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Recent months have been topsy-turvy for everyone, not least for students. The student lettings market, normally so predictable in its patterns, has been thrown off kilter. Here's how this has affected lettings agencies Dafydd Hardy, Zest Sales & Lettings, and College & County - and what they've learned about the student market.
"We noticed in the first lockdown that a lot of students were fed up of being back home with their parents and were keen to regain their own spaces," says Mike Payne, Student Lettings Manager at Dafydd Hardy Estate Agents and Chartered Surveyors. "Typically students will come back in September, but we saw a significant proportion come back in August last year. They wanted to have their independence back."
Dafydd Hardy also saw a new pattern at Christmas in North West Wales, as students once again deviated from the norm. "We noticed that some students opted to stay in their accommodation as opposed to going home for shielding reasons, although it was permitted."
The agency adapted quickly to this, ensuring they were still on hand to offer support. "We reached out to them and say that if you want to chat, we've got a full team here, just give us a call. I think it's hugely important that they've got that option to reach out," says Mike.
In Bath - another student city - Beth Perry, Operations Director at Bath-based Zest Sales and Lettings, is optimistic that this change in student tendencies will not have a long-term negative impact on the market. "With two universities in Bath, we will always have students in the city - so there is always going to be a high demand for rentals," says Beth. Even before Christmas, Zest Sales and Lettings had let nearly all of the student properties they had available for the 2021-22 term, which Beth puts down to good team organisation.
This involved preemptive actions, such as recording videos while the properties were empty - no mean feat for student properties. "When you've got one or two tenants, you can ask them to step out for five minutes, but when you've got eight students, it's difficult to continue physical viewings," says Beth.
Although Dafydd Hardy also offers virtual viewings, Mike predicts an uptick in physical viewings again once lockdown restrictions are fully lifted. "Typically you'd see a second spike in February or March of people taking accommodation for the coming year but, despite virtual tours, I think we'll have a late number of lets once things are relaxed further and it's even safer for them to visit the houses."
In the meantime, students need to take confidence that they'll get what they signed for. At Zest Sales and Lettings, this meant a strong focus on accurate video viewings. "We've adapted and changed our marketing strategy to create videos giving an even clearer indication of what the properties are like, so students can have confidence when they're signing the rental agreement to secure the property for the following year - even without seeing the property in person," explains Beth.
Student lets have long timeframes, with properties available months in advance to reserve for the next academic year. Lucy Woodall, Lettings Negotiator at College & County, says that a sense of urgency often has to be conveyed to the students, to ensure they understand that they still have to quickly secure the property, despite the far-off deadline.
The communication with students has to impose structure to ensure the lettings process can progress at an appropriate pace - and so clearly conveying specific deadlines can help to achieve this. "We give them two days to do their references and supply their guarantors' information, and then five days for the guarantors to provide their information and sign the guarantor agreement."
Professional lets are the opposite. "With professionals we're looking at a ten day to two week turnaround," says Lucy. "They have much tighter deadlines and want to move in much more quickly than students would."
"Working professionals understand that the pressure's on and they need to get stuff sorted, so it's all about conveying that same pressure to the students," says Lucy. "It's important to manage their expectations, to ensure a smooth process to work with because no one likes to be chased."
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