By Stephanie Taylor, Co-Founder of HMO Heaven and Rent 2 Rent Success

With coronavirus and a recession on the horizon some are saying that it’s the end of the road for HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupancy, also known as house shares).

But I don’t believe that’s the case, in fact, there is good evidence that the opposite is true. Here’s why:

Myth 1 – No one want to house share after coronavirus

Although this may seem like common sense, it’s not quite that clear-cut.  In our experience, even during the current pandemic, people are continuing to choose to move into HMOs.

Most of our young professional housemates that I rent to could easily afford a one-bedroom flat, but they tell me they’d prefer to live in a house share for these main reasons:

  1. To meet people

Often people are moving to a new city for work and don’t know anyone and therefore prefer to live, at least initially, with other likeminded people rather than live alone. House shares are a great way to meet people and make friends and have a ready-made social life.

  1. For affordability

Often people are saving to buy their own home and love the affordability of HMOs because they can save more each month than they would if they rented on their own.

  • For convenience

It’s the ease of moving in and having everything set up already; furniture, white goods, all bills included, internet etc., and fast service if anything goes wrong.

  1. For flexibility

We live in a much more mobile society than ever before. Many people move around the country for work, whether it’s to find a better job, or within their existing position. So being tied to a place isn’t very appealing. HMOs make it easy for them to commit for short periods only.

All in all, we’re seeing the demand for HMOs increasing, not decreasing.

Myth 2 – HMOs demand will plummet in a recession

If we are heading for the market dip many financial commentators are forecasting, then it’s likely demand for HMOs will grow, as past evidence has shown that residential rental demand increases in recessions. More people prefer to rent rather than buy in recessions.

In 2017 home ownership in England was at a 30 year low according to the English Housing Survey, the lowest since  1935.[1] The private rental sector has doubled in size since 2004 with 4.5 million households renting, including almost 50% of people aged 25-34 renting their homes.

Research by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) research showed that following the 2008 recession there was a continued rise in tenant demand.[2]

So, although many people state, as though it’s a universally accepted fact, that getting into rental in a recession is bad, they are wrong. Recessions see growing demand for rental property and especially affordable rental property, such as HMOs.

Myth 3 – The HMO market is saturated

There is a shortfall in affordable housing. A National Housing Federation and Crisis report conducted by Heriot-Watt University reveals that the UK needs to build 340,000 new homes every year until 2031 to meet housing demand. And at least 145,000 of those homes need to be what’s termed ‘affordable’.[3]

In the 30 years between 1959 and 1988 7.4million houses were built in England. In the 30 years from 1989 to 2018 only 3.3million houses were built. That’s a shortfall of 3.1million homes – over 104 thousand homes a year over 30 years.[4]

So, there is strong demand for affordable housing – and house building is not keeping up. Which means HMOs are becoming ever more popular.

In 2018 the UK Government estimated that there are around 4.5 million people in England housed in around 497,000 HMOs in England and Wales.[5]  It’s therefore easy to see how HMOs can contribute towards alleviating the housing shortage. However, many councils have introduced Article 4. This means that a planning application has to be submitted to the relevant council to change a house to an HMO, even if it will only house for 3 or 4 people, which under the national legislation wouldn’t require planning permission.

It is therefore is becoming more difficult for landlords to create a new HMO. So, the number of available HMOs is not growing as fast as it used to, and yet demand is on the increase.

In my experience, the people claiming the HMO market is saturated have sub-standard properties in the wrong areas or don’t have any HMOs at all – just unsubstantiated opinion. To me, it is clear that the HMO market is buoyant not saturated.

So, if you are thinking of investing in an HMO or if you already have one, what can you do to run it successfully?

Here are four little ways to make a big difference.

  • An attractive workspace
    With more people working from home, having an attractive work area with a desk and fast broadband is important. If necessary, add extra lights to ensure the workspace is well lit, and ask an electrician to add a few extra sockets if needed so laptops, phones and other work gadgets can be plugged in and kept charged.
  • Plenty of kitchen storage

Provide plenty of kitchen units to provide suitable storage plus a fridge and freezer. It’s surprising how many landlords don’t supply sufficient kitchen cupboard space. So, if your kitchen is small, look at clever ways to maximise storage – there are lots of ideas from the NRLA and IKEA etc. Thinking about the little things that make life easier for your tenants can make a huge difference.

3)         Extra wardrobe space

Simple fixes such as putting in two wardrobes, or adding shelves (e.g., above doorways can be a. excellent way to add a bit of extra storage space) can make a big difference. People don’t tent to want all their ‘stuff’ on display, so providing somewhere for them to tidy it away is a positive move.

  • Exceptional service
    This is the one that will make your properties stand out. From the first viewing to moving in, be proactive and attentive. Show your tenants you care about giving them a great place to live. Once they have moved in, don’t think that’s your job finished! Look after them, make the experience of living in your property one they will remember and cherish. This helps housemates stay longer and also leads to more referrals.

Creating a really great HMO does take some work, but it’s worth it.  Do it well and you will  have wonderful tenants, who rent from you for longer. You’ll have fewer periods with when room are unoccupied meaning that you your HMO business will be more profitable.


Stephanie Taylor is Co-Founder of HMO Heaven and Rent 2 Rent Success. She started HMO Heaven along with her sister Nicky and has grown the property management business to contracts of over £2m in just three years. Her goal is to inspire others to believe bigger, be bolder and be gamechangers for good through the power of ethical property businesses. Her focus is on using property to do good in our community and in the world.