American parents love to complain about the high cost of college, but what if there was a way to recoup those costs, and maybe earn a few dollars more, with a fairly traditional financial move made on a regular basis across the fruited plains?

Plain and simple, some financial money mavens say the answer is investing in rental properties in college cities and towns.

Currently, there is a rising demand for rental properties in collegiate burgs, according to Real Property Management, a property management franchise company with 300 offices across the U.S.

Parents who do invest in college rentals, often buying the home for a son or daughter (even in their name) attending college, seem highly pleased with the experience.

"The biggest mistake parents of college-aged children make is not buying a place for their children to own near a university," says Bruce Ailion, a Realtor and attorney with ReMax, in the greater Atlanta area. Ailion has purchased several rental properties that have both housed his college-bound kids, and his family has earned a profit on every investment.

"I assisted my oldest son in purchasing a college area condo near mass transit for $53,000 at the bottom of the real estate market," Ailion says. "He spent $10,000 in renovations and sold it three years later for $124,000."

The Ailions also turned a profit on a home near Georgia State University (bought for $53,000 three years ago and worth $120,000 today); and a home near Kennesaw State University (purchased for $36,000 and worth near $85,000 today.) "I have two more children to go," he adds. "Each has a 20-yard head start as a result of the purchase, and as parents. our cost was at least 50% below what campus housing would cost."

Morgan Franklin, a real estate agent with United Real Estate Lexington in Lexington, Ky. (home to the University of Kentucky), agrees that college dorm fees can greatly exceed the cost of a mortgage for an investment property. "It makes sense to purchase a home and then have your child take on roommates," Franklin notes. "Often, you'll cover the rent and even earn income."

Franklin says rents are higher in student housing areas, as property owners have to offset the high turnover rate among collegians. "In Lexington, there are still many homes that have older owners who have not updated their home and will be moving soon," Franklin states. "That presents a great opportunity to make a wholesale purchase."

The first step in a college town property purchase is to research the area thoroughly, says Ingrid Vincent, real estate agent at a boutique real estate brokerage firm covering southern Massachusetts and all of Rhode Island. "Look in a radius around the school, but avoid high crime areas," Vincent advises. "If you're out of state and don't know the area very well, consult with an experienced realtor to do the research and any home previewing."


When you buy a home, make sure you're covered with both home owners and liability insurance, Vincent adds. "Students are known for parties and damage, but it's worth the risk," she says. 

"Why pay the college when your money can be appreciating in an investment property?" she says. "You'll get another mortgage interest tax break, too." 

While price is always a primary consideration, try to buy a rental property as close to campus as possible, other real estate professionals say. "Having a community or rental unit that has a high walkability factor isa strong consideration," notes Larry Connor, managing partner at the Connor Group in Cincinnati. "The less reliance on cars the better."

Complaining about high college costs comes part and parcel with being a parent with kids heading off to old alma mater. But if you really want to cut those costs, and turn a profit in the deal, investing in a college town investment property could turn out to be an A+, financially.