Students tend to prefer living in purpose-built student accommodation over more traditional forms of shared housing because of the additional services and support that they can access with PBSA. But there is more to it than that. The truth is that private housing can often be based in poor locations and presented in a poor fashion.
Student demographics in PBSA
Rob: Chris, looking at the student demographics and at the mix of students that you have on site, do you see a particular trend of certain age groups or certain nationalities it tends to appeal to?
Chris: Mostly, first and second years. We also have a few master students, as well and a large percentage of them are UK students, let's say, between 60%-70% are UK nationals and the rest of them are EU or from outside the EU, such as Asia, China.
Rob: And does it seem to be their first experience of renting and, if they are not UK nationals, renting in the UK or living in the UK, on their own and in living their own environment? And are they, relatively able to look after themselves or do they need a lot of support?
Chris: In the first month that they move in, they do need a lot of support, just to make sure that everything runs well, they'll have silly questions like, 'Why is the hob not working?', 'Have you tried turning it on?'. Things like that. But after the first month, they are absolutely fine.
Rob: And how do you find, from your own experiences of renting property, previously, that this kind of set up compares to your previous experiences?
Chris: As in private landlords?
Rob: So, from a location point-of-view, in terms of how close it is to other things.
Chris: The location is great because, especially Keele House, is right next to the high streets, to the night-life, to the transport links. We are also only 20 minutes away from the University of Keele.
Most of our students are from the University of Keele although some of them are from Staffordshire University. The bus stop is just 2 minutes away, as I said, so, they have very good transport links.
Chris: And also, you have a friendly face at the reception which can assist you, at any time. That's me or my student ambassadors.
When they move in they get welcome packs. The welcome pack is about 5 pages long. So, if you have a look at one, they have, basically, all the frequently asked questions, already in there. There is, who to call, why to call, why not to call, contact numbers, an emergency plan, what to do in an emergency and things like that.
There is a lot more heart put into it than being in a private house.
Comparison with private housing
Rob: So, how does that compare to when you have rented from a private landlord, in the past?
Chris: In the past, 10 years ago, when I was a student, I contacted the agency, not the landlord, to say that there was no heating, in September, when I moved in. They asked me to turn on the boiler. I opened the cupboard and there was just a bunch of pipes in there. There was no central heating. So, that carried on for about five months. The winter came, the spring came, summer came and then, no compensation. They were not looking after us, nothing sorted.
It took months and it was something quite important. But over here, we have a spare radiator, for example. It is more like a couple of days until the electrician comes, he sorts it, he changes it and it is done.
Rob: I guess, even now, the quality of accommodation is, thankfully, way better, across the board, in properties, that we see. But there are always those instances where you are, directly, with a private landlord or you are, directly, with a letting agent and they are just not as good as they should be. They don't keep on top of things as they should. The beauty, here, is that you have somebody that is not only good at what they do but that they are here, regularly. So, if a student does have an issue they can speak to somebody, in person, and get that issue resolved quite quickly.
Chris: Exactly. Because there is somebody on reception all the time. So, let's say, that person forgets, they will be reminded the same day. And it is just the shame of going through that process that makes you feel you might as well just do it. And then you have a happy customer, you have a little more time on your hands and you don't have to go through that thing all over again.
Rob: And do you see many students coming here, specifically, because of those different things, like those services, where they have rented before, from a private landlord?
To be honest, I haven't asked them but I can see on their faces, when they move in, that there is a Wow. And then when they call you when we have to sort something out, once you have done it on the second day, they are speechless.
That does show that they are happy. If they weren't happy they would say so.
Rob: And you say, you have been fully occupied this year.
Chris: Fully occupied, yes. A waiting list of nearly 50 people.
Rob: Fantastic. So, you are doing something right.
Chris: That is already a quarter of the building. More than a quarter, actually. There are 160 rooms, here.
Rob: Good work. Thank you.