How to attract student tenants

Off-campus student housing has become a very important market for developers in university towns such as Stellenbosch and Potchefstroom, and a comfortable niche for buy-to-let property investors in cities with large student populations such as Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg.

However, to be successful, such developments must offer different or additional features to most other apartment complexes, says Richard Gray, the new CEO of Harcourts Africa.

“Many of today’s students prefer off-campus housing to res, and although some live in communes or perhaps houses and flats purchased by their parents, the highest demand is for rental units in purpose-built ‘student complexes’.

“And the main reason seems to be the social opportunities that these complexes enable and encourage. Our experience is that students are particularly drawn to properties where the layout includes a recreation space with facilities such as a volleyball court, pool, clubhouse and braai area where they can interact with other students.

“They are also interested, however, in the layout of the apartments on offer and here flats in ordinary blocks can compete well. Contrary to the stereotype of students living on fast food, most prefer reasonably spacious kitchens with plenty of storage space. Most student tenants would also like a living space separate from the bedroom or bedrooms.”

Another big draw card for students, he says, is technology – or at least facilities that make it easy to use their own computers and electronic gadgets. Must-haves include a reliable high-speed Internet connection and excellent cellphone reception, as well as lots of wall sockets.

“In addition, it is worth noting that most students seem to prefer sharing with at least one other student to living singly, and prefer all-inclusive rentals to make life simpler. And finally, both students and their parents will be looking for the building or complex to have on-site parking and top-notch security provisions.”

From the investor’s point of view, Gray says, tenants who are undergraduates and especially first-year students can be difficult to manage as they are often focused on partying rather than studying. “Older students are generally a much better bet, and that’s something to remember when your agent is pre-qualifying tenants.”

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