California college students have found vacant, sprawling McMansions near campus cheaper than the cramped dorm rooms offered by their universities. In towns such as Merced, California, undergrads opting for this unconventional living arrangement can rent suburban palaces boasting granite countertops and Jacuzzi bathtubs with four of their friends for just above $200 each — a considerable upgrade from the thin walls and shared bathrooms on campus for twice the price.

College towns such as Merced, which is ranked third nationally in metropolitan area foreclosures, have found a new demographic in need of housing that can afford to pay more than the average family. Students pay less for more space when they rent a McMansion, and their occupancy helps a neighborhood of vacant real estate retain its value.

first tuesday take: Unexpected relief for foreclosure-blighted communities provided by large university  populations is just one of the surprises produced by this Lesser Depression. Generation Y (Gen Y) is a new well of untapped renters who have come to the rescue of distressed property owners and eager property managers.

Since Gen Y students won’t look twice at a FARM letter or bus-bench ad, marketing properties to them means building an internet presence. The millions of students who are looking for affordable luxury housing will scour Craigslist and Facebook for local listings and roommate ads. Make sure they find your properties there! Make the landlord pay for water and landscape maintenance if you want to maintain curb appeal and keep the code enforcement from getting involved.[For more information regarding marketing via social networking, see the October 2010 first tuesday article, Social networking has proven valuable to agents.]

Brokers can build a presence on and off campus in preparation for Gen Y’s post-collegiate search for their first homes. Earn a reputation as a local real estate expert by taking advantage of all social networking and research opportunities the web provides. Most students will relocate on graduation, so work that angle as you get used to this new world of real estate. [For more information regarding Gen Y, see the October 2010 first tuesday article, The demographics forging California’s real estate market, a study of forthcoming trends and opportunities.]

Re: “Animal McMansion: Students Trade Dorm for Suburban Luxury” from the NY Times