Student Letting in Bath – A 2014-15 Review

Bath Student Accommodation

I’m now into my fourth month at Madison Oakley and thought it would be a good time to undertake a review of the student letting period so far. Having previously worked at one of our Universities in the accommodation department, it has been very interesting seeing the lettings season from the “other side” as it were.

In my previous role I spent a lot of my time advising students not to sign contracts too early, and to wait until February. I knew that students looked for accommodation much earlier than that, and tried to instill a sense of “don’t panic” to the student body, especially to the 1st years.  I didn’t understand why landlords were letting as early as they were. I was intrigued when I joined Madison Oakley to see what the lettings cycle would be from an agent and landlord perspective and to see why students were looking earlier than the traditional February starting point.

When I joined in mid-December the lettings had already begun and houses had already been taken. At this stage the students looking were 3rd and 4th years and those away on placement. They had rented before, knew who they wanted to live with and knew what they wanted in a house and could therefore choose and secure a property in a minimal timeframe and with very few viewings.

As January came around the older students continued to come through the door, and a few 1st year groups too who wanted to “get ahead of the game”. These are the students who traditionally I had advised to wait. On meeting them, they seemed savvy, had attended the housing advice forums that both Universities had put on at the beginning of December and were happy with their groups.

February saw an influx of activity and we have been very busy ever since, with a vast increase in the 1st years coming through the door. The 1st year groups were generally undertaking large amounts of viewings, as going through the process for the first time they were working out what they wanted. One group I met had seen over 20 properties! Once it gets to this stage I think students struggle to make comparisons and probably can’t even remember the defining features of each property.

This is where following the advice of the Universities and getting the house criteria and group sorted before viewings is essential, otherwise groups will just miss out because they can’t make a decision quick enough.

The reality is, properties do go extremely quickly, and the highest specification ones will go first – and whilst some are on tight budgets, some students are willing to pay the rents to match the high standard. Student groups must be in a position to have already done their homework, worked out their budget and be able to make a decision without hesitation, as there will invariably be a group behind them. Whether this is fair or not unfortunately doesn’t come into it – it’s the reality we face.

As agents here we try and give as much information upfront as possible, to allow groups to narrow down their search before booking viewings and our office located in Moorland Rd makes us very accessible, which we love. We also do not charge any tenant admin fees – a rarity in the lettings business, something which we are very proud of and feel increases the appeal of us as an agent to students.  I go through the tenancy conditions and ensure groups understand the legal commitment they are making before signing, so there can be no doubt once the signature is on the page.

Bath Student Accommodation

As for whether I will still be advising students to wait until February to start their search, my position has shifted.  The older students want to look earlier and the landlords want to let – the demand and desire is there on both sides. How this has come about is somewhat of a “chicken and egg” scenario, and whilst the ideal might be to wait until later – in some University cities the cycle doesn’t start until April/May – in Bath over the years landlords and agents have started advertising earlier, students have started looking earlier, and now this has happened others followed as to not fall behind with the demand and we are now in a position where I can’t see the December starting point being reversed.

Student groups won’t miss out on a good student let by waiting until February, but if they want to secure earlier they may get a higher spec house and provided they know their stuff, I will let them go for it.

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Debbie Hughes