Parents who buy the digs

The soaring costs of student accommodation, combined with an upturn in the property market, are encouraging more parents to buy somewhere for their children to live while they are studying.

"I've got friends with three mortgages, two of them for their children," says Marion James (not her real name), who has bought a house in Cambridge for her son Tim at the start of the second year of his BEd degree at Homerton College.

Marion is hoping that Tim will be able to save on living expenses so that he does not end his student days faced with a mountain of debt.

The National Union of Students reckons that undergraduates on four-year courses, such as teachers, will graduate with average debts of at least #163;7,811. Accommodation swallows up a disproportionate amount of a student's income. In London, students will have to spend about #163;2,000 a year or almost 60 per cent per cent of their income on housing; elsewhere, the figure is about #163;1, 500, half their income.

Tim paid #163;2,500 for his first year in hall at Cambridge and Mrs James feels he didn't get value for money: "The food was appalling and very expensive," she says.

So Tim's parents sunk their savings and the proceeds from the sale of another property into a derelict end-of-terrace house off Mill Road, a student's mecca as it is within easy walking or cycling distance of most Cambridge colleges.

The Jameses have no mortgage of their own as they live in accommodation provided by the progressive boarding school where they both work. Eventually, they are hoping to use the Cambridge house themselves.

They paid #163;75,000 for the two-bedroomed house, which had not been lived in for two years. She and her husband spent six months and #163;12,000 renovating the house and creating an extra bedroom. But they look on it as an investment as, less than a year after they bought it, the house is now worth about #163;105,000.

Tim currently shares the house with one other student and they each pay #163;50 a week rent, including bills, slightly less than the average student rent. Marion has rejected the idea of letting four of Tim's friends share because of the wear and tear it would cause.

However, she has decided against buying a house for their younger son, who is going to study in Brighton. "We've almost made it too easy for Tim; it may be more character-building to let your children live in squalor," she says. "And it's much harder to cut the cord if you've got to keep checking the house and pestering them about the garden."

John Bailey (not his real name) found the only disadvantage of buying a house for his son when he was studying in Wales was that Simon had to play landlord to his friends. Financially, the Baileys broke even by buying a large house in their son's name; the rent from six of Simon's friends paid the 90 per cent mortgage and the interest on the #163;12,000 loan for the deposit, which Mr and Mrs Bailey raised against the equity in their own house.

"I thought it was something you could only do if you were very rich, but if you do your calculations right, you can save your child a lot of money by buying them a house," Mr Bailey says.

* Next week: the costs for mature students

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