Survey on house hunting behaviour 2021

12/07/2021

Introduction

The 2020 - 2021 academic year and the corresponding student house hunting experience has been atypical. 

To help Unipol and its partners support students during the next house hunting season a survey was conducted to better understand a number of key themes:

  • how students had been affected financially and whether this had impacted on their house hunting experience;
  • what challenges they faced
  • their priorities when house hunting
  • their overall experience

781 respondents took part from 6 institutions in Leeds. 80% were undergraduates, 17% postgraduates and 3% were in their foundation year. 73% were UK students, leaving the remainder a mix of EU and international students.

Headline Findings

What the findings indicate is a level of turbulence and uncertainty within the market.  The pandemic is still having an impact on students and this is likely to continue in to the next academic year.  Issues and concerns around affordability are scattered across the survey results. 

Finances

Much of the impact of the virus can be traced to:
 
(a) reduced income as a result of part-time work drying up during government-imposed restrictions on commercial activity; 
  • 67% of respondents would normally have a part time job to supplement their income and of these 64% had not been able to find work
  • nearly 30% of respondents said that loss of income from part-time work had affected their housing choice for next academic year;
(b) a high level of uncertainty among students about the future, manifesting as a reluctance to make financial commitments:
  • in uncertain times, 36% of respondents had concerns about searching and contracting for a property a long way in advance of moving in.

Rent

Respondents were asked whether during the pandemic they had received a rent rebate, flexible payment terms, a release from their tenancy or an explanation on why their landlord was unable to help if that had been the case. 

COVID rent refunds and help

  • 36% of respondents had concerns about looking and signing a contract for a property far in advance of when they would move in. The main concern noted whether their circumstances may change, leaving it difficult to afford to pay their rent.

It is perhaps surprising in the context of the pandemic that, when listed in the survey as possible consumer priorities, flexible tenancy lengths and rent refunds did not elicit particularly strong support. 

The findings reported above mirror the findings from a HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) survey conducted in March 2021.

House hunting 

The survey looked at whether students had started house hunting and then signed a contract.  Starting the process of house hunting is separated from signing a contract to allow for analysis on how long it takes a typical student to finish the journey.

  • 76% of respondents thought the start to house hunting in November was the right time for them
  • 76% of respondents used the Unipol website during house hunting
  • 80% of respondents felt they had received enough information on house hunting before they started.
  • Peer activity remains the biggest driver amongst students of when to start house hunting

  • Of the 254 students who started house hunting before Unipol’s start date, 70% still signed contracts after the 21 November.
  • Of the 351 students who started looking after the Unipol start date, 22% signed in the same month they started house hunting, leaving 78% who didn’t sign a contract until at least the following month.

The aim of the house hunting awareness campaigns that run across the first semester is to educate students on how to house hunt well so they are confident and make informed choices.  December was the busiest month for students signing a contract.    

Year of study differences

48% of respondents in their first year started house hunting before 21st November 2020 compared to 39% of respondents in their 2nd year and 35% of undergraduate respondents in years 3 to 5.  

Institutional differences

46% of University of Leeds (UOL) students looked before the start date, however only 37% of Leeds Beckett University students did so.  48% of Leeds Conservatoire students started looking.

Guarantors

Of those students who had signed for a property 78% were required to have a guarantor, of which 14% responded to say that this had caused them problems. 

Further analysis showed this impacted:

  • 8% of University of Leeds respondents; 11% of Leeds Beckett University respondents and 7% of Leeds Conservatoire respondents.
  • 20% of all international and EU respondents because they struggled to secure a UK based guarantor.

The Unipol Code

The Unipol Code

Although recognition of the Unipol Code is good, when students were asked if their next property was accredited only 25.5% said yes.  The majority were unsure, 55%. The survey gave a link to those who answered not sure so they could check.

Viewing Properties

The survey was interested to understand how students chose to view properties and whether virtual viewings were likely to remain the preferred way to do viewings in the future.  The survey indicates that students value this resource but use it more as a shortlisting tool and prefer where possible to view a property in person.  

Viewing Properties

  • 41% only did virtual viewings, of which:
    • 50% said it was because the landlord/agent only offered this option
    • 25% thought they were accurate
    • 25% didn’t feel safe doing an in-person viewing
  • 42% did a mixture of virtual viewings and in-person viewings, of which:
    • 77% felt the virtual viewing was useful to shortlist but wanted to see the property in-person
  • 17% only did in-person viewings, of which
    • 86% said they wanted to see the property in-person before deciding

Top priorities when house hunting

The survey looked at how students rated the importance of a variety of things during house hunting. The percentages include very important or important from a scale that included: not important, slightly important, moderately important, important and very important. 

Top House Hunting Priorities

The top priorities of respondents do not change from year to year, these continue to include a good Wi-Fi connection and an affordable rent. 

 

Commuter Students

55 (7%) of respondents were currently living at home and commuting. 

Commuter respondents were asked to say which of the following situations best described their reason to commute:

  • 30% said it was cheaper to live at home and commute
  • 22% said with the Covid-19 Pandemic on-going and teaching on-line I decided to commute
  • 22% said I will live at home for the whole time I'm studying
  • 11% said I was going to commute regardless of the pandemic
  • 7% said I plan to live in Leeds with friends for part of my studies
  • 8% said I was living in Leeds but due to the lockdown I decided not to stay in my accommodation.

Students were asked about their experiences with landlords and agents during house hunting and to note anything that particularly appealed to them.  Below are some comments:

  • it was an honest and simple process
  • Friendly and helpful.
  • Unipol are a well trusted organisation who have treated me well in first year
  • Unipol offered a friendly and helpful service when signing for a student home and will be protective landlords
  • Unipol are known to be trust worthy
  • I'm with Unipol - they're your safest bet
  • Had good reviews on rate my landlord
  • They were Unipol code and had a good rating on Rate Your Landlord
  • Location, affordable rent, bills-included properties, nice interior
  • Very personable and was very understanding on the current state students find themselves in
  • Good reputation, signed up to the Unipol code
  • They clearly knew what they were talking about - it was more like a friend taking you round a house. Also good reviews on website and speaking to the student currently living in the properties helped.

Recommendations

To carry out a more in-depth survey in autumn 2021 to develop a better understanding of what students see as an affordable rent in the context of their expectations of what the accommodation offer should include; 
 
To provide a clearer message to students that renting from a Unipol Code-accredited landlord is the most effective way of getting a trustworthy landlord; and to devise clearer signposting for students to check on the status of their landlord and property; and
 
To offer extra support to students who commute in order to make them feel more included in the community and in the social side of university life.