleaned carpets.

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