What are the challenges and opportunities in the student accommodation sector?
Nowadays, student housing is widely considered as an asset class on its own. Many investors see it as a counter-cyclical kind of investment, because the rents are stable and have been growing over the last 10 years and student mobility has increased quite dramatically within Europe but also from students overseas. Therefore, for most institutional investors, real estate funds or family offices, it is a good opportunity to diversify their risk and their portfolio. I would say that it is definitely on the conservative and safe side of investments, even though some of the transactions I have seen have a quite important return on investment.
Student residences are a new trend in the market. Today for the first time some groups are looking at a pan-European expansion and we are seeing the very first student housing chains popping up. I believe we are what hotels were 30 years ago and it’s interesting to see how each residence is trying to identify itself as a reference for the market. We are entering a phase of extension and consolidation which is going to be very interesting from now on.
How do you select the markets you are expanding in?
The markets we invest in must have three main characteristics to match our business model: they must enjoy significant demand from local students (this is the case in Paris, where a lot of French students come to study); an important range of international students, especially Americans, who come for only a semester, and a significant number of young tourists during the summer, which helps us fill up the residence when the students of the academic period have gone. Those are the three criteria based on which we decide which city we want to go to. Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Florence, Milan and Rome are definitely the cities that we are targeting. After London, those six cities have the most exchange programs than any other city in Europe so far.
What distinguishes your residences from the competition?
I believe our flexibility in terms of time spent in the residence: you can stay from one day to one year, which is very interesting for exchange students, as a lot of student residences only allow you to stay for the entire academic period. The second difference is that we work with direct leases; the end consumer is the student, not the university, which means that you do not have to be registered in a specific university to stay with us. Finally, we are an off-campus premium student residence, located on prime student locations inside the city and offering a lot of amenities such as gym, swimming pools and 24-hour reception, high-speed internet and anything a student might need, making our residences new-generation student houses and very appealing to our customers.
In terms of infrastructure, what are the main elements that are important in the student housing sector?
There are really two markets in the student housing sector: on-campus student residences, which are usually linked to one university and offer rather low prices in return for a basic service, but can guarantee very high occupancy rates, and off campus student houses, targeting high-income students. In that case, you really have to work on giving your customers better value for money in terms of amenities, quality standards and brand recognition.
What would you advise investors willing to invest in the student housing sector?
I think that some people see the operation of student houses as something simple, for instance compared to senior housing, and think it is something that can be handled easily. However, my opinion is that you need to be an experienced student housing operator to do it properly, and therefore my advice to investors would be to always go into this sector in collaboration with specialized student housing managers to achieve the best possible results.
For more information, visit Melon District's website.