The realities of being a lettings agent in university towns

News: Sheila Manchester bikes

July 08, 2013

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A quick stroll around any university town will show you that the student stereotype remains unchanged: jeans, slouchy jacket, trainers, slightly dank looking hair…

However, as any lettings agent operating in university towns will know, underneath the casual – okay – grimy presentation, where those students want to live – and how they want to live, has changed quite dramatically in the recent years.

Where once a grotty flat within stumbling distance of the local nightlife and, less importantly, the campus, was all that the student expected, now, a far higher range of physical comforts and technical services are required.

Many more universities offer halls of residence for the first year and the standards of this accommodation have risen so much that many resemble a Holiday Inn, rather than grungy student digs. When it comes to the second year of freedom and fun, the cosseted young folk seek good storage space, large communal space for socialising and, hide your blushes, double beds. Whatever next?

Whatever next is superfast broadband, Sky – coming, preferably with an installed 46-inch TV. In a recent survey by the specialist student renting portal, (AFS), 88% of students questioned said that fast internet was the most important property attribute when searching for a home. Given that 90% of the respondents have a smartphone, (46% are iPhones), 85% use Facebook (and 39% use Twitter) every day, it isn’t surprising they are so technically dependent.

Students also know that they want to be near the university, that price is a key factor and that ideally, all bills (including broadband, Sky and heating) should be included; they certainly seem sufficiently intelligent to secure a good deal.

Except that their savvy attitude to technology is not equalled by their knowledge of tenancy agreements, deposits and rent guarantees.

In a recent survey by Shelter, it was found that one in three tenants were unaware of their rights to tenancy deposit protection and one in five didn’t know if their deposit was protected at all.

Student awareness is thought to be even less. The TDS, one of four government accredited tenancy deposit schemes, found that not only do many students have little or no understanding of the need to protect their deposit, they don’t appreciate that they have to lodge a deposit at all; and they don’t understand that they can lose the whole deposit if they leave the accommodation in poor state at the end of their tenancy.

The Property Ombudsman (TPO) also reported recently on student tenant issues – and the drastic effect a dispute can have on a student’s family. The TPO reports that because many students won’t have a good credit rating (having had no credit), the parents often guarantee the rent. Many guarantors believe that they are only guaranteeing the payment and housekeeping skills of their own clever young darling. In fact, they can be held responsible for any or all of the tenants, should there be default or damage.

The savvy young tenant may know all there is to know about social media, internet games, downloads and rapid communication, but very few have the life experience to fully understand the implications of renting a home.

Agents, take note, a little education from you may, says the Property Ombudsman, prevent a whole stream of issues at the end of a student tenancy.

This is Sheila Manchester’s last article for Moneypenny as we take a break for the summer – we’ll be returning to offer news that matters to you in September.