By Sarah Trefethen
Some people do theory. Some people do practice. And then there’s Andrew Stark, who has a theory about the best way to get value from a real estate asset: get hands-on in the practice of running the property.
“I think there’s a lot more value in being able to control your destiny in managing the asset,ˮ the CEO of student housing provider Campus Evolution Villages told Real Estate Weekly. “It’s also why I’m losing my hair.”
When he spoke last week, Stark was just off the phone with the team on the ground at one of Campus Evolution’s properties in college towns across the country, almost entirely leased and with students already moving in.
“I’m managing those one or two percentage points,” he said.
It hasn’t always been this way for Stark, who originally trained as a lawyer and spent time all over the real estate map, including launching Cantor Fitzgerald’s real estate investment arm, Cantor Real Estate, in 2008.
His father owned property in Long Island, he said, and he grew up around the business. He practiced law for six years with Lord, Day & Lord, Barrett Smith in New York, focusing on real estate law. After Lord, Day, Stark ran a residential development company WCI Communities. In the late 1990s, he was also involved in American Campus Communities, an early student housing provider that later became the first company in the sector to be publicly traded.
In 2008, Cantor Fitzgerald hired Stark and his partner from WCI, Rodney Montag, to run a fund that would take advantage of opportunities in distressed real estate, including recapitalizing and repositioning stalled development projects.
They also invested in developing platform companies, an experience that helped solidify Stark’s belief in the best way to get value out of real estate.
And student housing is “the most management-intensive real estate,” according to Stark, who described the industry as an “amalgamation of multi-family and hospitality.”
Stark and Evan Denner formed Campus Evolution Villages in late 2011 and started acquiring properties early this year.
“Student housing is a relatively new sector, although it’s institutionally recognized,” he said. “People love it.”
They also acquired United Campus Housing Management Group, a student housing management company with more than 25 years of experience, to allow the new operation to hit the ground running.
In addition to comfortable, fully furnished apartments and plenty of luxury amenities, the company is offering college-like programs, including “Art Battles U,” a series of events showcasing student artists that launched at Webster Hall in april with about 900 students in attendence, and Company X, an early stage incubator to help launch students’ dorm-room business ideas.
“The investment we’re putting into these vehicles all are driven by the idea that they’re going to drive up occupancy,” Stark said. “By just putting a better program into the building, you make it a more attractive place to live.”
Stark’s own daughter is currently a student at Syracuse University. He lives in Northern Westchester with his wife. This past weekend, they celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary with a party that featured a live performance by an eight-piece funk/soul band.
Music is one of Stark’s passions, he said, and in the summer he enjoys attending music festivals and hearing up-and-coming new musicians. In the winter he likes to ski.
Campus Evolution plans to continue to expand its share of the student housing market, building on the start it’s making this fall and maybe shaping a few lives along the way.
“Every day we get to interact with students who are the future leaders of our world,” Stark said.