Everything's changing: what students really expect

Today’s students may not have heard of The Young Ones. But for those that can remember it, the 1980s BBC2 sitcom provided a timeless caricature of students and student life. The characters were anarchic, opinionated and spent most of their time drinking and setting the world to rights. 

A more recent example could be The Channel 4 comedy Fresh Meat. They drank less and were less politicised, but their lives (and accommodation) were still fairly chaotic. But do these stereotypes still hold true? Not really. 

Attending university is more expensive than it used to be. In the 1980s, when The Young Ones was set, the state covered undergraduate tuition fees. University was essentially free. For today’s UK undergraduates, tuition fees typically cost around £9,000 a year. Coupled with student loans, students typically graduate with around £50,000 worth of debt to pay off over the next 30 years. Which makes university a very expensive way of avoiding ‘the real world’ for another three years. And means leaving with good grades is a matter of priority. 

Young people across the board – students and non-students – are also less interested in heavy drinking than they used to be. One third of people aged 18-24 are teetotal. Plus, drinkers and non-drinkers alike are more health and image-conscious than they used to be.

Finally, the rise of Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA), which provides high-quality student flats that put traditional halls of residence to shame, has increased students’ expectations. Students used to put up with just about anything provided they had money left over at the end of the month to spend in the Student’s Union bar. This is no longer the case. 

So what do today’s students want from their landlords and accommodation? And how can landlords provide accommodation that meets their expectations?

 

Type of property

Communal living is a quintessential part of student life. And that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. In the private rented sector, HMOs are still the norm and four bedrooms seems to be the optimal number. Today’s more studious undergraduates may even be wary of living in larger properties, which tend to be more disruptive. 

In terms of property features, today’s students value large bedrooms over large social areas. This may be the result of spending more time in their room studying or online than in previous years. Landlords should also be aware of new restrictions around room sizes. As of October 2018, single rooms must not be smaller than 6.5 metres square and double rooms must be at least 10.2 square metres. 

The increasing popularity of PBSA has given landlords another option, which is to invest in PBSA schemes. This is a hands-off option that allows investors to earn a return without having to manage properties or tenants. You can learn more about investing in PBSA here.

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Fittings and furnishings

Squeaky mattresses and dodgy white goods no longer cut it. A lot of students will spend their first year in modern, quality accommodation provided by the university. And they won’t want the quality of their fittings and furnishings to decline sharply when they move into their own place.

As we’ve written about previously, most students expect all of the basics to be covered. Which means landlords should provide, as standard:

  • Double beds
  • High-speed wifi
  • A television
  • Quality fridge, freezer and washing machine
  • Comfortable furniture

Depending on the size of the property, landlords may want to double up on fridge and freezer space. In terms of quality, landlords should look for hard-wearing appliances that can stand up to regular use and won’t break easily. Those who skimp on price may find themselves having to replace units, which will be more expensive in the long run. 

 

Location

In the past, student landlords tended to look for properties that were close to campus and not far from pubs, bars and the town centre. Being near to campus is still important. But there’s a new priority to factor into that mix – the supermarket. 

Landlords who can find property near to a supermarket should make it a key part of their pitch when marketing the flat to potential tenants. Today’s more health-conscious students may also value being close to facilities such as gyms, parks and swimming pools where they can exercise and unwind.

Landlords who are keen to attract more affluent tenants may even offer optional discounted membership of local facilities as part of their offer.

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Here is our infographic with top tips for stress-free student letting and getting the most out of your investment

Managing the relationship

Managing the landlord-tenant relationship is a bit of a balancing act. Landlords need to be attentive and responsive without intruding on their tenants’ privacy. This is true not just of students, but of all young professionals and pretty much anyone else. Tenants want good service – but they don’t like nosy landlords. 

When dealing with younger tenants, it’s important that landlords communicate with them on their terms. Face-to-face and telephone communication between tenants and landlords is most common.

But most students would prefer email. In fact, 15 per cent said they would prefer WhatsApp over anything else. 

A good approach for landlords who aren’t sure how best to manage the relationship is to ask tenants which they’d rather. Some student houses elect a spokesperson who manages the landlord relationship.

Some prefer to manage it as a group. The important thing is that all tenants have a say, as preferences may differ.

Added extras

Different groups will be happy to spend money on different things. For instance, some students would be happy to pay more for their rent if cleaning services were provided. Including cleaning is a win-win for tenants and landlords. Tenants get to enjoy a clean home and landlords reduce the chance of their property falling into disrepair over the course of the tenancy (as well-behaved as students are nowadays). 

Landlords who are able to provide potential tenants with a list of optional add-ons will be able to add more value. After all, for today’s student, cheapest isn’t always best.

Finally, just like any other kind of tenant, it’s important for landlords to provide ‘welcome packs’ that include the inventory, tenancy agreement, advice for looking after the property and tips on the local area.

From a landlord’s perspective, students drinking less, studying more and valuing the quality of their accommodation can only be a good thing. Enterprising landlords who are able to provide quality accommodation at a competitive price should find tenants fairly easily. And those tenants should look after the property better and give neighbours fewer reasons to complain.