Many factors influence a student’s decision to live on the lake

By Joelle Stewart

There are many lakefront apartments in Madison, Wisconsin, that vary in location, cost and amenities. Most students are willing to pay a slightly higher rent to live on the lake, but they expect these apartment buildings to have certain features in return.

Rental agents and property managers in the area believe that there are numerous factors beyond the lake that draw students to apartments on Lake Mendota.

Ryan LaReau is a rental agent for Hamilton Apartments. The building offers private access and balcony views of Lake Mendota, in-apartment laundry, and high-speed internet access. In comparison to other lakefront apartments in the area, Hamilton Apartments is the cheapest.  A two-bedroom apartment goes for $1,400 a month.

“The lake is a definite bonus, but not the main reason people want to live at Hamilton Place,” LaReau said. “It is more about the close location to downtown Madison, State Street and Capitol Square.”

While most people view living on the lake favorably, LaReau believes that other factors like cost and amenities draw people to Hamilton Apartments.

Mary Devine, the property manager for Surfside Apartments, shared a similar sentiment to LaReau.

“I believe what most interests our residents to live at Surfside is its location next to campus,” Devine said. “Secondly, the lake views and the balcony and lake amenities like the pier, deck, grilling areas, hot tub, small boat storage, and social areas are a draw for residents.”

While the close proximity to Lake Mendota is a great bonus, Devine says that real estate professionals around the University of Wisconsin-Madison believe that location to campus, not the lake, is the deciding factor for most students.

For example, a two-bedroom apartment at Surfside costs $1,585 per month. While this is slightly more expensive than Hamilton Apartments, the Surfside is located closer to the UW-Madison campus and also provides more amenities like a hot tub, grills, pier and fitness center.

Kenzie Loftness, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, lives in the Waterfront Apartments. While she agrees the lake is a plus, she primarily chose to live at the Waterfront Apartments because of its location.

“The Waterfront Apartments are located right by Greek life, and I am willingly to pay extra for that,” Loftness said. “I love living on Lake Mendota, especially in the summertime, but I really wanted to live in Waterfront to be close to Langdon Street and the sorority and frat houses.”

Regardless of whether residents specifically wanted to live in a lakefront apartment or not, they do try to take advantage of being near the lake.

“While location is the most important, the apartments with lake views are always the first to go as opposed to apartment buildings with city views,” LaReau said. “Once people see the lake they usually fall in love.”

The Waterfront Apartments are the most expensive lakefront apartment building that was analyzed, a two-bedroom apartment is $1,900 a month.

Some students, like Logan Parsons, offset this cost by sharing a room. Parsons’ three-bedroom apartment is $3,000 a month, but he and his five roommates only pay $500 each because they all share a room.

“We decided to live in the Waterfront Apartments because of its location and because it worked well for the six of us,” Parsons said. “I wouldn’t say living on the lake was incredibly important, but the fact it was near the lake was definitely not a negative in our eyes.”

Although the Waterfront Apartments are the costliest, it also offers a heated rooftop swimming pool, pontoon boat tours and a fitness room. These amenities may explain some of the extra expense that Waterfront residents pay.

Erik Burns is an Account Executive at Advantage Publications and Marketing Inc. which is a Madison apartment search website. Burns also says that price and location are more important to students than living on the lake.

“In my opinion, the student demographic, like basically every other demographic, would think favorably about living on or near a lake,” Burns said. “However, this would not be as high of a priority as pricing, proximity to school and amenities.”

This is true for Parsons. He does not mind that Waterfront is a bit further from campus because he knows he is getting a very good price for his apartment. The pool and extra amenities in Waterfront also make it worth it.

“My roommates and I are only paying $500 a piece and that is a steal,” Parsons said. “Even though we are sharing a room, it is worth it because of all the other stuff that is included.”

Loftness agrees that living in the Waterfront is worth the extra expense, but she and her roommates are fortunate enough to each be able to afford the $1,000 monthly rent.

“Rent is definitely a bit more expensive here,” Loftness said. “But it is so convenient to have a fitness center right on site and a pool and lake dock to hang out at all summer long. I think it is kind of one of those things where, you get what you pay for.”

There are many factors that affect the price of an apartment. The quality of apartment will be the strongest indicator of price, including the building’s location and amenities.

In an article in the Wisconsin State Journal, Dean Mosiman explains that real estate values in Madison have continued to rise because of the growing economy and high demand. Especially for lakefront properties.

“The city’s priciest homes were in Spring Harbor on Lake Mendota, where the average value rose 3.1 percent to $1.04 million,” Mosiman said. “Lake shore homes on the Isthmus rose an average 10.6 percent to $829,400.”

So, while apartments on Lake Mendota are more expensive for students, this does align with more general lakefront property trends in the Madison area.

Similarly, Mosiman said that there was strong growth in commercial values, especially for big apartment buildings with 50 or more units. The owners of the Hamilton Apartments, the Surf and the Waterfront Apartments will benefit because their buildings all have 50 or more units and have increased in value. The owners are in a good place because there are more people that need apartments than are available, so they can now charge more for each unit.

It will be interesting to see how this commercial value growth will influence the price of living at each apartment and each student’s decision to sign at lakefront properties over the next couple years.

Realtors know that the lake is a draw for students; but, the location in relation to campus, cost and amenities apartments provide is even more important. This explains why most apartments on Lake Mendota include an abundance of amenities, like piers or lake access, that cannot be found elsewhere – making students feel like the higher rent is worth it.