A newly launched portal, housemates.io, aimed at students renting rooms is making the booking process for student accommodation as simple as bagging a hotel room on Booking.com or a city break apartment on Airbnb.
“To date, student accommodation is agent-serviced and an agent-powered solution,” says the portal’s founder, 21-year-old Mancunian Lydia Jones, who has been in start-ups since she was 15. “You get passed onto an operator and you might get a call back. Housemates saves time and money.”
The new mobile platform allows students to book their accommodation directly. Available bed space or a room is reserved and then secured within about 14 days, the time currently needed to process guarantor checks and tenancy agreements.
At launch Housemates has 400 Irish student accommodation beds available on the platform in Dublin and Galway. It also operates in the UK and Australia and aims to have some 3,000 Irish beds available by January, almost 50 per cent of the 6,500 currently available in Dublin, she says.
Student accommodation booking platforms to date have simply taken a student's name and email address and passed them on to the accommodation provider, Ms Jones says. "If the accommodation provider contacts the student and he or she takes a bed or room, the platform charges a fee of 3.5 per cent of that total rental. With an average nine-month tenancy of about €8,500, that's €298, just to furnish a lead name." There is no subscription fee to use Housemates software, and it charges a flat fee of 20 per cent of the first month's rent. On the same nine-month tenancy of €8,500, the charge works out at €189, which is about 37 per cent cheaper. "When Housemates facilitates a transaction we only charge on completion of the transaction, so a method similar to Apple Pay, " Ms Jones says.
According to research conducted by Knight Frank for Housemates, the global PBSA market is worth $180 billion (about €150 billion). She says the Irish market is worth about 1 per cent of that, $1.8 billion (€1.5 billion).
One of the operators on her platform is Hazelwood in Northwood Business Park, Santry, Dublin 9, where general manager Andrew Donnelly aims to provide accommodation that is accessible and affordable. The gated development of six blocks has night-time security, which he says helps put the parents of first-year students starting college at ease.