Is co-living the future of renting?
Many are re-evaluating their priorities as more options enter the market
Contributed by Sulaiman Saheh
The market has seen notable shifts in consumer and behavioural trends; both new and old with some going from being a niche to a now mainstream option. More so, these shifts were accelerated and amplified by the two-year pandemic which had caused many to re-evaluate their priorities.
For the employment sector, strategic readjustment was necessary to accommodate the new needs and demands of post-pandemic employees. This was primarily seen with the embracement of co-working spaces that allows anyone to work remotely and not be locked into one specific office cubicle. As cloud usage and virtual communications became the norm, remote working became more doable and acceptable as a way of working.
This not only solved the dilemma of space downsizing faced by organisations without having to resort to retrenchments but also gave employees more flexibility to structure their own work style efficiently – be it from a commute cost, convenience or comfort perspective.
But happening simultaneously on the other end of the co-sharing spectrum is co-living which is simply defined as a dwelling unit occupied by several individuals utilising the same facilities and amenities provided within the development. Of course, this type of living arrangement is no new concept as it is commonly practised in student accommodations and rental homes. Instead, the co-living of today is seen as the upgraded and well-facilitated version of conventional renting with such spaces provided and managed by professional co-living service providers. Rather than just having rented a room to yourself within a conventional home and having access to the common areas such as a living room, kitchen and bathrooms, co-living centres have gone several steps ahead to encourage and create a sense of community within the shared dwelling. This is done with the provision of common lounges, entertainment rooms, and work spaces for the digital nomads.
As to whom this type of living arrangement is catered to, it is commonly seen targeted to the single, working demographic looking to have a flexible and community lifestyle. Due to the sharing nature of co-living, tenants are encouraged and often put in a social setting when going about their daily routines as most of the facilities and amenities used are located in common areas; the bedroom being the only private space to have. To those who are also living the co-working life, this will be a complementary add-on to the whole sharing lifestyle as some co-living spaces include co-working areas as well.
But in response to the growing ageing population and the accommodation services that are slowly making their way into the market to meet the demands of the elderly crowd, co-living is seen to have also extended its target market to the senior tenants. One such is Komune Living and Wellness in Cheras by UOA Hospitality which offers options for senior care facilities to elderly tenants based on their physical needs. Extending further to families with children, while Malaysia has yet to see any co-living services marketed for family tenants, the embracement of the sharing concept with young ones involved is gaining ground in other regions of the world.
With four residences in France currently in development and set to open end of 2023, Commune is a co-living service dedicated to single-parent families by offering housing solutions designed to simplify parental organisation and meet the needs of children. Founded by two individuals who came up with the idea in 2021, the founders shared a passion to create and recreate social ties for isolated and disrupted families and fill in the gap where social public policies failed to do so. With each residence built to cater to between 14 and 28 families at a time, both indoor and outdoor common areas are provided and designed to accommodate and entertain the young tenants on top of the usual living, laundry and kitchen rooms. On-demand services such as babysitting, school transportation and organised activities are also on offer to help single parents needing extra support.
With all that has been said and done, is co-living the best next option for future renting? On the pro side, tenants are looking for a more flexible and less tied-down financial commitment as most co-living providers offer monthly leases without having to commit for a year when signing the agreement. For convenience, tenants are looking at a close-to-fully facilitated living experience as the co-living package includes access and usage of more than just the basic amenities: others include a gym, entertainment rooms and working spaces. With a community right outside your bedroom door readily available for you to be a part of, networking and socialising comes naturally to a co-living environment.
On the con side, you are likely to face a higher rental fee (on a per sq ft basis) for a co-living space as opposed to a conventional rental home unit. For example, a super single room at CoLiv Damai Residence goes for RM1,650 per month for tenants committing to a three to five months period. In comparison, a 500 sqft unit in M Suites located just a few hundred metres away is listed for RM1,600 per month; just RM3.20 psf versus RM12.60 psf at CoLiv Damai Residence. In terms of privacy and exclusive access, having a whole dwelling unit to yourself brings the privilege of having all spaces to yourself – including the kitchen, bathroom and living areas. While some don’t mind having to share facilities with strangers, others may prioritise exclusive access out of safety and comfort reasons. From a spatial perspective, the sharing of facilities and spaces will result in a much smaller unit to yourself, which is basically your bedroom-cum-wardrobe that is typically sized at 100 sqft and below.
The ultimate judgement remains subjective to the tenant’s needs and preferences. For the co-living spaces currently available in Malaysia, most are designed for single individuals and couples with no children. With privacy only limited to your bedroom, this factor should be heavily deliberated on as Asian households lean typically more toward private settings as opposed to the more commonly practised open living arrangements by Western households. Work styles also have their influence on which is better as a nomadic worker will require a flexible and network-friendly living environment to complement their job.
Though co-living presents its benefits in the all-inclusive package they offer, conventional renting holds itself up with the access and temporary ownership of bigger spaces and more privacy within your own dwelling. Rather than expecting one to overtake the other, the market may likely see a mixture of the two and reap the benefits of both. Just as with co-working now being a complementary service embraced by the corporate and brand companies, co-living has its potential to add value and flexibility to the conventional renting market.