Ben’s Ten Top Tips for negotiation on accommodation costs
At this time of year, many of you will be entering into discussions to agree on rent levels in accommodation for future intakes of students. Often this will be more than a year in advance, so be prepared to be talking about what rent should be 1 – 2 years in advance.
If you are not included in such discussions, this should be a priority for you.
Make sure that decision making on rent prices is clear, open, transparent, and ensure that the students’ union is consulted on this annually. This should be the case in privately supplied student accommodation, as well as that owned by the university or college.
It’s vital that as the voice of students, you are a key stakeholder in such decision making. It’s also crucial that where possible you engage with private providers who house your students so that you have some oversight into their decision making and future plans.
- Do your research: Read the NUS accommodation costs survey, institutional satisfaction surveys, and other surveys that have been undertaken on preferences for student accommodation, for example this research conducted by Unipol and Nottingham University.
- Compare and contrast: it can be really beneficial to look at what accommodation is on offer – and what you get for your money – and compare with other institutions. You might want to ask officers or colleagues in students’ unions in the same region as you, or institutions where there is a similar demographic, similar types of accommodation, or with institutions from the same mission group as yours. All of these comparisons will help to give you a good picture of how your housing measures up.
- Use your networks: accommodation officers and finance managers have their own professional networks nationally – they will talk to one another to help them with their decision making and intelligence gathering. You should too – use
- It’s not just about what you pay: remember to look at the whole picture. Will there be additional charges on top of the rent that students will need to pay; deposits, booking fees, charges for services, fines? Also think about the length of the contract – it’s important to know the weekly and the annual rent.
- Think about different types of students: what range is there in accommodation cost and type? It’s not a problem having expensive rooms, but are there low-cost alternatives too? Are rooms accessible? Is there provision for students with children?
- Consult your members: You are powerful because you represent accommodation services’ customers. So you should use that knowledge. Ask your membership about what they valued in accommodation, what they would still value as a top priority from accommodation, and what in hindsight would they change?
- Not as simple as low rent: As much as it may seem like we should be aiming for cheaper rents, it’s important to think about standards and services. Sometimes accommodation needs refurbishment, which will incur costs. Sometimes an increase in rent is worthwhile if it delivers better accommodation. Identify where you think essential works are, or where things could be phased. Likewise, what services are valued? Security? Post/parcel collection? Internet? All of these will have cost implications, you will need to assess where these are worthwhile costs.
- Compromise may be necessary: The art of negotiation is a two-way thing; you will need to compromise on some areas to win in others. It’s important to be clear before you enter any meetings where your ‘red lines’ are, and where you can afford to be flexible.
- Map stakeholders: remember that there will be a number of individuals and departments with an interest in student accommodation; finance, admissions, student services, marketing. Meet with all these people and find out what their perspectives are on cost and provision. Think about how accommodation provision may fit within recruitment or widening participation strategies.
- Familiarise yourself with codes: The vast majority of accommodation – either university or privately managed – will be registered with either the UUK or ANUK Codes. Read through these and identify areas of interest for discussion.