Making your HMO rooms stand out from the crowd

The September 2021 university experience is going to look very different to anything we’ve seen before.

Yes, it’ll be a marked improvement on how things were in 2020 with the last-minute return to in-person teaching on some courses.

But what you want to know is:

What does this mean for private rented student accommodation?

The chances are students won’t commit to accommodation until they absolutely have to because they’re worried about the implications of committing to a 12-month tenancy. This is because they’re understandably concerned about making a financial commitment to a property they’ll be unable to live in if restrictions change. 

They’re also considering the money-saving option of living at home, if possible (although the University of Cambridge have said that their undergraduates will still need to live in Cambridge to be awarded their degrees[i]).

This means the window for letting your rooms will probably be later and shorter this year, and demand for student housing may be lower than we’ve seen before. 

In what can only be described as a buyer’s market, making your room stand out is more important than ever.

Here are some tips to get you thinking.

1 – Make the most of an existing community

Some people think prospective tenants will see a part-occupied HMO as a dealbreaker.

In certain circumstances, it can be.

However, it can also be a property’s greatest asset.

A ready-made community is a valuable commodity that, when presented in the right way, students are willing to pay for.

So, if you don’t know much about the students in your house – get to know them. Ask them what they do and don’t like, what they’re studying and what their hobbies are. It’s basic stuff, sure, but all it takes is for one of these things to pique the interest of a prospective tenant.

Better yet, this will also make your existing tenants feel valued and listened to.

The last thing you want is to upset the apple cart with the tenants you already have. Therefore, by getting to know them and including this information in the advert (with their consent) you stand a better chance of finding someone who fits into the house seamlessly.

2 – Highlight features that elevate your property 

A room with a TV used to be a benefit but now pretty much every student has a laptop, tablet, and mobile phone to watch every channel under the sun (and more). As a result, they no longer see things like TVs as something worth writing home about. 

However, some benefits have stood the test of time, and they are: 

–    Location

The “new normal” has in many ways redefined what many consider a valuable location. 

Town centre locations are as desirable as ever, but access to public or private outdoor spaces has become a necessity for just about everyone. 

So, if your HMO is within walking distance of a park or other open space – shout it from the rooftops! If it has a private garden, even better. Include pictures, distances in walking or cycling time (not miles or kilometres) and any events that you know happen there like exercise classes or sports.

If your room or property is in or near a well-loved area like Mill Road, this should take pride of place in your advertising and property description. And, even though eating out looks a bit different these days, any location near cafes, bars and shops are worth a mention, especially if they have outside dining spaces. 

Remember to mention transport links, bus routes and cycle lanes. Properties with easy access to the M11 will have broad appeal, too as more and more students bring their cars and will want to be able to pop home and explore the Cambridgeshire countryside.

–    Ensuite

This is a key feature that’ll easily elevate your room above the competition.

Whilst students tend to be happy to share a kitchen, garden, and living room, most would much rather have a bathroom all to themselves.

It goes without saying, that a room with an ensuite can readily demand a higher price than one without. So, it’s sensible to make this particular feature as clear as you can in your advert.

–    Living Room

Most landlords opt to turn the living room into another bedroom. 

This was a smart business decision back when students could freely socialise at the union, in cafes, or at their friends’ houses. But now that students are spending more time in their accommodation (potentially a lot more if we have another lockdown), a living room or other social space has become a must-have. 

So, if you’re struggling to fill every room in your HMO and you don’t have a living room, it’s worth considering turning one of those empty bedrooms into a social space.

–    Quality

Gone are the days when students were happy with a simple flat-pack desk and a table lamp.

They’re now willing and able to pay a premium price for a premier room.

Students are looking for double (or even king size) beds, large desks for studying, gaming, crafting and much more besides. Other less obvious, but no less valuable, features include blackout blinds to ensure a good night’s sleep and walk-in wardrobes. 

Think about where your room shines and don’t spare the details in your adverts. Students have a keen eye for outstanding and unusual features, so give them something to get excited about.

3 – Keep your property photographs up to date

It goes without saying that you want to make your house look as good as possible when advertising it to potential tenants.

Yes, photos from when you first bought the house years ago may get people through the door. However, if they don’t stack up with how the property looks now, your potential tenant probably won’t sign on the dotted line. 

The students that rent your rooms need to know they can trust you to send someone to fix the boiler when it breaks down. They must feel safe in the knowledge that the house is well looked after and compliant. And they want to know that the person they are giving a not-insignificant amount of money to every month, is trustworthy.

To be clear, we’re not saying everyone who puts up out of date photographs is untrustworthy – far from it. Updating your property photos is seldom a high-priority task, but little slip-ups like this can have a larger impact on how potential tenants see your property than you think!

Making an impression in 2021 (and beyond)…

Student priorities have been changing for a while, but the current situation has served to increase the pace of that change. 

As a result, access to outdoor space, higher quality rooms and communal space are now top of the list.

Add in the possibility of a shorter student lettings window, and moderately suppressed demand, and you’re looking at a student lettings market that’s going to be tricky to navigate.

Before you get too worried, it’s still a very viable sector. 

And we’re here to guide you through these new and emerging twists and turns every step of the way.

Want some advice? Give me a call or send me an email and i’ll be pleased to help.

Best of luck for the upcoming student season,

Stuart Bradley

01223 352225

[i], (2021). Residing outside the university’s precincts. [online] Available at: click here