Last month I reported my experience at the Property Week Student Accommodation Conference. Especially, I discussed the main topics and the key learning points highlighted during the conference.
There is still one topic, likely the most important one, that I felt needed to be tackled and couldn’t be missed. I am talking about the students’ feedback.
Paul Humphreys, founder, and CEO of Student Crowd, an online community for Students’ reviews, helping them through the difficult decision of cities, universities, and accommodations, hosted the panel. The community is able to gather tens of thousands of reviews and feedbacks from real-life experiences. Between surveys, opinions from industry experts, and most of all videos of students’ direct opinions there are some extremely relevant points that can be drawn from this discussion.
How About 2020
The first section of the panel regarded the year that just ended. Students living in both HMOs and PBSAs were interviewed, the opinions were varied, but they have been likely chosen as a representation of wider trends identified by the Student Crowd.
When discussing issues, the main difference between the two groups was that students in HMOs were affected by issues with old appliances and home finishes breaking. As for PBSAs instead, according also to the panellists’ comments, there was a general appreciation for the services and activities offering that played an important role in the 2020 students’ life. Issues though emerged when the PBSA managers’ attention was perceived as lacking or the prices too high, especially with diminishing services or quality due to restrictions caused by Covid.
Generally, as it can be expected, in PBSAs the problems reported were all connected with the pandemic influence. Naturally, PBSA managers stressed the importance of the improvement of the services during this tough time to improve safety and reduce the feeling of isolation.
Looking at 2021
The discussion then went on to look at the preferences and expectations of students for the new year.
The main concern arisen from both groups regarded staying with the right people, particularly in the hypothesis of having to isolate. The second relevant factor was definitely the location. So, not only being close to the campus but also having options such as supermarkets and green areas around.
Interestingly, among other points, one that emerged was also the design and the room finishes. Having had to spend long hours in a room has likely highlighted the positive effect that a well-designed and well laid-out space can have. As interior designers, it seems ever more important for us to focus not only on quality and aesthetics but also on biophilia and flexibility, in order to offer the best experience possible.
Other common factors mentioned were price, services, and activities.
Trends for the sector in 2021
Student Crowd registered a general growing interest in Student Accommodations for 2021. There is also an increment of international students, with China always on top. The virus though seems to have created a lot of uncertainty that in turn caused lots of delays in room booking, and students tended to pick regions closer to their homes.
A crucial factor that managers should keep in mind is also the growing importance of online reviews. Where before there was a preference for real-life experience and open days, 2020 brought a decisive change that could be here to remain in the future. Additionally, peer reviews are even preferred to virtual tours or viewings.
A News of the last year and likely extending into 2021, is the parents’ involvement in the accommodation choice. They are increasingly using platforms and affecting the students’ decisions, even if to different degrees. On their side, the main focus regarded the accommodation’s location, being part of an organisation instead of being a private rental, and naturally, the health and safety measures in place. Overall, it seems that students were given enough freedom to choose their own accommodation, but as a consequence of this increased involvement, virtual viewings have grown too.
These trends highlight once more the growing importance of brand equity and reputation for developers and managers, as well as the necessity to listen to and learn from students’ opinions closely, without just interpreting their habits or reactions.
Some closing thoughts
To ensure continuous improvement and success in this time of uncertainty and change, designers, developers and managers, need to work together to provide the best place possible to cater to the residents’ needs and ensure a relaxing and flexible environment. Interiors have to also enable the organisation of events, while managers need to involve students as much as possible to improve the overall experience with creative and engaging activities.
To close on a positive note, since March, Student Crowd registered an average student rating for PBSAs of 3.9/5 or 7.8/10, representing a 4% improvement compared to the previous year. So, it looks like PBSA developers are interpreting the market correctly. But there are more challenges ahead in a market that is evolving quickly and could take unexpected directions as the months go by and the global situation changes.