Student leasing agents aim to ease housing process

Catherine Cahn, Life and Arts Reporter

Sitting behind the topping-encrusted counter at Andy’s Frozen Custard, Leo Zapata wished for a more fulfilling job. While he earned his real estate license a month ago, the new title brought nothing new to his everyday routine. He still spent his days scooping ice cream and feeding customers.  

Everything changed when Zapata’s phone rang, and a real estate mentor at a local firm offered him his first clients.

“(I thought) ‘Why don’t I do something right now that’s going to better me in the future or prepare me for adulthood?’” economics sophomore Zapata said. “I wanted to find a job where I wouldn’t have a boss and where I could control my own hours — a job that would have no ceiling.” 

Student leasing agents join teams such as Lease with Ease and Housing Scout, which offer them access to resources and services, such as mentorship and connections with apartments around campus, Zapata said. Once established in one of these groups, agents help other students find a place to live free of charge. Zapata said for him and other students, obtaining a real estate license and becoming a student leasing agent serves as the first step to achieving their life and career goals. 

Architecture senior Varsha Iyer said working as a leasing agent appealed to her because of the flexible hours and the ability to profit from the job, but also because of its relevance to her major. 

“Being in architecture, it’s really easy to be at the forefront of design and do all the design work,” Iyer said. “I also wanted to see how the end product looks — the kind of business side of architecture and development.”

Finance sophomore Akhil Thomas used Zapata’s services to find his housing for next school year. After spending years prior skipping class and knocking on doors to find the perfect apartment, Thomas said using a leasing service geared towards UT students significantly eased the process of finding an apartment.

“(Zapata) was awesome because if we didn’t really like (an apartment), he was understanding and worked hard to find a new one,” Thomas said. “It was a lot easier than having to spend my own time and skip classes (like last year).”

While Iyer said she enjoys the process of connecting with students and helping them find a home near campus, when rates increase and students compete for the remaining affordable options, her work often becomes difficult. 

“There was this group of four guys  I had been Working with for about six months helping them find a place,” Iyer said. “We had toured maybe 10 places at that point and nothing was working out in their favor. Things would always get sold out. It was really a struggle for both of them, and it was definitely a challenge.” 

As Iyer nears graduation hopeful for a career in architecture, she said working as a student leasing agent taught her life skills.

“When you’re looking to get clients for architectural projects, you have to essentially pitch the big idea, and you have to sell it, and you have to be a salesperson,” Iyer said. “(Working in real estate) has been really beneficial, and these are skills I’ll take with me through my whole career.”