Global Investing

Real-estate investors go back to schools

July 10, 2009

The old adage – there is no better time to go back to school than during a recession – seems to ring true for real estate investments as well.******With recession-wary workers and rising international interest driving up university applications, student home operators in the UK are enjoying near 100 percent occupancies, with rents predicted to go up 10 percent this year.******In contrast, other property classes in the UK such as offices, shopping malls and factories have seen values plunge a startling 45 percent since mid-2007. And the recession means rents are forecast to fall as much as 15 percent this year as landlords face the rising threat of tenant defaults.******As I wrote earlier, investors such as pension funds that were burnt by traditional commercial assets are now turning to the student accommodation market for the projected growth and steady returns other parts of the market aren’t delivering.******

Students pack up their dorm room after graduating from university in the city of Xian, Shaanxi Province July 3, 2004. REUTERS/China Photos WC/FA

******Student homes specialists King Sturge estimates that average rents jumped 7 to 10 percent annually in the last five years and can go up 10 percent this year, although it sees the yearly increase moderating to 5-7 percent for the next few years with new entrants to the market.******Branded student housing can be very pricey and the best stuff are a far cry from crowded, slum-like dorms that some of the world’s students have to put up with: high-end versions in London that offer en-suite bathrooms, flat-screen TVs and laundry services cost up to 300 pounds a week.******With the belt-tightening that comes with a recession, parents may groan about the higher costs of student housing for their university-bound offspring.******But operators expect there will be those who are still willing stump up the cash, if only to ensure their children make it for classes.******”First year students usually can’t find housemates to rent with, and there is no guarantee the flat will be near to school,” says Gabriel Behr of the University Partnerships Programme, a student homes operator owned by funds under Barclays Private Equity, which is developing over 700 new rooms for King’s College London.******”Are parents willing to stick their kids somewhere five miles away from class?” he asked me.

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Well there’s the solution to the vacancy problem, rent the property out to students and wait till the worst of the recession is over and then put it up for sale again.

 

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