By Steve Roulstone
I guess everybody wondered what the effect of the new style Student fees would have and reports have abounded supporting both sides of the fence. What cannot be denied are hard facts and in Stafford there is no doubt that Students have looked differently for their accommodation needs and because of the reduction in numbers, several Landlords have found themselves with no takers for their Student accommodation.
Change of use.
Of course at this time of year it is clear if nobody has come forward yet, then they are hardly likely too for the academic year that has just started and I have had three difficult conversations with Landlords about what options they have in their properties at present. Of course change to family let has been the recommendation on each occasion, but strangely this problem has not occurred in what we have found this year.
We manage a large purpose built block in Stafford with 68 rooms spread between 14 flats. Our numbers are slightly down on last year, but have held up far better when compared to what seems to be happening in the traditional Houses of Multiple Occupation. Why? Well the cost is less and a Warden is present as well as private room and en-suite facilities. Add its location next door to the main Stafford College and perhaps we have the answers. But because our occupation is still high this is why I suggest they have looked at the market differently.
No doubt there has been a reduction in numbers, because most Student Landlords would manage the property themselves, so if we have seen three empty houses, the Town probably has two dozen! This would represent a marked drop in the overall Student accommodation requirement. But I am also convinced that quality is starting to play a hand as well and it is Market Forces that is driving demand as students search harder for value for money.
Still need for change.
Of course, none of this assists the Landlords of houses that are still empty now, especially if they are looking to move back to Students next year! Some requirements for the general market just do not sit with a more traditional ‘Family’ let. (Not to mention furniture which is hardly ever the best and rarely matching?) Locks on bedroom doors, fire blankets, Card Meters! All of these are better removed and of course rarely can that be done without affecting appearances. But worst of all, that dreaded style of decoration, woodchip wallpaper!
Back to market forces.
I was present in a property yesterday which was very well presented, but had to be honest with Landlords who were already going to see quite a drop in monthly income, from three students to a Family in a 1st floor flat, my advice had to be based on the property they were competing with! Small properties with three types of carpet that can all be seen from most of the rooms will not be well received when judged against the common fashion of using the same carpet throughout. It is comparing against other property that has to be the benchmark.
The bottom line is in most cases lots of improvements need to be made and cost is always going to be an issue, but to then change back again is going to be a double whammy as for example, hardly anybody has storage room for furniture and would therefore have to buy new. Ironically it could be that very change that might attract Students in a market being driven by services and quality as I believe it now is. Either way, tired or poor accommodation will continue to struggle and the next two years could be a very hard challenge as more Students drop off after three years and the intake continues to fall!