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The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted almost every facet of society. For landlords and property owners, the disruptions have been significant, with many tenants facing furlough or redundancy and no way to pay rent. This issue has been even more challenging for student property providers, as university terms being brought to an early end led to many students asking to leave their contracts early.
Now, looking forward to the class of 2020, there are other challenges that might spell trouble for student property providers. With many universities announcing that much of their teaching could be happening online, social interaction remaining limited and a broader public health awareness generally, moving away from home for the first time to live with strangers may not be the most attractive prospect.
What to expect as property providers
Though room bookings for the next academic year are still high, with Unite Students claiming more than 80% of their rooms are booked already, the changes to how universities will operate are likely to have an impact on the sector.
Most universities will be offering some in-person teaching and social ‘freshers’ activities to encourage students to start on campus at the beginning of the year. However, rent is a considerable burden for students and the potential for most of their courses to be online could be the reason some students need to avoid moving in straight away, saving them some money in the first term.
On the other hand, the social aspects of university are one of the leading reasons why students move away from home and into designated student accommodation. Though social gatherings will be limited, many students will still take the opportunity to move out as soon as possible, especially considering so many will have been in lockdown with their families and will be excited by the prospect of personal freedom.
Overall, the needs of students haven’t shifted too much but it is crucial that accommodation providers identify where they have changed, so they can continue to attract students for the coming year.
What do students want?
With online teaching set to make up a large part of next year’s curriculum, students will be spending much more time in their accommodation than in previous years. For this reason, larger living space will become an even greater commodity. Additionally, as coronavirus hasn’t been fully suppressed, the threat of local lockdowns could continue for the foreseeable future. Students may have a heightened awareness of this when choosing where to live and more space will certainly make a lockdown location more attractive to live in.
In the same respect, social distancing measures will mean that self-containment is a higher priority for students who typically occupy highly communal living spaces. Personal bathrooms or fewer users per bathroom will be higher up on the list of needs, as well as the ability to isolate as much as possible should coronavirus transmission increase in the local area.
While often a high priority for all home-seekers, high-speed internet is expected to take precedence for students. With so much of the syllabus going online and the prospect of continued virtual lectures, students will need strong internet connections to get the most out of their courses. With course fees so high, the value of each virtual lecture will likely become even more significant, so high-speed internet availability will be a big bonus for those planning where to move.
An estimated 10% of property providers are planning to offer extra perks to students who book rooms with them. With the internet playing an even bigger role in their learning in the next year, offering WiFi as part of the rent package could make a room more desirable. WiFi is a fixed price utility, meaning there would be no unexpected bills and a low investment cost to ensure rooms are booked in for the next year.
When will the market recover?
Though the assertion from universities that in-person learning will still take place should mean that most students will want to move to university at the beginning of the year, this academic year will still be challenging for property providers. The dip in the 18-year-old population until next year means that there will likely be fewer students. Add to this the fact that fewer international students will be moving to the UK thanks to the implications of travel and coronavirus, landlords will need to be even more competitive.
Even if student numbers are similar to last year’s cohort, now is the ideal time for landlords to review their properties and ensure that they are meeting the needs of their tenants, the social, welfare and academic expectations are likely to shift thanks to the pandemic and the most competitive landlords will find the most success from targeting these areas.
This article was written by Ben Fielding from InventoryBase, property inventory software for landlords and property professionals in the UK.
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