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How to get top marks in student accommodation investment

How to get top marks in student accommodation investment

A successful private student accommodation development can be summed up in a simple equation: schools + students + lifestyle + convenience + good day-to-day management = a victory for all involved. So says the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID), an urban renewal NPO that has seen these elements add up to big returns in the Cape Town CBD.

The Cape Town Central City (CBD) has over 40 educational institutions within its boundaries serving 9 162 full-time and 3 530 part-time learners, according to survey results released by the CCID in the latest edition of its annual investment guide, The State of Cape Town Central City Report – 2015: A year in review. This high density of schools and students has spawned an ecosystem that also includes numerous services as well shops, restaurants and other entertainment options that cater to the majority of students who are post-teens planning for adult life.

In addition to the vibrant downtown lifestyle it offers, the Central City also has good public transport links, and its East City precinct is only a few hundred metres from the Cape Town campus of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, attended by an additional 12 000+ full-time and 3 000 part-time learners. It is, therefore, no surprise that there is a high demand for student accommodation in the Cape Town CBD itself, an area that spans from FW de Klerk Boulevard to Buitensingel and Orange Street, and from Buitengracht to Canterbury Street.

Says Rob Kane, chairperson of the CCID: “Though student accommodation was until fairly recently a market largely ignored by developers in this area, entrepreneurs are now starting to fill the gap. And what’s particularly exciting is that opportunities still exist for more conversions of older buildings into the type of units that facilitate good quality student life and, if managed properly, provide excellent returns on investment.”

Trends in student accommodation types

University students are traditionally housed in austere dormitories or residence halls with communal bathrooms and cafeterias on campus. However, there is now a market for comfortable off-campus student residences, particularly in areas of dense land use and where further education also includes a preponderance of vocational training offerings such as the Central City. These accommodations tend to be furnished with a bed, a desk and a cupboard and offer facilities such as Wi-Fi and even gym equipment, as well as laundry and cleaning services, and have communal areas for tenants to relax.

According to the CCID’s report, the average price of student accommodation of this type in the Cape Town CBD ranges from R2 830 for a double shared room to around R6 000 for a studio-type apartment.

A range of new establishments in high demand have opened their doors, including 91 Loop (www.91loop.co.za), South Point (www.staysouthpoint.co.za) at 22 Barrack St and 10 and 12 Plein St, Student & Life (www.studentandlife.co.za) at 210 Loop St, and Student at Home (www.studentathome.co.za) at 106 Adderley St.

The latter houses 300 students (as well as interns and other young professionals) across six floors and is steadily expanding one storey at a time as each floor is fully occupied. In addition to the basics, students get some appliances and, as an optional extra, DStv. Once complete, the building will be home to 450 students and a beacon of densification and affordable living downtown.

Says Emily Whitefield, who runs Student at Home in partnership with property developer Frank Gormley: “We like to think of Student at Home as a home away from home, and a bridge between where our students grew up and the wide world. We’ve cultivated an ethos of happiness, support and community and pride ourselves on giving students what they need at a low cost. With Frank’s expertise in property development, and having been in the student accommodation business for a few years now, we’ve found the key points that make this type of venture a success.”

Thousands of students registered at higher education institutions search for such accommodation, often to reside for the duration of their studies. If you’re a developer considering meeting this demand, it is important to find out what students need on a day-to-day basis before taking the plunge.

Lessons in student accommodation management

What makes the Cape Town Central City a good place for a student to live? First and foremost, a student’s accommodation must be within walking distance of their school and other places of interest. This allows students to immerse themselves in the full social, cultural and educational experience of university life. The Cape Town CBD includes a mindboggling array of attractions, including 1 200 formal retailers of everything from fashion to food, a world of cuisine, six theatres and dozens of bars and night spots, a rich café culture, 22 museums, a plethora of public and private galleries, a municipal library that attracts 663 144 visitors a year, and historic public spaces for meeting with friends and chilling out.

Saara Millward, a second-year fine arts student at UCT Hiddingh Campus in Orange Street, told the CCID’s newspaper, City Views, that she thinks of the CBD as a self-contained area where you can find anything: “At the moment, I’m doing a photography project and when out looking for supplies, I found major camera stores and a random chemist on the other side of town. Film is cheaper at the chemist, so I went back there. I’ve also found loads of hardware stores that stock things I can use for art projects.”

There are also 108 government services in the CBD, most of which are open to the public, and a host of private service providers that offer everything from car hire to dry cleaning and shoe repair. There are also plenty of healthcare practitioners, so parents can let their kids fly the nest with confidence.

Owing to its 1.62m2 size, the Cape Town CBD is compact and walkable, and it’s safe. The CCID’s Safety & Security department assists the South African Police Service and City of Cape Town Law Enforcement by providing a 24/7 security presence of 230 public safety offices on the streets. Lauren Goldman, a student at the Alliance Français in Loop Street, told City Views: “I walk everywhere. It’s safe. I often walk quite late at night and I’ve never had a problem.”

The student accommodation property should be secure as well, and well maintained. A prospective developer should consider hiring private security as well as a full-time caretaker to handle any minor maintenance issues.

Cars are the domain of worker bees; students need public transport to get around. The Cape Town Central City is one of the most well-connected places in the metropole. Cape Town’s main Metrorail train station is situated on the corner of Adderley and Strand streets, adjacent to the city’s primary MyCiTi and Golden Arrow bus terminuses. According to The State of Cape Town Central City Guide – 2015: A year in review, 3 257 317 people boarded a MyCiTi bus in the CBD in 2015. With two trunk routes and 10 feeder routes passing through the CBD, as well as direct routes to Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain and the airport, students can easily commute around town as well as to beaches and winelands in the greater metropole.