David Adelman on the new world of college dorms

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David Adelman of Campus Apartments says he prefers the real estate market for its relative safety. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ/Staff Photographer)

David Adelman, now 43, was 11, when he bet a family friend that he could beat him in basketball.

"He said, 'I'm going to teach you about gambling.' I lost my basketball, my football, and my baseball glove. I had to come down to Campus Apartments every Saturday to stack lumber to get my stuff back," Adelman recalled.

The friend, Alan Horwitz, had founded Campus Apartments, a student housing company, in 1964 - eight years before Adelman was born.

When Adelman turned 13 and had his bar mitzvah, he gambled again, giving his $2,000 stash of gift money to Horwitz to invest in a building at 45th and Pine Streets.

That gamble paid off - big time.

Adelman now carries the title of chief executive of Campus Apartments L.L.C., a national company with its headquarters in West Philadelphia. The company develops and operates student housing with $2 billion in assets under management.

Horwitz "really taught me the business," Adelman said. "We still own that building today. For me, it was kind of a sport. I loved being able to take buildings, renovate them, and create something new."

Students are moving out of campus apartments. Do you need a hazmat suit to go into some of these places?

 

The Animal House kind of stigma has left years ago.

How did that happen?

We educate our students to what our expectations are for how they're going to take care of our places. We inspect our units quarterly. We always make sure that we do the first inspection before Thanksgiving to make sure they're treating it well. If not, a bill goes home to Mom and Dad. So Johnny's sitting at Thanksgiving dinner and the bill came home five days before, saying, 'You're not taking care of the place.' The rest of the year we don't have any problems. Tricks of the trade.

Any others?

 

These kids want to communicate by text message and don't want to talk to anyone. The majority of our [online] traffic comes after 9 p.m. That's when the students get around to asking questions about their rent or their apartment or signing a lease. We do as much as we can without the student having to talk to us, because that's what they prefer.

Some of your housing is so posh - infinity pools, beach volleyball. A far cry from my dorm.

 

Washer and dryer in the units, furnished. In the clubhouse, there will be a coffee machine now, a

really nice fitness center.

What was your campus housing like at Ohio State?

 

I lived in a seven-bedroom house that had two bathrooms. After that, I lived in a fraternity house, which was worse.

So many bathrooms! What happened to the communal bathrooms down the hall?

A lot of these millennials grew up with their own bathrooms. That's why it's all the rage.

What do kids want in housing that's different now from when you began? What are their priorities?

Fast Internet. Number one, two, and three. Students today will move out of a property if there is not fast Internet or if it's unreliable.

What's your favorite type of investment?

 

I love real estate. Real estate is just a great place to put your money in a safe manner. It's a great hedge against inflation. It's a good hedge against rising interest rates. It's a slow and steady growth. I'm not a dot-com guy, a tech guy, or anything like that. Slow and steady is fine by me. I've never been one for the stock market. To me, that's kind of like throwing darts.

But didn't real estate get slammed in the recession?

 

Student housing is somewhat recession resistant. Students still went to college. Students still paid their rent. Mom and Dad might have gone without other things, but they made sure their kids stayed in school.

Some campus landlords have terrible reputations for charging high rents for rundown apartments.

 

In the age of social media, it's not so easy to be a bad landlord anymore. I think it's the best thing to happen to our business. Hearing bad landlord stories makes me cringe. It's bad for the industry. When people can tweet and text, 'Don't live at this place,' boom, that guy is out of business.


Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.

jvonbergen@phillynews.com

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@JaneVonBergen