EXPERTS have said that the Edinburgh housing market has “not changed much over the decades” after a student rediscovered an Edinburgh University acceptance letter from 1982 that described the rental market as “difficult”.

The typewritten letter advised the student to “get in touch as soon as possible with the Student Accommodation Bureau … as it is often difficult to find somewhere to live in Edinburgh.”

Colette Abissi (63), a social work graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, received the letter when she was accepted to a Masters of English Literature course 42 years ago.

After visiting Edinburgh for the first time in the 1980s, Abissi fell in love with the city’s charm and was compelled to apply to the university.

Recounting her thoughts on that first visit, Abissi said: “I was like every other visitor. I felt like it was magical, it was beautiful.”

Abissi did not end up attending the course in the 80s, but returned 40 years later to begin a Masters programme beginning in 2022. She was shocked to find that the state of the housing market was consistent with the university’s warning from decades earlier. 

“I think I looked at more than 25 places, as in I got a viewing and I couldn’t get anything,” she said.

She described the search as “really, really hard”. Abissi and her husband eventually found a rental property near the university campus, but she said: “I think we were just very lucky to get what we got.”

Experts in Edinburgh’s housing market say that the struggles students face today are similar to those described by the university in the letter (pictured below).

The National: The unearthed acceptance letter from 1982 The unearthed acceptance letter from 1982 (Image: Colette Abissi)

Nicky Lloyd, head of lettings at ESPC Lettings, said: “In many ways, Edinburgh’s rental market hasn’t changed much over the decades, especially with the student market, as it’s long been incredibly popular, with limited stock available.

“It’s increasingly common to see students secure a property before they leave for the summer and pay rent on a home that they won’t be using until they return to Edinburgh in the autumn for the next academic year, as securing a property in August or September is so competitive and increasingly difficult.”


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ESPC has worked in Edinburgh’s housing market since 1971 helping buyers and sellers navigate the market in Edinburgh and surrounding areas.

It says Edinburgh’s history and beauty are part of the reason the housing market has remained so competitive over the decades.

Abissi, who was living in London in the 80s, recalls being struck by how homey Edinburgh felt by comparison without compromising nightlife and culture.
She said: “I liked London because of all the things that London offers [but] I really loved Edinburgh because it was easy to get around and I was able to go every place I had to go on foot, which was great as a student.

“I knew that the arts were particularly important here in 
Edinburgh – there was the Fringe and the International Festival in the summer. I liked the idea of a place that was smaller and more manageable and yet it still had a lot to offer.”

Paul Hilton, CEO of ESPC, said: “As a world-famous, historical and beautiful city, Edinburgh’s broad appeal is probably the biggest factor in there being a challenge to source quality accommodation – and it is certainly not a new challenge, although the current market can be particularly difficult for renters.

“The city has long been hugely popular, and this increases every year, as thousands choose to make Edinburgh their home, including many students, which means competition is as fierce as it’s ever been.

“In recent years, we’ve seen demand for homes in Edinburgh reach new heights, particularly for rental properties, which coincides with the city experiencing a well-documented shortage of homes.”

And with Edinburgh’s popularity coming from its many world heritage sites, this also presents one of the “biggest problems”, Hilton says, as they make it challenging to build new homes in central locations.

These limitations, combined with Edinburgh’s growing population, create the perfect storm for a competitive rental market that pits students against long-term residents pursuing properties in key areas.

Hilton added: “Edinburgh can be proud of its world-class universities and of course it attracts huge interest from students, but we hope for there to be many more options in future when it comes to accommodation, to ensure that students aren’t put off from moving to this beautiful, cultural and exciting city.”

As students continue to be won over by the city and make the move to Edinburgh, the challenges they face in the housing sphere show no signs of letting up.
Edinburgh City Council declared a housing emergency in November 2023 amid record highs in the number of homeless households.

Students account for a large part of the housing market in Edinburgh, with student flats constituting as much as a quarter of the city’s approved developments in 2023.

Ellie Gomersall, The National columnist and former president of the National Union of Students, said: “Students are really, really suffering at the moment, both from the price and quality of accommodation that students are able to afford.”

The past months have seen Edinburgh landlords increasing rent prices after Holyrood’s emergency rent cap and eviction moratorium expired on March 31.

As the cap did not apply to purpose-built student accommodation, University of Edinburgh students saw an 8% increase in the cost of student accommodation in 2023/24.

Gomersall took aim at these rent hikes, saying: “You would expect that universities who have a duty of care to the students who are living in those homes would respect the fact that students really can’t afford rent increases at the moment.

“It’s universities using student accommodation to make a profit, rather than doing what’s right and making sure that the students that they have responsibility to look after have somewhere safe and affordable and warm to live.”

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High rent and scarcity of properties has seen some students struggle to find housing at all. Data from Slurp: Students for Action on Homelessness found that one in six students were without accommodation by the start of the semester in 2023. Resources exist for students who become homeless while studying.

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: “We know that Edinburgh is a highly desirable place to live, and finding accommodation can be challenging.

“This year we provided housing to more than 2000 students in addition to those with guaranteed accommodation. We have rooms available for emergency situations where students find themselves without a place to stay, as well as longer term rental options.”