Accommodation: Budget or expensive?
Currency shifts, investment, local restrictions and supply are impacting on demand for budget and top-end accommodation, writes Matthew Knott.

US$339 - was the average one-week residential cost at US language providers, the highest in StudyTravel Magazine's 2015 surveys

US$167 - was the average cost of homestay in Canada.  Homestay was more expensive in six of 13 language destinations.

83% - of Saudi students chose homestay accommodation, the highest in ST Magazine's agency surveys of 2016/17.



In line with shifting trends in course demand, currency volatility is impacting on accommodation. "When the pound started to drop, we saw an immediate upsurge in accommodation bookings," says Michele Da Silva, Director of Britannia Student Services


 "There is no doubt that the weak pound is continuing to attract students from all over the world." In the USA, President of Boston-based ESL Townhouse, Christopher Malenfant, relates, "It is clear that the strength of the US dollar is providing challenges to the international market as a whole, with fewer bookings from some of our traditional partners." China has remained resilient he says, but other top-tier markets have declined, although local bookings maintained occupancy rates. 

Naturally, as Luke Nolan, CEO of global student accommodation platform,, advises, the cities where residential rates are highest are usually the most expensive for international students: London, Sydney, Hong Kong and New York.

In the homestay segment, Claire Sweeney of provided data on 2016 bookings in 2016, and said that Paris, New York, Boston and Edinburgh were the most expensive, ranging between A34 and A99 per night, while the cheapest were Birmingham, Madrid and Toronto, from A19 to A34.

A trend, says Luke, is student savviness. "Most importantly, what is key for students at both ends of the price spectrum is value for money. They will carefully assess the options. Rather than following the marketing messages of student accommodation operators, as they might have done five years ago, they are increasingly looking at feedback from other students via peer reviews."

Karolina Kournossova, Owner of Acomodile, a specialist company that advises agents on accommodation needs, indicates a significant difference between students in terms of spend, lifestyle and expectation. "I would say for markets like Spain, Portugal and Italy, the first thing is the price, and many students don't mind sharing. For students from Kazakhstan, for example, coming to the UK is like a dream, and they want a very nice apartment. Probably 60 per cent of my Kazakh clients want a flat within a 15-minute walk of their institution."

For Urban Student Life, UK, Andrew Buchanan, Operations Director, says the Chinese, Saudi and Kuwaiti markets have shown very little resistance to price and are typically looking for studios and flats, while more budget-driven requests come from South Asia. As such, Urban Student Life offers up to nine different room types to meet the demand of all budgets. In Japan, Masayo Namiki at Sakura House says there has not been a major shift in demand at either price end, but students from Europe and North America have a higher price budget than Asians. Nonetheless, enquiries from SE Asia are on the up.

Michele at Britannia relates, "The cheapest option is house shares, and recently we have accommodated an increasing number of Dutch students in this type of accommodation. We regularly receive a number of (halls of residence) group requests from India, and price is a major factor." She adds that there has been an increase in price-conscious Saudi students, although not at the more top-end Britannia Study Hotel in Brighton.

Claire at adds that Saudi students were the most budget-conscious in 2016, paying on average 25 per cent less than Australians, who were the highest spenders at A43 per night.

For students for whom price is the primary consideration, many are often willing to sacrifice location and share rooms to keep the cost down, advises Michele. Luke comments, "If accommodation within walking distance simply isn't an option within a student's price bracket, the range of transport links and the exact neighbourhood becomes key. This is why developers that can deliver both price and location offer a unique advantage." He adds that shuttle buses are becoming an increasingly common factor at more distant US residences. And in the UK, Karolina advises she has witnessed a spike in Chinese students in areas such as Luton and commuting to their campuses in London. 

According to Andrew, the age of the residence building, gym, common room and social areas are not so important at the budget end, but location remains a key demand.

"International students are prepared to pay more for two key elements: location and single-occupancy rooms with a private bathroom," says Michele. Some modern halls of residence, such as Tufnell House (London), are lifestyle orientated and have facilities such as a gym, party room, study spaces, barbecue area and games rooms. Students are becoming more demanding, and accommodation needs to satisfy these demands." For Andrew, students in this price bracket are seeking great views, central locations, space and super-fast connectivity.

Although many are prepared to pay, some are stretching their budgets, says Karolina. Some landlords require a large down payment, she says, meaning that guarantor services and instalment payment options are becoming increasing popular, even at the top end.




Investment in student housing


"2016 was another great year for student accommodation," advises Wouter Onclin, Foundation Manager at the Class of 2020, the European student housing platform, with record investment in Germany. The last year has seen new investments and developments, increased competition and rent strikes indicating that affordability and accessibility are growing issues, Wouter says. "The result is more diversity in the market, with some operators focusing on value for money, while others are attracting a different kind of student with a luxury product in prime locations."

He advises that rent regulations can be restrictive for investors. Luke Nolan of, gives an example of New York's complex planning laws as a disincentive for PBSA [purpose-built student accommodation] development, with most building on campus rather than the city.

Nonetheless, UK real estate company JLL said in its 2016 Q4 student housing report, "The market will be forced to address the issue of affordability over the next 12 months. We expect the sector to begin to adapt the typical student housing model to provide a greater provision of varied room types and designs, which can then attract a wider range of price points."

As Wouter advises, the overseas student market is integral to investment. "In most Western countries, the number of domestic students is relatively stable, so growth in student numbers comes in a large part from increasing internationalisation."


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