Durham’s housing rush reaches record levels as student demand continues to rise

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This year’s rush to sign student houses for tenancies beginning in 2019 has been unprecedented, Durham estate agents have reported.

Estate agents across Durham have spoken to Palatinate about experiencing record levels of demand for student housing, with some calling for a consultation between agents, the University and students to alleviate the city’s annual housing rush.

Frampton Roebuck told Palatinate they have let the same number of properties in the first seven days this year as they let in the first seven weeks last year, following the release of their property list on 1st November.

Frampton Roebuck let the same number of properties in the first seven days this year as they let in the first seven weeks last year

Meanwhile, agents at JW Wood observed that houses have sold “dramatically faster” than previous years. They said: “we’re 4 weeks ahead of where we usually are”, having already let 127 of their 142 properties.

Kirsty Wilson, an agent for the company said “there seems to be a panic” among students looking for housing.

Similarly, Robinsons estate agents have so far let 101 properties of their 150-strong portfolio, adding that, at this point last year, they had not let half of that number.

Last week groups of students were pictured camping outside estate agents overnight in the hope of signing tenancy agreements for the most popular houses released on the 1st November.

The closure of Durham University’s Stockton Campus has increased the strain on housing resources, with more students seeking accommodation in the city than ever before.

Dan from Rise Estate Agents said that the rush for houses “gets earlier and earlier every year”. He added that in previous years, Rise’s properties “all went towards the end of November” after being released in mid-October.

The agents added that they were working a “lot of over-time” to process the high volume of applications for student lettings. Lauren from Robinsons described this year’s housing rush as “absolute mayhem”.

One agent described this year’s process as “absolute mayhem”

Whilst Robinsons had no official release date for their properties, the agents released as many properties as they could earlier, in line with student demand.

JW Wood stated that they have been torn between releasing lettings earlier, hence fuelling students’ panic to sign houses even earlier, or to uphold their release date of 1st November and tolerate the ensuing inundation of students looking to sign their properties on release day.

In a bid to quell hasty and ill-considered house signings, JW Wood offer students a 24-hour reservation period, following which students have a seven-day ‘grace period’ in which to pay deposits, longer than many of Durham’s other estate agents and private landlords.

Kirsty Wilson added: “What we strive to do is aid students and we have a different structure. We’re not a pushy agent and we pride ourselves on that”.

Daniel Woolstencroft, a first-year Hatfield student, commented on his experience finding housing for this year: “The housing companies were helpful and current residents of potential houses were happy to let us look around and ask questions.

“From what people have said, certain colleges start worrying about housing much earlier than others. It seems to be endemic to the Bailey ones.

“I think in general I found the process to be pretty stressful. It’s interesting how everyone enters a sudden frenzy of panic about finding housemates and searching for houses in the ‘prime location’.”

Meg Haskins, Welfare and Liberation officer for Durham Students’ Union, issued a response to Durham’s housing situation on the SU website, in which she stated that “Durham has, for many years, had a culture of panic when it comes to housing. Students sign contracts earlier and earlier every year, trying to secure the best houses in Durham.”

She wrote: “Estate agents ultimately want you to sign for their houses as soon as possible, and so artificially create an atmosphere in which students believe they must secure homes as quickly as possible.

“This is a marketing and competition tactic that does not benefit students. Not only does this atmosphere make you rush into a decision you may regret, there’s a good chance you will also end up paying more than the house is worth.”

However, Sean Lawless, Durham Graduate and director of Bill Free Homes, disputed the claim this situation was to the benefit of estate agents. Of Bill Free Homes’ 200 properties in the city, around 120 have already been signed, as opposed to 80 at this point last year, and 70 in the letting year 2016/2017.

In reference to these statistics, Lawless said: “On the face of it, it may seem that we would be happy with this, but we are really not. We would much like to see a 0% next to our statistics until January and start to let our properties from then.”

He added: “We have started discussions with the student population and hope to meet with the University soon to see what can be done to create an agreed letting period for all, say from the start of term in January.

“The time has come to make a fairer system for all students at the university, a system that puts students first”

“This has to be led by agencies like ourselves, the University and students – this has been mooted for many years and has failed many times, however, I am sure the time has come to make a fairer system for all students at the university, a system that puts students first”.

Similarly, an agent at Frampton Roebuck commented that the rush to sign houses is “unfounded and unnecessary”. He added: “It would make our lives as agents a lot easier if the houses let more slowly.”

He denied the claim agents had been building hype, citing their choice to maintain a later release date of the 1st November, despite having to turn away students who came looking for properties before the release date. He said, “you don’t turn people away from a shop unless you’ve got reason”.

These sentiments were shared by Morgan Douglas: “We do not support the hype and pressure selecting your home needs to be very seriously considered.

“Just as Morgan Douglas supported Durham City County Council with one To Let board in every street, Morgan Douglas would also be happy to work with Durham University and partners on the subject.”

The rush to sign houses is “unfounded and unnecessary”

Owen Adams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), said: “The University’s Accommodation Office offers advice to both current and prospective students in seeking privately rented accommodation. Its website includes much useful information, including house-hunting tips and answers to frequently asked questions.

Additionally, Colleges and Junior Common Rooms provide advice during Michaelmas Term, and we are continuing to work with Durham Students’ Union.”

Photograph: John Whitehouse via Flickr

 

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