Thursday, December 6, 2018

Co- Living | Rent a lifestyle

Co-living – Concept and renting philosophy

Co-living, the new mantra within the ambit of alternative asset classes is a form of housing which combines private living spaces with shared communal facilities. The idea of co-living is to create a community-centred environment that not only provides privacy in living arrangements but also promotes social contact through community events. As an asset class, coliving seeks to build a community centred around ‘real socialising’ in a world where social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, are the virtual alternatives for socialising for millennials. The biggest driving force behind the rising popularity of co-living spaces are the young renters moving to new cities for job prospects who are looking to meet and connect with new people. 

In India, the co-living concept is gaining widespread acceptance and has brought to the fore some new models in the private rental sector. Though the concept is novel, it’s here to stay, as India’s millennial population currently accounts for 440 million 1 . The growing interest for co-living spaces in cities such as Bengaluru, the National Capital Region (NCR) and Pune has been instrumental in many investors sitting up and taking notice of this emerging sector to diversify their portfolio and risk.

The renting philosophy for co-living spaces is derived from millennial behaviour where such renters share less utilised areas such as living spaces, kitchen, balconies, etc. in order to make an economical rental decision and be part of a working community. Their willingness to sacrifice these spaces in their individual units, if these options are available in the apartment buildings they stay in, help operators to arrive at different allinclusive membership packages while accommodating more individuals on a single floor plate. The icing on the cake is the design appeal of these apartment buildings which encourage socialisation. To cater to this sort of renting philosophy, many buildings in prime locations such as city centres, near employment hubs like IT parks, special economic zones or universities are being redesigned, repositioned and rebranded keeping millennials in mind. This trend is giving impetus to an organised rental market in cities such as Bengaluru, NCR and Pune in the same way as co-working spaces did for shared office spaces. 

Evolution of co-living

Co-living or ‘communal living’ is not a new concept invented to cater to the millennial population’s housing preferences. In fact, in many countries it dates as far back as the seventeenth century. Medieval villages, religious cults, monks living in monasteries, the hippie movement of the 1970s, boarding houses, Post World War II housing are all examples of coliving solutions that catered to a common belief system while also addressing the economic constraints of its inhabitants. Boarding houses, in particular, served as a transient way of city life, most popular in America where boarders typically included homegrown and foreign-born labourers rushing to cities for employment opportunities. These boarding houses served as a stepping stone for young adults and helped them bridge the gap between family life and independence. As a vast mobile workforce flooded into cities demanding more independence, boarding houses were gradually replaced by cheap hotels designed for long-duration stays. As people earned more and got richer, they were willing to pay more for ‘more’ space and ‘more’ privacy. Reconceptualising the old idea of co-housing of the 1960s is what co-living in today’s time is all about. Urban environments attract large scale inmigration putting the limited housing stock under pressure. Coupled with prohibitive rentals and unavailability of micro units in desired locations, co-living in the modernday world is evolving parallelly with the growing millennial population as they comprise the largest share of workforce globally. 

Characteristics Of Co-Living

Tech-driven easy living

Technology is a prerequisite for today’s young adults to manage their lifestyle. It has revolutionised the way digital nomads work, live and play. Co-living operators use modern technology to develop mobile apps which create an online platform, giving the residents access and flexibility and smoothens communication between the tenant and operator. The residents can provide feedback or complaints and ask for services like housekeeping through these apps. Modern technology can enable new forms of sustainable living and encourage social interaction between the residents of the same operator but living in different locations or communities. Apart from the mobile app, co-living operators are trying to make the most of technology with surveillance, facial recognition software or biometric or keyless access for the absolute security of their residents and staff.

Privacy amidst communality - A niche within a niche

Co-living spaces draw a thin line between living together but differently. Such service providers supply wider infrastructure of civic participation, community enterprise and the sharing economy. A lot of community-focused social events are organised to improve the social engagement between residents. Many co-living operators organise community-led events such as yoga classes, barbecue nights, laughter mashups, story-telling events and pizza nights for the modern-day city dwellers. 

‘No strings attached’ accommodation 

Co-living spaces are ideal for anyone on a non-fixed asset model; people who are looking for complete flexibility and homes that are fully furnished, serviced and managed. These usually operate on a plug-and-play model that saves tenants the hassle of dealing with everyday household chores and also from the burden of paying frequent utility bills. The monthly rent usually includes a host of facilities and utilities like – TV, housekeeping, Wi-Fi, cable, common kitchen and laundry spaces, maintenance and all the furnishings. With no lease contracts, the residents have the flexibility to stay for as long as they need and as their work demands. 

Co-living’s economics for millennials 

With a very vast globalised workforce, today’s millennials are travelling and relocating very frequently, due to which they are looking to cut back on costs. The rentals charged by these co-living spaces are usually inclusive of all added facilities and yet affordable for the average young professional. The lock-in periods for co-living spaces usually vary from two to six months and the refundable security deposit for such short-term lease options are only two to three months of rent. 

Types of co-living models in India

Lease and operation

This is one of the most prevalent co-living models in India, wherein a third party acts as an operator of the co-living service provided to the renters. In this model, the operator does not have any real estate ownership and takes the properties on lease from property owners before subleasing them to renters. There is a revenue sharing arrangement with the property owners, which varies depending upon the state of the property, upgradation requirement, etc. From market interactions with co-living operators, we have learnt that if the property owners invest in redesign and furnishing the co-living space, the revenue sharing arrangement is 50:50. However, if the co-living operator makes a capital investment in the co-living space upfront to redesign the space and add furnishings after leasing the property from the property owner, the ratio changes to closer to 70:30 in their favour. 

Full ownership and management of operations

This is a co-living model in which property owners convert, reposition and manage their existing properties as co-living spaces. In this model, no third-party operators are involved for operations and owners pocket all the profits which are ploughed back into the management of property and expansion of operations. Since the property owners are using their existing properties to convert into co-living spaces there is no capital expenditure at the outset. From market interactions with several stakeholders, we have learnt that owners of old buildings, which were initially set up as guest houses, hotels, beauty salons, tuition centres, etc. are being converted into co-living spaces for better space utilisation and to generate income from these assets. In Bengaluru’s central business district, parts of the erstwhile Safina Hotel on Infantry Road have been beautifully converted into a co-living facility called ‘The Hub’, which has been operating on 100% occupancy for the past 18 months. 

Home rental aggregator NestAway, which has recently raised USD 51 million from Goldman Sachs, along with a joint venture of a noted industrialist plans to diversify into creating co-living spaces going forward. OYO, the hospitality company, has announced plans to venture into the co-living market with its brand ‘OYO Living’ in the latter half of 2018 and plans to enter Bengaluru, NCR, Pune with more than 35 properties and 2,000 beds. With a successful partnership with Embassy Group, WeWork has been able to establish a co-working franchise model in major Indian cities and its co-living venture, WeLive, is expected to make a splash in the Indian market soon. These early trends are indicative of the other models which will emerge in future. Going forward, we can expect:

a) Home rental networks diversifying into creating co-living spaces.

b) Global co-living players venturing into the Indian market with franchisee arrangements or partnerships with local players.

c) Unorganised players in the paying guest accommodation segment learning from their mistakes and venturing into the co-living space in partnership with established operators.

Millennials and the world of plug-and-play living

Millennials or ‘Generation Y’ are the population group belonging to the 18–35 years of age bracket. Of the total global population of 7.4 billion, millennials account for a substantial 27% forming the largest demographic group worldwide.

Looking at India, with 34% of the country’s Millennials as a % of total Indian population population within the age bracket of 18–35 years, it is THIS demographic group, or Indian millennials that already are, and will continue to drive the consumption story across sectors, including real estate. In the context of residential real estate, millennials will not only drive but also redefine the manner in which it is consumed due to their inherent need for mobility, connectivity and tech-enabled living spaces. Creating living environments, with a millennial consumer in mind, will henceforth become a necessity. Plug it and play with it, just like flexible office space environments, is where the Gen Y housing needs are headed. As per a recent research, India’s millennial population is expected to grow from 28% of total population in 2016 to an estimated 42% of the total population by 2025.

The definition of ‘living’ and ‘home’ for millennials

For the millennial population, job mobility is the primary priority and home ownership is secondary. Home ownership is a decision postponed for later stages of life until they are well settled in their jobs and family life. With the median age for marriage in India climbing up for both men and women, need for more options for rental housing for singles is increasing with the deferment of marriage. Unlike Gen X, homes are not the same emotional investments as they used to be. Rather, homes are viewed as a consumption product which suits housing requirements in a particular phase of life. For students pursuing higher education, fresh graduates, single women, bachelors and double income no kids (DINK) couples, homes are transitionary commodities that can be upgraded as they move on in life. A headache-free lifestyle choice comprising of a well-maintained rental property is how the millennial housing requirement has evolved over the last few years. Coupled with the prohibitive costs of purchasing a house in any of the three big metropolitan cities of NCR, Mumbai or Bengaluru, renting is the only affordable option. But the demands from the rental accommodations available have grown exponentially with lifestyle changes and technological disruptions. Those staying in rented accommodations often have to compromise on staying closer to the workplace in order to keep monthly rental payments low as most central locations or apartments near employment hubs have become expensive to afford in key urban centres.

Indian millennials account for a 47%2 share in the country’s working age population. However, not only the young workforce, but students enrolled in higher education3 form a vast group of millennials on the lookout for hassle-free rental accommodation in urban education centres where they migrate to for under-graduation, post-graduation and doctorate studies.

To assess the end-user propensity to spend on rental housing, Knight Frank India Research conducted an end-user survey. We uncovered some interesting findings from a sample size of 196 respondents spread across the cities of NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai and others. Our survey included all income groups and occupation types as well as students. NCR with 37% saw the maximum volume of respondents which was closely followed by Bengaluru with 32%. Of the total respondents, 38% belonged to the annual income bracket of more than INR 8 lakhs followed by 22% respondents in the INR 3 to 5 lakhs annual income bracket. 

While most people don’t mind spending little more on equated monthly instalments (EMIs) if they decide to buy a house, the sentiment towards renting is not the same which impacts their willingness to spend on rental accommodation despite higher affordability. An interesting trend which emerged through this survey was that irrespective of the annual income drawn, the willingness to spend more than INR 15,000 per month on rental housing remained comparatively low as 37% of total respondents answered in affirmative to be willing to spend only between INR 10,000–15,000 per month on rentals despite 38% of the total respondents in the annual income category of more than INR 8.00 lakhs.

Looking at occupation types, for both private service professionals as well as student categories, the INR 10,000–15,000 per month rental category garnered maximum responses with 37% and 45% of the respective populations willing to spend up to this amount monthly for renting a roof over their head.

Of the overall respondents, 90% belonged to the millennial age bracket. Of the millennial demographic of 18–35 years of age, 48% of the respondents belonged to the 24–29 age group. Nearly 69% of the total millennial respondents are currently employed in private employment while 18% are students. Both these categories accounted for 87% of total responses. An interesting trend that emerged from our study was that 34% of total millennial respondents are in the higher annual income bracket of INR 8 lakhs and consider multiple factors while selecting a location for their current accommodation needs.

Proximity to work, safety, social infrastructure and costs such as security deposits, rentals and overheads play a huge role in arriving at a decision. While 69% millennial respondents agreed that all these factors are important, only 5% millennial respondents gave utmost weightage to costs. Factors such as proximity to work and social infrastructure like malls, hospitals, education hubs or parks ranked higher on the preference parameter with each category garnering a 9% share in total responses. The fact that costs are way down the preference parameter is indicative of the fact that if a location is closer to the workplace and offers social infrastructure and safety, they would be willing to compromise on costs.

Across all the three age brackets, two key findings have emerged about rental housing preferences for millennials. Locations with easy access to work and social infrastructure remain top priority with willingness to spend averaging between INR 10,000–15,000 per month. We also asked millennials if they would be willing to consider co-living spaces for their accommodation requirements and overall 56% responded in affirmative. Due to the novelty of the co-living concept and unfamiliarity of options, almost 44% replied in the negative. As the co-living sector gets organised and more players join the industry on the back of investor support, we expect the percentage of millennials favouring co-living over other rental options to only climb up. If a co-living product within the above price range is available near employment hubs, it would garner a lot of interest from this end-user group.

The Appealing Model and Flexible Memberships

Pricing is the key

 As per our survey findings, which encompassed 196 respondents, 37% are willing to spend only between INR 10,000–15,000 per month on accommodation per month, which was followed by 25% willing to spend only less than INR 10,000. This starkly points out at the difference between willingness to spend on rental accommodation and the type of rentals commanded in prime areas for letting out apartments in the major cities. Not only Bengaluru, but cities such as Mumbai and parts of NCR also have skyrocketing rentals in micro markets such as Bandra, Nariman Point, Andheri and Powai (prime commercial and residential hubs in Mumbai), and Connaught Place, Kamla Nagar, Gurgaon, Noida, Okhla (prime employment or educational hubs in NCR). Co-living beautifully fits in this price range in many locations and can help tenants achieve rental savings of 15% or more. If the rooms are shared on double occupancy, it further brings down the rentals and is a win-win situation for tenants with all amenities included. 

Mobility across co-living communities

Experiences are replacing ownership of assets for the millennials and travel is an important part of their life – be it work-related or leisure oriented. Most coliving operators provide access to multiple facilities within their network along with a keyless access which enables ‘members’ or ‘tenants’ to utilise these spaces intra-city or inter-city. Easy availability of a ready pad is an empowering non-tangible element for the youth today which helps them manage their nomadic lifestyle as work and opportunities take them places. Membership with a co-living operator provides an all-inclusive rental accommodation available at their finger tips for which they just need to raise a service ticket. Most co-living operators have a mobile app for its members through which such requests are addressed depending upon space availability. 

Global scenario

Locations that lead the pack 

As per a study, 25 million Americans 4 live with roommates which has grown by 20% over the past 10 years. Of the American millennial population alone, 88% already have a roommate. In cities such as New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, co-living has already become a part of the lifestyle. Large-scale urban co-living centres are now being constructed to meet the needs of a new generation of professionals and are attracting serious cash flow. Open Door, a co-living start-up has an 800+ waiting list in Bay Area alone. WeLive has re-opened its gates in New York and Washington D.C. having shut down operations less than 15 months ago. For China, which accounts for 19% of the world’s population, co-living or a modern form of shared housing is nothing new. In China, people have long been living in co-living spaces as housing affordability is a grave concern. You+ which opened in 2012 quickly expanded operations to establish a nationwide network of residences housing more than 10,000 tenants across 25 properties. Whether it is the start-up hub of Beijing or Guangzhou with its large population and proximity to manufacturing hubs of Shenzhen and Dongguan, co-living spaces are widely preferred by the young population over shared rental units. In Hong Kong’s exorbitantly expensive housing market, which is out of bounds for many, co-living is an apt housing option as living conditions in the city’s subdivided flats are shocking. 

In the United Kingdom, there is a huge demand for affordable housing in London, the capital city. Due to growing urbanisation, in-migration and changing demographics, the city is struggling to meet this demand. As per a recent study by housing association Catalyst, 48% of single people in London cannot afford to pay the rent in traditional housing models and many are willing to sacrifice private spaces for a good location and access to amenities. The Collective, UK’s biggest co-living scheme, plans to double the size of its portfolio with huge expansion in the US and Germany and are bidding for additional 5,000 apartments coupled with nearly 4,500 in the development stage. The Collective is currently 100% occupied with an annual tenant turnover of around 50%. Long overlooked former industrial hubs in the city are now being repositioned as co-living spaces. 

Whether it is the growing urbanisation or in-migration, one thing is crystal clear from these exam - ples, that is, the rapid emergence of co-living spaces in dense urban centres dominated by either start-up, financial sector or expensive residential hubs struggling to solve the housing shortage. As cost per square-foot of space continues its upward trend in global power centres, the co-living trend will only grow and thrive. 

Co-living as a step towards solving student housing crisis in UK

With growing urbanisation, immigration and demographics, there exists an acute and pervasive problem of shortage of affordable homes in the United Kingdom (UK) which largely affects millennials, amongst other demographic groups. There has been a decline in home-ownership in the UK over the years because of the rapid rise in rents and poor quality of accommodation. Co-living spaces are the next natural step and the preferred solution for solving the housing crisis, serving a much wider private rental market for the young professionals and students who are struggling to find suitable accommodation. UK has the second largest number of top educational institutions in the world and many of these institutions struggle to deal with the problem of underinvestment in their existing student accommodation stock, forcing students into the private rented sector. The redevelopment of brownfield sites along with new developments for student housing has also been slowing down, leading to the price increase and supply of stock falling behind. The Greater London Authority has recently identified co-living as an alternative form of housing to bridge the gap between low supply and high demand for student housing and since 2016 developers have submitted plans for over 1,000 new co-living units, mainly in London. The supply of shared housing in the country is also quite limited as many places do not have a pipeline of a large-scale built-to-suit (BTS) accommodation model. A standout amongst the other major co-living players in the UK is – The Collective, which aims to create a new way of living focused on a genuine sense of community, using shared spaces and facilities that would in turn offer a convenient, time-saving and hassle-free lifestyle.

Evolving trends 

More players to enter the industry

Since co-living as an asset class is evolving globally, many new players have announced plans to venture into co-living to cash in on the trend. Huge millennial population and unaffordability of housing for this demographic has led to a boom for micro housing and alternate rental models. In the United States alone, more than 90 co-living companies exist as of now. Since the market is huge in terms of opportunity, rapid growth for co-living providers is no longer a long shot. With purpose-built shared living spaces becoming the norm of the day, developers are no longer far behind and are joining the bandwagon given the value proposition of the business model. Leading developer, Property Markets Group, debuted its co-living business under the brand name PMGx in 2017 with plans to expand to 3,500 apartments already.

Big money, serious play 

Just like nobody knew what an iPod was when there was a CD sitting next to it, the co-living concept too will take time to go mainstream. But until then, the co-living sector is growing energetically. The real estate industry, institutional investors and major corporate players are embracing this sector as the growth potential in urban housing markets is humungous. Investor enthusiasm has translated into big deals with millions of dollars of capital flowing into the co-living sector for fast growing brands. According to a study by TechCrunch, co-living start-ups in New York and San Francisco alone have raised USD 78 million in the last one year. Bungalow, a new co-living operator, threw its gates open for business in September 2018 with USD 64 million funding. Given below are some significant examples of funding obtained by co-living operators:

Co-working + Co-living as a combo

Live, work and create. Isn’t that the motto for a healthy life? In the past few years, online entrepreneurship has increased dramatically, and local independence has emerged as a most significant trend. As the co-working movement is entering a new phase of growth, the growing attention from corporations and investors has created new opportunities for these spaces to grow their revenue. A co-living element as part of the co-working space, as well as vice versa, has proven to be an effective way to expand member base and revenue. While many co-working spaces cover the utilities with membership payments, many spaces struggle to break even. Additional income for co-working spaces boosted by a co-living space could be used to fund more community events, upgrade amenities and hire new staff. From coders, coaches, editors, designers, project managers, freelancers, bloggers, vloggers, Instagram influencers, software engineers, social media analysts to all kinds of entrepreneurs, a new living and working environment is something they are looking forward to. One where they do not need to compromise on either work or life.

An important shift, not a momentary fad 

As per ‘Freelancing in America’ report by Upwork and Freelancers Union, 57.3 million Americans are freelancing, accounting for 36% of the total US workforce contributing approximately USD 1.4 trillion annually to the economy. The freelance workforce growth is accelerating, outpacing the overall US workforce growth by 3x between 2014 to 2017. By 2027, the freelance workforce will increase to 86.5 million, forming majority of the US workforce. The rise of the ‘gig economy’ enabled every 1 in 10 Americans to earn income in the past one year using a digital platform. In China, nearly 110 million people are driving its gig economy accounting for 15% of its workforce. The rapid expansion of short-term contracts and freelance work in China is a result of the government’s vision to transition from a manufacturing to a service-based economy in light of slowing economic growth. Similar trends are emerging in other developing countries and with them is also emerging a need for dedicated lifestyle options for this workforce. Co-living is going to become indispensable going forward as freelancers, entrepreneurs and remote workers frequently struggle with isolation and loneliness when sitting and working behind a screen.

Occupancy and renewal rates on annual leases 

While the co-living sector is evolving globally, early estimates indicate a positive trend on two important parameters which vouch for the feasibility of the business model – occupancy and renewal rates. Common, one of the early movers in co-living, boasts of a vacancy of only 1% and renewal rate of 60% for 12-month leases. The fact that most co-living operators offer membership with access to the brand’s spaces in other cities and countries is a big plus point and encourages members to keep renewing. The Collective, in the UK, is currently 100% occupied with an average annual tenant turnover of 50%.


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Co-working to co-living, millennials share it all - Rashmi Menon   Tanvi Vyas lives at CoHo in Gurugram  - To avoi...