23 September 2020

Student Housing Conference 2020 – 5 key takeaways

On Tuesday 22 September 2020 I attended the virtual Student Housing Conference 2020, together with Ronan Ledwidge, Partner in our Commercial Real Estate team. The overall message from the many speakers was one of positivity and optimism – here are my 5 takeaways from the event:

  1. Sector resilience – student accommodation remains a sought-after asset class in the real estate market. Whilst it will inevitably be a tough year for investors, the impact of the Coronavirus crisis should only be temporary for the PBSA market.
  2. Location, location, location – location is more crucial now than ever, both in terms of the town or city itself and the location of the accommodation in that locality. Developers must continue to give strong consideration to whether it makes sense to build their scheme in a particular location.
  3. The preferred option – the latest data shows that private purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) has become the preferred option for students attending university in the UK, both international and domestic. StudentCrowd survey results reveal that students rank PBSA above university dorms in terms of value for money, location, management, cleanliness, Wi-Fi and quality of social spaces. The next focus for PBSA going forward should be the enhancement of the social experience, albeit that will have to wait until social distancing is a thing of the past.
  4. Collaboration – the rise in popularity of PBSA has brought about the strengthening of partnerships between universities and operators, particularly in respect of pastoral and social care for students. Universities – who will have to rely on the private sector now more than ever – are continuing to work closely with investors to maximise the potential benefit that quality accommodation can bring. Investors should also work closely with their debt providers and engage early if any road bumps are encountered.
  5. Looking ahead – the latest evidence clearly suggests that students still want the university experience – you cannot rely on Zoom for everything. It is hoped that by September 2021, students will be looking forward to the academic year ahead with Covid all but behind us. If that is the case, then student demand for PBSA should be greater than ever. As for the current academic year, the coming weeks will be crucial. An encouraging number of rooms have been booked, but it remains to be seen if everyone will turn up...

Anthony Goodmaker is a Senior Associate in the Commercial Real Estate team.

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