tudents and letting agencies have expressed concern that the Housing Fair was left too late this year, following “unprecedented” student panic in finding off-campus accommodation for the coming academic year.
Jon Carden of Cardens Estate Agents, which had 270 student properties available in November last year, claimed that students who attended the fair on Tuesday 12 January were left “disappointed to find that we had only 22 properties to offer following the rush for accommodation pre-Christmas.
“We would anticipate that the majority of those properties would be let in the coming week, leaving a very limited choice thereafter. The market has undoubtedly changed and it may be that consideration ought to be given to the Housing Fair being held earlier in future years, in order that students who wait for the fair to look for their accommodation are not at a disadvantage.”
Star Lettings, who came to the Housing Fair with just seven houses to advertise, echoed these remarks, claiming that they had let “about 90 per cent of properties before Christmas”.
Speaking at the Housing Fair, Star Lettings Director Cara Khadaroo told Exeposé: “It’s been the quietest Fair we’ve had in about five years, and that’s because a lot more were let before Christmas. It seems like more exhibitors aren’t here either. At half past one, it was very quiet and that’s very unusual indeed.”
With fewer properties on offer at this year’s housing event, many students were left “panicked” – some even resorting to queuing outside estate agencies in the early morning in order to sign contracts.
“I queued outside a letting agents this morning at 8:30am to sign for a house to make sure we’d get it,” Dom Self, third- year Engineering student, told Exeposé:
“We’ve left it to January in the past, but this week was chaos. I made bookings at the Housing Fair that were cancelled by 9:00am on Wednesday, and there were landlords at the fair advertising for 2017/18!”
Amid this “chaos”, Rory Cunningham, Community Liaison Officer, still believes “students who don’t rush into housing contracts have a much better experience. Taking some time to reflect on the kinds of people you want to share a house or flat with can result in a more harmonious tenancy,” he said.
According to students, such advice shows the University to be “out of touch”. With an estimated attendance of nearly 2,000 students battling for the remaining properties, “nearly everything I saw [at the fair] was signed for by someone else 2 hours after the viewing. There’s not enough time to deliberate, leaving everyone feeling panicked and potentially signing for a house just to make sure they get one,” Engineering student Dom Self added.
So far this term, the Advice Unit has received 37 contracts and other enquiries relating to accommodation in for 2016/17 this week, while 151 were received in the period 1 November to 31 December – an 84 per cent increase compared to the same period last academic year.
Private landlord Marcus Baldwin points the finger at local estate agents for causing the rush. “I know a lot of landlords and the Uni want this to happen after Christmas and the New Year, but the letting agents want it to start in November and December- that’s no good for anyone,” he said. “It all used to be done using the accommodation list that was published later in January, but as a result people don’t want to wait anymore.
“I came to the fair with just four properties, and have given out about 200 flyers and taken down 50 or 60 names. The Housing Fair is a ‘way’ to go about things, but it’s really been a ‘fight’ for accommodation. I think the uni could do a whole load more to stop this fight.”
Such a “fight” may be attributable to rising student numbers. A report from the Exeter branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), published in June 2014, suggested that the city needs more student accommodation, highlighting “the need to offer student accommodation options more widely across the city by improving transport links and introducing planning policies to dis-incentivise property developers and incentivise students to live further away from the university”.
Still reluctant to live further from campus, however, students are finding themselves paying premium prices for a good location. One student property based on Sylvan Road rose by almost £10 a week, while a Danes Road house increased by as much as £20.
Students also bemoaned the Housing Fair’s emphasis on expensive private exhibitors advertising studio apartments such as Printworks and Collegiate AC, taking to Yik Yak to express their concerns:““There’s plenty of housing for everyone” – true, though only if you’re willing to spend £140 a week on a studio flat,” one student posted on the anonymous social network.
Not all feedback has been negative, however. Lou Aubey, a first-year Flexible Combined Honours student, described the fair as “really useful”. “Without it, we probably wouldn’t have found anything at all,” she said.
This year also saw the Guild expand their support offering with last Thursday’s ‘Housemate Finder’ event, which was “an overwhelming success with nearly 200 students attending during the evening”.
Speaking about Housing Week, VP Welfare and Diversity Naomi Armstrong told Exeposé: “The first ever volunteer Housing Team has been a great success. The team has supported numerous property viewings and students have commented on how useful it is to have this opportunity.
“House hunting can be stressful so it has been a great experience to be part of the Housing Team to help students through their first renting experience.”
For anyone concerned about housing, the Guild Advice Unit offers confidential advice.