Managing student and HMO properties…what Proptech do you use?

With over 2.4 million students in higher education in 2019/20, it’s safe to say the student housing market is a large one.

All student accommodation providers, whether Universities, letting agents, private landlords or PBSAs, have wrestled with the challenges of campus closures and needing to adapt quickly through the COVID crisis, whilst supporting those who couldn’t go home or had chosen to return to campus. The impact of COVID on the demand for student housing meant that 2020/21 saw the greatest amount of rental discounting in the history of the sector with 25% of all direct let schemes offering some form of a reduction.

However, the student market is a resilient one.  Applicants for 2020 were up by 3.2% to a new record high. Despite concerns that limits on travel and the type of teaching possible with coronavirus restrictions would lead to a large drop in student numbers, applications from home students were up by 2.1%, those from the EU were down by 0.4% and those from other overseas students were up by 12.3%.

Also recent research from Cushman & Wakefield revealed that the purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) market has been remarkably resilient over the last year despite the shadow of Covid-19, as the number of new beds has increased (by 3%) and the development pipeline has remained strong.

What are the challenges?

Managing a large student property portfolio provides unique challenges, and maintaining high property standards is crucial to prevent any issues from escalating.  There are different responsibilities with managing student accommodation, as agents tend to deal with groups of unrelated people.  So a lot of the properties need to have HMO licences which means the properties should be better regulated particularly in terms of fire safety and health and safety.  There is also a duty of care with student tenants, particularly if in their first year, as it may be their first time away from home and living alone.

One of the biggest challenges is tight timescales and short voids between tenancies during the Summer period.  This means the time available to carry out check outs and inspections and arrange for maintenance and cleaning work to be carried out can be very short, sometimes 1-2 days. 

Focus on the outcome

You’d probably love all tenants to move out on time, for all properties to be spotless with no cleaning or maintenance needed, and no bond deductions to process at the end.  However back in the real world, we know all of this is unlikely to happen.  The key to making the process as smooth as possible is planning, planning and more planning, making sure you have the right team in place ready to carry out simple inspections, and the right reporting mechanisms to get the cleaning and maintenance done in a short space of time.

Teamwork is critical when time is in short supply

You’ll have a dedicated team of staff who manage the properties day-to-day throughout the year, but the demands of the Summer move out/move in period can put a strain on any business.  Having the right people available to help is crucial, and so often friends, family and temps are called upon to help out.  But do they have the right knowledge and experience to inspect a property thoroughly and in a timely way, and make sure the right checks are carried out?

Whatever methods you choose, make time to do some training with the team so they understand the process, what their inspection means to the whole tenancy process and who they can turn to if they need some help.  If your team each has a phone and the office has good WiFi this is where a simple standard template or checklist can help, giving the inspectors pointers and tips along the way.  We work with a number of student letting agents who are looking for a digital solution to replace pen and paper reporting and meet the challenge of recording information, generating a report for the landlord and managing any follow up actions.

Existing paper-based forms can be converted into digital templates that can be filled out quickly and easily using an app.  Those templates can incorporate common phrases, text or sentences reducing the need for time-wasting screen clicks, and notes for the inspector can be added throughout.  Photos can be taken quickly and easily, and embedded straight into the report.

We’ve created very simple checklist forms which can be completed at a property in a matter of 15-20 minutes, and much more detailed templates where an in-depth report is required, which might include information such as fire safety questions, specific cleaning checks and HMO requirements.

The deciding factors are often how many staff are available, what level of inspection is required, and how many inspections they are required to complete in a given day.  Setting realistic time expectations as to what can be achieved in a short period of time is key, so that working together the team can visit and inspect every property within the time available.  

How does technology help

There are many benefits to using app-based technology for your end of tenancy property reporting.

  • Reduce disputes – if the inventory supplied at the start of the tenancy is available in TouchRight, then a useful comparison report can be produced at check out, showing the ‘before and after’ differences including, descriptions and photos.  Perfect for disputes and easy to reference for adjudicators. Photos can also be clicked and enlarged to really see the detail!
  • Simple Check out templates – can give guidance to less experienced staff and can be simply used to highlight follow up maintenance/repairs/cleaning etc.
  • Simple Room only templates – are ideal for HMO properties and get straight to the important information you want to record.
  • Save paper – no more printed tick sheets and no more wasted paper in the office.  No need to file that report away when you’re back in the office and decipher poor handwriting.
  • Save time – you’re completing a report there and then at the property, so no need to type up when back in the office or upload photos separately.  A branded PDF report can be created back in the office in minutes, and with the landlord or tenant on the same day if required.  Also copying and updating an existing inventory can be done in a matter of minutes, simply by adding a fresh set of photos. 
  • Get the most out of existing devices – you’ll have existing iPads and tablet devices in your office, plus we all have iOS and Android mobile phones which can be used with TouchRight.  They’ll all have Wifi capabilities, to sync and send reports when connected, plus you’ll have reassurance that the app can be used offline as all information and photos are saved as you go.
Student blog

However it’s more than just generating an inspection report…

You can also enhance your repairs and maintenance process, as inspectors can tag maintenance and cleaning issues in a report separately so they can be shared with contractors.  Plus if you use Fixflo, maintenance issues can be seamlessly synced to Fixflo to be tracked through the repairs maintenance platform.  Plus issues can be downloaded in a CSV spreadsheet format in TouchRight, for ease of management and tracking.

In addition to Fixflo, the TouchRight open API integrates with a number of other platforms including agentOS, Acquaint, Qube SLM, Reapit, SME Professional and Signable for seamless sharing of data, with more in the pipeline. Plus the app includes some basic lone worker protection to assist with health and safety policies.

Hear what a customer has to say…

Sinclair Properties in York have been using TouchRight during their concentrated June/July move out and move in period for many years, often with 20 independent inspectors inspecting over 300 properties over a 5 day period.  Previously, inspectors had to complete a lengthy paper form at each property and take separate photos, so not only has the TouchRight process saved time with a unique custom template with photos embedded, it has also used much less paper! 

“We have been very happy with TouchRight and how it has revolutionised the way we inspect our properties from our routine inspections to our summer move out and move in project, giving us more time to concentrate on providing a detailed inspection report to the landlord in a fraction of the time, without being tied down in unnecessary admin and paperwork.  We’ve increased our productivity, saved time and added even more value to the high quality, professional services we offer our landlords.”

TouchRight is a supplier member of NSHEP (National Student Housing Excellence Partnership) and we are working with a wide range of student letting agents.

Please get in touch on 01904 390109 to find out more.
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