Buying property for children at university not only assures them a decent home but is a good investment for you.
Every year, parents go through the same trauma - where are their children, who are going off to college or university, going to live?

For their first year of university life, that place will usually be in the halls of residence. After that time, the student is likely to want a little more independence.

Of course, they can rent digs, but these are not cheap - pounds 70 a week on average in London, pounds 30-pounds 40 a week in more rural areas - and often very basic. An alternative option is for parents to buy a property for their child close to their university or college. This can either be used by the child alone, or - if it has enough rooms - let to other students, whose rent can be used to pay off some or all of the mortgage.

But by the time the idea is considered seriously, the second year has started, or is about to start, and it barely seems to make sense to embark on a property purchase with so little time left.

For that reason, if you want to buy, now - while your child is still in halls - is the time to do it. Among other things, it is now possible both to compare life in halls with that outside and to have a reasonable idea of the best (and cheapest) areas to live in.

And you don't have to do it on your own. In Bristol, four sets of parents have joined forces to buy a house for their children to live in while at university. Eight friends, who have now finished their first year, got together and decided they were prepared to commit themselves to signing up for a year's lease. And they hope to stay together until the end of their courses.

Half the number persuaded their parents to go into the joint venture, the other half will be renting their rooms. "It was a nightmare to start with," says Carol and David Bullen, one of the sets of parents buying.

"It took a long time to find the right house, as anything we heard of sold before we got the chance to see it. Then it was very difficult organising the mortgage with four signatures, but we managed it. We hoped to find somewhere back in May but, as it happened, we completed on the property just two weeks before our daughter had to move in."

The syndicate has bought a seven-bedroom house with a small garden, which was in good condition but needed a bit of work doing to it. As the families come from Norwich, Hull, Birmingham and Exeter, a considerable amount of organisation was needed to get the house ready for habitation.

"One of the parents has been doing the plumbing, putting in another bathroom; another helped with the electrics; and we have all mucked in, painting and buying second-hand furniture at auction houses," says Carol.

"We have all got on fine and, after the initial traumas, it really has been quite fun. I am very pleased with the outcome as rents are going up all the time and at least we know our children are living somewhere decent."

She reckons that the rents from the four tenants will pay almost all the mortgage, with the parents making up a small shortfall. "And if there is only a 2 per cent increase in house prices over two years we will make a small profit when we sell," she says.

Another couple of students, brother and sister Dean and Dhalia Khanna, can thank their parents for giving them the chance to live in a nice flat while they are at university in London. Dean, who is 18 years old, has just started university while Dhalia has up till now lived in halls of residence.

"Our parents have bought us a two-bedroom apartment at Barratt's development in East Harding Street, EC4. It is perfect for us, only a short distance away from the universities," says Dean. Pemberton House is a conversion of a six-storey, former office building into 39 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Prices range from pounds 275,000 to a penthouse at pounds 420,000.

"There has definitely been an increase in parents buying large houses in the towns in which their children attend university," says Rowena Wild, managing director of Chestertons Residential. "By running the property as a business, and renting out rooms to other students, accommodation costs can be kept to a minimum and the `business' can even show a profit.

"Parents often like to hand the responsibility for running and managing the house to their children as it gives them excellent commercial responsibility and experience."

When the course is finished, the parents hope to have their investment intact, either to continue letting out or to sell. University towns always need homes for their perennially changing students, teachers and ancillary staff, so even if the worst happened and the property market collapsed, there should still be a guaranteed demand for rental accommodation.

"You get a very good return on this sort of property," says James Wilson, a buying agent for Lane Fox. "And the way the market is at the moment, it is unlikely to rise much in the next six months. It is a very good opportunity to buy for investment purposes."

And should you decide to run the property as a business, then the ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents) Buy-to-Let scheme is available, which makes it far easier for individuals to buy property for investment purposes. The scheme is just into its third year and, over the last two years, more than 13,000 Buy-to-Let mortgages have been arranged.

Chestertons Residential, 0171-262 5060; Lane Fox, 0171-499 4785; sales office at Pemberton House, 0171-583 2237; ARLA hotline, 01923 896555