Refurb vs. new build student accommodation: why we favour the latter

As the number of people being accepted onto higher education courses continues to rise, along with a significant increase in the number of 18 year olds over the next few years, investment into student accommodation will continue to provide good returns, as long as it is properly planned and managed. Research last year revealed that the ratio of students to university beds from 20 of the main city universities in England, Scotland and Wales is disproportionately high, meaning there is simply not enough beds for the number of students attending higher level education. So there’s no doubt that the requirement for high-quality, private student accommodation remains strong.

For those that are sold on investing into student accommodation, a key question always emerges. Should you hit the ground running with a new build project, or take on the challenge of a conversion? Whilst we do consider both when it comes to our developments, in this post we look at why we favour the new build option for a multitude of reasons.

More design freedom
The main reason we prefer a new build project is the design freedom that they offer. New builds can be designed exactly to specification, whereas conversions are limited by existing building constraints and, in many cases, heritage restrictions. With a new build we can dictate the exact layout and room mix to ensure an optimum living space, which is incredibly important for us here at CityBlock with our continued focus on student wellbeing. We design all of our properties with student welfare in mind, which includes ensuring our properties are mapped out to create optimal wellbeing – having break off rooms so students don’t feel overwhelmed as well as communal areas for those who are more sociable – so starting from scratch with a brand new building provides us with the flexibility to do this.

Risk mitigation
New build properties also offer greater control over costs as they are designed to a specific budget and don’t come with the nasty surprises which can be associated with refurbishment projects. It also tends to be a lot easier to understand and mitigate risk in new builds for the same reason. One of the biggest issues in relation to conversions is getting the main contractor to take on the risk of the existing building. Without this, the design and build procurement route becomes less attractive, potentially forcing the developer to take on significant amount of risk in terms of cost and potentially time.

Eco considerations
The energy efficiencies and performance of new buildings often are better than in conversions as they are able to be developed specifically to consider eco-credentials from the off. Most new builds will now incorporate features like energy saving light bulbs and various recycling bins as standard, and they fit with the general aesthetic. However, you wouldn’t typically get this with a conversion. Moving into a property that is already geared up to be eco-friendly means that residents have to do very little in order to maintain these credentials. Of course, some might argue that there is nothing more environmentally friendly than reusing an existing building even if the energy performance is not as good. Nevertheless, in the long run we believe new builds are more economical.
While the above reasons mean we do usually favour new build developments for student accommodation, it’s not to say we completely write off refurbishment projects; period properties have lots of character and can be turned into works of art. We have developed – and will continue to develop – a number of beautiful conversion properties, but for those looking to make the choice between the two, we do believe new builds are easier to manage and make successful.