Travel quarantine; just what effect will it have – on health – on business?

Travel quarantine; just what effect will it have – on health – on business?

“Critics round on No 10 over ‘ridiculous’ rules for 14-day quarantine”

I have yet to see any mention of the effect a quarantine regime will have on businesses outside the “travel and tourism” sectors.

While it is obvious that those sectors will suffer, there are many other businesses, such as Zetland, our student accommodation in Huddersfield, which will suffer from additional barriers on a market already under severe pressure.

Critics round on No 10 over ‘ridiculous’ rules for 14-day quarantine

Tens of thousands of new arrivals to the UK will be able to go food shopping, change accommodation and use public transport from airports during a 14-day quarantine imposed to prevent a second wave of coronavirus, under draft plans to be laid before parliament.

The central problem is the lack of clarity around the effectiveness of the quarantine strategy. It has already become apparent that people under quarantine restrictions will be allowed to use public transport to get to their ultimate destination, and then be allowed to go out to shop and fulfil legal obligations. So how effective will it be?

My personal view is influenced by our position of course. I try to be as impartial as possible but I can’t get past the argument that if the general public are obeying goslings and exercising good social distancing, and in particular if those inbound passengers were compelled to use the ‘test and trace’ app, then they actually represent very little additional risk.

It’s a difficult one for sure.

Universities still can’t say what they’re going to do for 2020/21

Universities still can’t say what they’re going to do for 2020/21

“We can’t yet say what’s on offer in September, UK universities tell freshers”

If you UK universities still can’t say what they’re going to do for 2020/21, it’s unreasonable to expect our potential tenants to make solid commitments.

For the moment, while we continue to receive enquiries, we are finding students cannot be certain about the dates they’ll need accommodation, and are reluctant to commit.

We can’t yet say what’s on offer in September, UK universities tell freshers

Anxious sixth-formers trying to decide which university offer to accept are finding little clear information to steer them, with vice-chancellors saying they are still not able to promise anything like the usual experience of lectures, seminars, nightlife – or even shared kitchen and dining spaces in halls.

Fair enough. These are very difficult times for most, of course, but particularly sectors at all connected with education, and in particular, tertiary education. We feel the best thing we can do is be accommodating and patient.

Is it reasonable for students to demand rent reductions?

Is it reasonable for students to demand rent reductions?

One thing’s for sure, almost everyone is having it tough but, generally, we are all ‘pulling together’ to navigate these difficult times. So is it reasonable for students to be demanding rent reductions and cancellation of contracts? I read this article last week and thought it was worth a short comment.

Hundreds of students in UK sign up to rent strike

Hundreds of university students have signed up to a rent strike in protest at having to pay thousands of pounds for accommodation where they have become trapped as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many have complained they are stuck on near-deserted campuses where facilities and services have closed.

Landlords are often vilified in the media but I know personally of many very good landlords who, despite zero grants or compensation from government schemes, are making arrangements with tenants who have lost work or been furloughed. Commercial landlords of shops, restaurants and leisure facilities are undoubtedly in for a very tough ride for an extended period. However, in the short term at least, they are able to claim grants linked to Business Rates.

The case for students in HMOs is slightly different. Whereas commercial landlords pay business rates, student accommodation is residential and is liable for council tax. There is no government support at all for providers except the CBILS loan scheme. CBILS is a loan, to be repaid, and subject to arbitrary interest rates after 12 months. Besides, only 1% of applications have been granted to date!

But many students have loans too. Which also must be repaid. Some have also had to work to support themselves and supplement those loans; that work has just gone and they can’t claim UC because they’re full time students. So I can see their point.

However, landlords are not the enemy here. Some of our residents have chosen to go home, some have stayed. We have helped some who’ve left by providing free boxes and tape, and offering free storage, but some have literally just bolted, leaving most of their belongings in their rooms.

Some who have left have paid periods in advance, some have payments due and are asking about the possibility of cancelling their contracts.

We are looking after those who have stayed, keeping in regular contact with each and every one. Cleaning and hygiene management continues, with the full support of the residents. We have installed neat hand sanitisers in the entrances of all flats, so residents, and any required visitors (i.e. for maintenance), can sanitise easily before touching handrails, door handles, etc when coming in from outside. This has been appreciated and helps create goodwill.

In order to keep providing services and protection to our remaining residents we need to keep paying our bills and for the people who manage everything. Some bills may reduce slightly but many won’t – high speed broadband doesn’t get cheaper when only one person is using it. Power and heating is used by fewer people but used much longer, all day and much of the night in fact.

So it is clear this is not a one dimensional situation to be solved with simplistic answers. On all sides, landlords, tenants, councils and regulatory bodies, there needs to be flexibility to find solutions for every case and this won’t be achieved by any single party ignoring the position of another.

As long as all parties act with integrity in cooperative spirit, we can all get through these exceptional, tough times.

Green zone kitchen GK1

Done! Zetland House refinanced!

It has been a long and difficult journey, to say the least!  But yesterday afternoon we finally got the commercial refinance in place for the Huddersfield Zetland House project.

Green Zone – Kitchen 1

We now have a fantastic group of properties in a ‘cluster style’ student format providing 35 bedrooms, 8 kitchens and 14 bath/shower rooms.

We are immensely proud and feel we can allow ourselves at least a small celebration!

Of course, the work is never over – we need  to maintain our standards and improve working practices, becoming a more profitable long term investment.

Blue Zone B1 – single en-suite room

But finally, 22½ months after starting development work, 25 months after drawing up the initial evaluation documentation, we complete our ‘exit’.

I’m not kidding when I say this is a project I could write a small (no – maybe large) book about, involving;

  • before we even started, a problem with an area of ‘no-man’s land’ not on any title deed
  • subsequent declining of purchase finance and the deal apparently collapsing a number of times
  • eventually negotiating a vendor assisted purchase …
  • … utilising an exchange and delayed completion strategy
  • requiring an application to be made by the vendor for possessory title of the ‘no-man’s land’ with severe penalties for non-compliance
  • raising an initial £400k of development investment
  • completely stripping out, knocking about, reconstructing and refurbishing c.5000 sq ft of original hovel HMOs
  • in parts, finding the buildings in worse condition than anticipated (and we’d already thought it was really bad)
  • so bad in one part we had to remove the entire 40 sq m+ floor and start again
  • adding substantial dormers creating 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a kitchen in unexploited roof space
  • negotiating early end of lease to enable commercial conversion of a takeaway and a retail unit
  • digging down and excavating to create 5 new rooms, 2 bathrooms and a kitchen from the old beer cellars
  • Flood Risk Zone 3 complications
  • Planning problems and Planning Consultant issues
  • the collapse of the principle Project Director with a major heart rupture on site half way through development
  • navigation through the subsequent chaos
  • overshoot on delayed completion leading to …
  • … seeking emergency 12 month bridging, eventually from a private equity fund
  • further raising of finance to meet additional development and some overspend related to delays
  • (somehow) managing to hold to onto everything and meeting our target of 35 letting rooms for the student market
  • then there’s the whole refinancing process including dealing with low valuations and having to amend company structures to satisfy lenders
  • and (as they say) much, much more!
Rear Courtyard with Yorkshire stone table and seating

We have continually learned so much, about so many different aspects of property development, JV relationships and raising finance. It has indeed been a rollercoaster ride but the value to our collective education has been invaluable.

So, after jumping from the previous simple Buy-Refurb-Sell project to one involving all of the above on on our very next project – what next!?

Council tax

It looks very much like Student Landlords will soon be paying Council Tax

A short, interesting article flagging up the very real possibility that Student Landlords will soon be paying Council Tax. To be fair, it is very hard to argue that there should be no Council Tax paid, or that the burden should be borne by the students themselves. After all the recent legislative and taxation changes, though, landlords are feeling very much under pressure.

Huddersfield Uni Campus

“The returns on secondary student accommodation are increasingly attractive”

Renowned property experts Allsop say they are witnessing the exploitation of a gap in the student accommodation market for HMOs – the ‘secondary’ Private Rented Sector market, away from the institutional brands such as iQ and DIGS. Larger scale investors are looking specifically at developing and acquiring HMOs with close proximity, great facilities and, most importantly (what is nigh impossible at redbrick Universities) great yields.

Makes me think North of England. Think Huddersfield? 😉


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Student housing

Savill’s 2017 Report on the Student Lettings market

There’s plenty of optimism for the next few years, both in the student sector and particularly Northern investments.  A word of warning though, the report is soaked in one over-riding assumption – that international students will not be included in future migration target numbers. As long as they are not, Savill’s forecast 6% annual growth in numbers over the next 3 years. Well, that includes 2 years of the Brexit negotiation! If they are included – who knows how numbers will be affected?

Either Savill’s have someone in a position to know, or they’re taking a big punt.