PBSA booking velocity shows resilience, StuRents report shows

StuRents launched its inaugural Occupancy Summit, revealing a report showing the market is performing on par with 2023 despite challenges.

Glasgow City Centre | StuRents | PBSA News
Glasgow City Centre. Image credit: Goodreg3, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The UK’s largest student accommodation portal and data provider – StuRents – hosted its first Occupancy Summit with the launch of their National Occupancy Report at the iconic Gherkin in central London, gathering 150 leading industry experts ranging from institutional investors, lenders and banks, to operators and property developers.

The report showed that the year-on-year performance in PBSA booking velocity remains healthy despite operators experiencing challenges in securing bookings. According to the survey, 43.3% of beds were booked across over 150,000 PBSA beds operated by the participating providers as of March, compared to 41.6% during the same period last year.

However, there remains huge city-level differences. For example, of those participating members in Glasgow, 73% of rooms were booked, versus just 32% in Coventry.

Other key findings from StuRents National Occupancy Report

  • Studios have maintained their lead over clusters in booking rates, with 49.1% of studios booked by March, versus 40.3% for clusters. Both categories have seen a slight uptick from the previous year.
  • While the national market is performing well overall, there is a notable variance between cities and even among individual properties within the same locations.
  • Occupancy data is being used by operators and investors to understand performance and adjust rents where needed.
  • A lack of live demand data remains a challenge for the sector.

The importance of quality data

The day-long Occupancy Summit provided an open forum to discuss key topics such as data, property management software (PMS), technology and the current investor landscape.

Richard Ward, Head of Research at StuRents kicked off the day by highlighting the conflicting nature of some of the data in the sector. Specifically, focusing on how, in the example of Coventry, using similar data can produce widely different conclusions.

As highlighted by Richard, historically many in the sector have looked at supply vs demand in the context of the number of students vs PBSA beds. However, this is far too simplistic and assumes all students want to live in PBSA, suggesting all locations are undersupplied as seen in the left-hand chart. 

In the example of Coventry, an independent analysis of similar data – but instead tracking changes to supply and demand over time – can lead to the opposite conclusion, i.e too many beds have been delivered relative to demand growth, leading to an oversupply (right-hand chart).

Property Management Software

Discussing Property Management Software (PMS), panellists highlighted the challenges of obtaining accurate reports from PMS. An audience poll reflected this issue, with attendees rating their ability to access timely and accurate financial data at an average of 2.4 out of five, highlighting the need for improvement.

Key industry concerns with current PMS and takeaways included:

  • An inability for investors to access timely and accurate information due to PMS limitations.
  • While software plays a role, the crux of operations hinges on people and internal processes.
  • Automating tasks can reallocate personnel to enhance service quality, potentially reducing costs via higher re-booking rates.
  • Dynamic pricing doesn’t currently exist in the real sense and changes are very much manual.
  • There remains a gap between supplier sales promises and actual service delivery, creating a false impression of capability.
  • Data migration between systems is a huge challenge, due to a lack of standardisation across platforms.
  • Change advocates within PMS will have their own area of focus, which is not always aligned with the student experience e.g improved financial reporting could result in a poorer booking journey.
  • Focusing on getting the basics right may not be glamorous, but neglecting this can lead to vanity projects that threaten basic functionality or add little value to the student experience.
  • A majority who switch PMS systems do so without seeking or obtaining referrals, suggesting potential oversight in the due diligence process.

We are impressed by the depth and openness of the discussions that happened at the Summit, which are crucial if we are to continue driving the industry forward. Our panellists expertly covered some of the sector’s key challenges, including data accuracy and migration, ease of reporting and the investor landscape. It is clear that there are certain challenges the industry experiences within the existing PMS. Concurrent, our end-to-end property management platform, can already solve some these issues with its reporting features and API integrations and we look forward to developing further features to address our client’s needs.”

Richard Ward, Head of Research at StuRents

Other topics discussed at StuRents Summit were the investor and developer landscape, with conclusions about supply and demand dynamics being well-reported and remaining very attractive for investors. Some participants flagged huge reliance on Chinese demand in the industry, which is seen as a risk by some investors.