As we get ever closer to leaving 2020 behind (and many might be happy to write this year off entirely), thoughts naturally turn to what 2021 will bring.
What will the rental and student markets look like? What impact will Covid-19 continue to have? And will Brexit cause damage to the rental sector in major UK cities, where EU citizens studying and living here are typically more likely to rent?
Lydia Jones, the founder and chief executive of recently launched Manchester-based student accommodation booking platform Housemates – whose progress we’ve followed for the last 18 months or so, since its early days as a start-up competing in tech entrepreneur competitions – aims to answer some of these highly pertinent questions below.
What will happen to the rental and student markets in 2021?
“It’s been a very turbulent year for those in the rental and student markets, though news on Covid-19 vaccines is looking increasingly positive with the rollout due to start in just a matter of days,” Jones says. “I expect the student market to jump back in the spring for a return to near-normal in the 2021/22 academic year.”
She says more students than ever are due to begin their studies in the autumn, including many who deferred a year due to the A-Level results situation in August.
“When the demand returns, we expect it to be fast-paced. PBSA operators, which have relied heavily on slow lead-generation platforms, will need tools which enable them to fill their occupancy more efficiently.”
As for the wider rental market, she believes this year has changed consumer behaviours for good. “For example, renters are now comfortable to sign a tenancy agreement based on a digital viewing. This will continue, especially for students coming from afar,” she explains. “This efficiency will save time and money for all parties and be better for the environment, too.”
What are Housemates’ plans, and what does the current market look like?
“We’ve spent the best part of this year building the product with our industry partners, so we’re very excited about our launch,” Jones continues.
“Going forward, we’ll continue to work with PBSA operators of all sizes to onboard them to the product and help them fill occupancy whilst reducing operational and acquisition costs. We expect to expand our supply across the UK and Ireland ready for the return in demand in the new year.”
She admits there’s still uncertainty in the current market, which is why both students and operators ‘need tools that give them flexibility whilst also helping them to stay organised’.
In the meantime, there is the understanding that PBSA operators are looking to fill occupancy for the remainder of the 2020/21 academic year and Housemates wants to support them with that and help bridge the gap.
As such, the company are currently allowing PBSA operators who list their supply for the 2021/22 academic year on Housemates to receive a discounted service fee for all bookings in the 2020/21 academic year.
What about the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit on demand from international and EU students?
Jones says there is still strong demand from international students, but this will be impacted by the end of the transition period – which could potentially make it harder, or less appealing, for the EU students to study in the UK from January.
“Brexit does have an impact on the market in terms of demand from EU students coming to the UK, which we’re following. However, the recently revised student visa provides a much better offering to students from other areas, such as Asia and the Middle East, by allowing international students to apply for a graduate visa to remain in the UK whilst they find work,” Jones says.
“This change puts the UK as a top student destination and we believe the UK’s world-renowned universities will continue to bring students in from across the globe once restrictions ease.”
She says there has also been recent arrangements between universities, local government and other bodies to schedule charter flights for international students to the UK, which are expected to resume in January.
“International students are vital to our city economies, so we anticipate this to continue,” Jones says.
Housemates recently launched its student accommodation booking platform, which aims to offer the fastest, simplest and most secure booking option in the PBSA market.
The launch is deemed even more critical during the pandemic, too, with students needing flexibility with their accommodation to meet with government restrictions, and PBSA operators still needing to fill their occupancy quickly and easily.
Jones herself has already won numerous awards for her entrepreneurship, including regional winner for the North West and North East in the nationwide The F Factor contest. She was also featured in Business Cloud’s 30 under 30.
You can read more about the launch on this story from our sister publication, Letting Agent Today.
This post has originally been featured in Property Investor Today.