Student housing: Builder aims to meet needs

Published 11:00 pm Monday, July 2, 2012

Jeff Hatcher strolled along the 500 block of Lee Avenue, clipboard in hand, Monday morning.

“I’m just looking for an address for these two houses,” Hatcher said, nodding to a pair of houses under construction. “I want to make sure I get it right.”

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Hatcher, a sales representative with E.E. Bentley Insulation in Dothan, was waiting for builder Keith Laney to join him at the construction site.

“I’m here to measure for insulation,” he said, while electrical contractors worked inside one of the houses.

Hatcher says he’s been working with Laney – and a long list of Troy contractors – for several years. And these days, building houses for rent is keeping everyone busy.

“I know from working with these guys, they rent them out just about as fast they get them built,” Hatcher said. “Students need places to rent.”

Just blocks from Troy University, the new houses are nearby nearly a dozen other rental houses built within the last two years. The surrounding neighborhood near Pell Avenue is a mix of new construction and older houses, many of which are rented to students at Troy University.

“It’s a good area,” said Laney, owner of Trojan Construction. “The students seem to really like it.”

Close enough to walk or bike to class, quiet streets with little traffic and the appeal of new construction all attract students. The houses, which will feature two bedrooms and two baths, are about 1,000 square feet, just enough for a pair of college students. They rent for $1,000 month.

“The most important thing to the students is their own bedroom and own bathroom,” Laney said. “The price is on the upper end of the market, but it’s also brand new construction.”

Laney, a Troy graduate, has been in the construction business for more than seven years. His work is a mix of residential construction and construction of houses like those on Lee Avenue, which will be used as rental income. In an effort to meet the increasing demand for rental property, Laney is building three sets of properties right now: the Lee Avenue houses, a duplex on Park Street and a house on Willow Street.

The key is managing the turn-around from start to finish, which takes about six weeks. “We’re trying to get them ready so students can rent them in August,” Laney said. That’s when the market is at its peak. “It gets busy again in December and January, with students looking for housing for the spring, but it’s not as busy as the fall,” Laney said.

For Laney, and others in the construction and property management business, the push is a good thing. “People need to know the university is a good thing for us,” he said. “It’s keeping people busy right now … it’s a good thing for us and for Troy.”