Lessons in luxury from top student landlord

The luxury market has paid off for the Parklane Group. Sharon Dale reveals the secrets of its student lets success.

A student room at IconInc's The Edge in Leeds

The Parklane Group has built an impressive student property empire from scratch and after 30 plus years there is little that the family-owned business does not know about this specialist sector.

Its portfolio of traditional student houses in Leeds was followed by purpose-built blocks and last year it launched the poshest student lets in Yorkshire under its IconInc brand.

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Those of a certain age who roughed it in the style of TV’s “The Young Ones” raised their eyebrows at the very idea of hotel-style, luxury accommodation for undergraduates. But the five star approach at The Edge in Leeds, has been a great success.

Its 131 rooms with en-suites and kitchenettes have been fully booked thanks to the fashionable décor and the building’s amenities. Students can have a complimentary breakfast if they rise early enough from their 1,000 pocket spring bed. There’s also a 24 hour concierge, gym with personal trainers, a games room with pool table and Xbox, a cinema room, study room, laundry and cleaning services and an outdoor area with table tennis.

Prices range from £165 per week to £300 per week, while the average room in purpose-built student accommodation is £100 a week and £60 per week in a shared house.

The brand was conceived by design enthusiast and entrepreneur Naveen Ahmed, MD of Parklane Properties and the theme is icons. All the rooms have a picture of an iconic city and the communal areas feature images and inspirational quotes from sporting, business and literary icons, including Richard Branson: “Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again”.

There have been few failures for Parklane but lessons have been learned, which is why Naveen has tweaked the specification of his second IconInc development, The Glassworks on Cardigan Road, Leeds, which opens in September 2017.

The 157 student apartments will mirror those at The Edge but there will also be a “mega kitchens” and “mega lounges”. The outside space will include glamping pods, which will be available to hire for study, quiet time or over-night stays.

“What I learned from The Edge is that the students love the communal spaces so I wanted to build on that. They all have cooking facilities in their rooms but I’ve designed a cross between a home kitchen and a restaurant kitchen on each floor at The Glassworks so students can cook and eat together. The lounges will also allow them to socialise,” says Naveen.

Luxury lets, which are popular with international students, are a growing market.

“We very quickly had 100 per cent occupancy at The Edge and 55 per cent of the tenants were international students. though I think in the next academic year we will see that figure shift to 40 per cent,” says Naveen, who is working on an IconInc scheme in Liverpool that will have a sauna, library and a private dining facility. The model is even more hotel-like and some rooms will be let for as a little as a week to cater for students on placements.

“Student accommodation is now a recognised asset class and funds are pouring into it. With IconInc we are approaching it from the hospitality angle and we are building a recognised brand,” says Naveen.

Those buying student houses to let also face competition from the purpose-built sector. For those keen to invest, Naveen suggests buying a property that will sell well as a family home. As for location, he believes that Leeds is becoming saturated and suggests Newcastle, where there is a shortage, or Sheffield, which has a need for more.

“Students are used to a certain standard in halls of residence and they want nice décor, en-suites, good kitchens and all bills included in the rent,” he says.

Buying single rooms in managed blocks as an investment should be avoided, according to Naveen, who warns: “You have no control over the communal areas or the standard of upkeep and re-sale is problematic. No-one can get a mortgage for a single room. Stick with traditional, safe investments.”

*IconInc is letting apartments at The Edge for the 2016/2017 academic year, www.icon-inc.co.uk