Your Property Book review, February 2014
I am slightly ashamed to say that this book has been sitting in my rapidly growing pile of books to review for longer than it should have. However, there was a little bit of method in my … well, not quite procrastination, because this time of year is a particularly intense one for student landlords and I thought it might be a relevant time to bring this title to your attention. So, before I start, an apology to Simon and the crew at Accommodation for Students for holding back, albeit with good intentions.
Who Is It For?
The title says it all. Student Letting is a book for student landlords. More specifically, it will be an essential part of your reading if you are not yet a student landlord, but considering entering the market. You will also benefit from reading it if you have been a student landlord for many years and are beginning to find it more difficult to rent out your properties. Published in 2013, this will bring you right up to date with the market, legislation and tenant expectations.
It is probably more of a reference book than a start-at-the-beginning-and-read-till-the-end manner of reading. For once, I bossily insist that you read the introduction. Here, Simon explains exactly how to use the book, the style conventions and how to quickly find what you need. That suits my appreciation of an RTFM (look it up!) approach and style down to the ground, though I appreciate that others might prefer just to jump in, get started and find their own way around.
Student Letting is like a succinct manual for student Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). While it does not give vast detail, chapters about HMOs (Chapter 3: Avoiding HMO Horrors) and Tenancy (Chapters 6, 7 and 8 on regulations and practicalities relating to tenancies) provide you with enough information to be able to either set your student HMO plan in motion or revise your current practices. There is even a chapter about property tax. After reading, you might well need to talk to local councils, lettings agents, property solicitors and tax specialists, but the content will help you understand what they are talking about.
You may find that a fair amount of the information is repeated in different sections, but bear in mind that this was designed as a reference book. Overall, the repetition is reasonable in this context, as it makes sure that the information is covered from all relevant angles. There is also some information that covers the basics of buy-to-let, which experienced landlords will already know.
Both Sides of the Student Coin
I was particularly interested in this book because last year, I used Accommodation for Students not as a landlord, but as a student – or as a student’s parent to be more precise. Seeing the process from the other side is invaluable as you get an insight into what students are really looking for. We were on the hunt in Manchester, and believe me when I say that in this day and age, three girls sharing are very fussy. The Accommodation for Students site was easy to use from the student/parent perspective, though not all landlords responded to enquiries – a shame.
From the landlord’s perspective however, we are a bit out on a limb and have not yet had occasion to try it out. With only the one student property in our local town, which is not listed in UK University Cities in Appendix A, the student population is small even though it is a decent percentage of the population; so far, they seem to prefer going directly through the university’s list of properties to let or to local lettings agents.
What might be particularly worth a read in this book are the first two chapters – Why Student Lettings? and Picking a Property. These are all about finding your market, and the right property for that market. Simon talks about student populations, identifying the best locations, calculating yields and a few other things, all of which are very relevant. One note of caution though, if you have read regular YPN contributor Mary Latham’s book Property for Rent – Investing in the UK, Will You Survive the Mayhem? you might spot a different perspective on the student market. Read both, make up your own mind and know your own area.
The chapter on Marketing a Student Let is also useful, not least because it contains some guidelines on setting the market rent, and a short piece on the type of advertising methods that work best. Advertising does have regional variations, of course, but this offers a quick reference for the pros and cons and hit rate of each method.
A final note on legislation. Though, as mentioned above, some of what is covered relates to the basics, everything in this book is discussed from the angle of letting to students, and therefore multi-letting or HMOs. With regard to marketing, fitting out or legislation, this is an essential handbook for anyone new to this field, and a useful reference for those with more experience.