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Countrywide urges switch of student accommodation to mainstream rentals

The commercial arm of Countrywide is urging landlords currently facing huge void periods because students have been ordered home, to reconfigure their accommodation for more mainstream renters.

The issue is particularly critical for the large corporate landlords, including universities themselves, that own or manage purpose-built student accommodation which is now lying empty because of the Coronavirus lockdown.

Many purpose-built student accommodation providers have been forced to release students from their contracts several months ahead of the end of the academic year, sending vacancy rates soaring and rents plummeting according to Countrywide’s Lambert Smith Hampton offshoot. 


And it adds that with UK universities set to witness a further slump in student intakes this September as the global effects of the pandemic continue to play out - forcing some institutions to contemplate pushing the new academic year back to January 2021 - the future looks decidedly bleak.

But LSH says existing accommodation should be “re-purposed” into space aimed at young professionals, akin to the Build to Rent or serviced apartment models.

Other potential alternative users could include a mix of private residents and key workers, particularly NHS staff given the current situation, although this is obviously dependent on rental values.

“Some universities will make the call about the start of the academic year in due course and this will have a major impact on when students take lodgings and subsequently what rental income the providers will receive” explains LSH’s Bristol head of planning, development and regeneration, Alan Pearce.

He says some students will simply not come in 2020 even if universities are open for business as the effects of the pandemic continue, with the estimated 485,000 non-UK higher education enrolments now in jeopardy. 

“Depending on the site location and characteristics, a change of use for a temporary period can alleviate the situation and, in our experience, most local planning authorities will be sympathetic to the situation and be keen to avoid empty buildings or worse” he adds.

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    A delay with the new academic year would seem logical.
    Change of use would not suit the majority of the PBSA blocks. They do not have the space standards expected by the private market.
    Reducing weekly rents along with a package of measures to monitor and test Covid19 carriers would be one option. Heat / fever sensors combined with rapid antibody test kits may be a new norm ? This approach may become standard within society eg airports.


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