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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Modern commune: The rise of co-living spaces in the city

gurugram Updated: Dec 03, 2019 20:17 IST
Sharanya Munsi & Abhishek Behl
Sharanya Munsi & Abhishek Behl

As part of an airline’s cabin crew, 21-year-old Komal Mehra’s work hours vary everyday. Until a couple of months ago, after most night shifts, she would return home to an empty studio apartment and often have to choose between breakfast and sleep. Tired of this routine, she started looking out for a living arrangement that suited her work hours and allowed her to live like an adult but required her to take little domestic responsibility.

Her brother’s friend, who also works in the aviation industry, came to her rescue. He told her of his friends who stayed at a ‘co-living residency’ in the city. She visited the place and was smitten by its designer rooms and amenities such as a gymnasium, housekeeping, and cafeteria that were included in the rent. Now, one month into her new apartment, she has discovered a buzzing cabin crew community at the residency.

Komal is one of several people who have found co-living spaces in the city based on referrals. Co-living spaces as a concept emerged around 2015 in Bengaluru with NestAway and Zolostays and has since taken root in the city. These spaces function like hostels, but with fully-furnished designer rooms available on sharing or solo-occupancy basis. They promise maintenance services such as housekeeping and laundry, not to mention all the perks of WiFi, a gymnasium, gaming zones, complimentary breakfast, a cafeteria and an atmosphere of community living.

Cities in the National Capital Region (NCR), such as Delhi, Gurugram, Noida, Greater Noida, have seen growth in co-living options, which now range from private rooms to shared apartments to even entire bungalows and row-houses, realty experts say.

The popularity of these spaces among millennials, however, rests on high referral rates and visit-to-enrolment ratio.

A spokesperson for Housr, which launched its first property in July, says that for every four visits to the property, they get one person to sign up. The company’s Sector 69 property in Gurugram has more than 400 beds and currently has almost 75% occupancy. Its high enrolment, to an extent, is due to referrals, the spokesperson says.

“We now have a referral rate of 22%. When we started in 2015, it was around 4%,” CoHo founder Uday Lakkar says.

A spokesperson for ZiffyHomes, another co-living company, says its referral rates are around 30%.

As per data released by Anarock Property Consultants, a real estate consultancy, nearly 30% of co-living spaces are located adjacent to residential micro-markets of IT parks or office spaces in the NCR. These are usually costlier, and their monthly rentals can go as high as ₹40,000 depending on facilities provided.

The pricing of co-living options varies based on different parameters, such as unit size, location, type of society, amenities, sharing, etc. To be cost-effective, more than 50% of co-living spaces are located deep in residential areas rather than on main roads, experts say.

As per industry experts, the average area for single sharing room is 300 sq. ft.—accounting for nearly 60% of the available stock in the single occupancy category, experts say. Also, while the concept is rapidly being institutionalised by organised players, this does not mean that there is no scope for individual players. “Most large start-ups replicate the tried-and-tested model practised in the developed markets of the West, which often appeals to a large section of their Indian customer base. However, given the diversity of the Indian ethos, we are bound to see some India-specific evolution in this model,” Santhosh Kumar, vice-chairman, Anarock Property Consultants, says.

Young professionals, tired of controlling landlords and moral policing, are seeking co-living spaces as an option. Bad food and a misbehaving PG owner made Avpret Singh, a 22-year-old, sign up for a Housr property visit at a sales kiosk outside his office. After the visit, he convinced 10 other PG mates to move into the property three months ago.

“I am most happy about the food. I was tired of sub-standard food there,” Avpret, whose favourite spot at the co-living building is the gaming zone, says.

The average stay recorded by most co-living companies so far is said to be between 10 and11 months. The period is similar to that of a standard rental agreement. The companies often seek a lower security deposit or rent for promised lock-in periods from those signing up.

“I had already gone through the landlord and broker fiasco in Bengaluru. In Gurugram, I came across co-living options on an Internet forum,” Venkata Krishna, a 31-year-old civil designer who has been staying at a CoHo property since 2016, says.

When news of Article 370 getting scrapped reached Misba Rashid’s ears, she decided to shift out of Kashmir to keep up with her UPSC preparations. Having already lived in PGs and hostels in Delhi for eight years previously, she wanted a calm space that both comforted her while she was away from home and facilitated her preparations.

“The Internet shutdown meant my preparations would derail. I needed it for my studies so I decided to shift. I knew I would be staying put inside my room for long hours to study, so I was particular about staying in a space I liked,” Misba says. She adds that security features such as 24x7 guards and a gated community made it easier for her to convince her parents.

The division of co-living properties in terms of men and women varies from place to place. While some stick to properties exclusive for men or women, others divide their properties floor-wise. ZiffyHomes, however, has no such division and even has couples living in its Sector 40 property.

“The staff here is so good that you never feel uncomfortable. They are very professional and keep the property well-maintained,” Nikhil Kumar, who lives with his girlfriend, says.

The people who live in co-living spaces say transparency while signing up is an added attraction. An online system means little time is wasted in footwork.

Aditya Rao, a student of GD Goenka University, knew apartment-hunting would be difficult considering the bias most landlords seem to have against renting to bachelors. The ease of transparency, no brokerage and online payment options of co-living spaces changed the rules of apartment-hunting for him.

“When I called up brokers, most would refuse to show me around after hearing my name. They knew landlords wouldn’t rent to me. This, on the other hand, was very smooth. There was basic ID work to be done and that is all,” Salman Sheikh, a resident of ZiffyHomes, says.

A review of the age demography at these spaces shows 21-35 years to be the predominant age group. The men-to-women ratio is approximately 3:2. These are mostly people on their first or second jobs, Lakkar says.

“Co-living as a concept is working in a city like Gurugram because it is an organised and formal industry. It is fueled by urban migration due to education and jobs. The consumers here are brand consumption-driven and are looking for convenience, for which they are willing to pay a little extra,” Lakkar says.

Enforcement of rules on independent adults is always dicey. Hence, blatant no-smoking signs in common areas rarely work. CoHo, however, uses indirect methods. Their property often features fun, colourful stickers and posters on walls with pop culture references, which urge residents to turn off the taps or switch off the lights (the Lumos Nox spell for light and darkness from the Harry Potter universe is featured at switchboards across its properties).

“We were a little sceptic at the beginning about whether or not everyone would follow the rules of decorum, but surprisingly it has not been that hard. Residents absorb the culture of their surroundings,” Lakkar says. However, he adds that in extreme cases of non-adherence to rules, residents have been asked to vacate after repeated warnings. For CoHo, the number stands close to eight since it started functioning.

A social life outside work and sleep is a predominant part of the co-living promise—an attempt to break away from the monotony of work. These companies, therefore organise weekly events that range from dog therapy to stand-up gigs to karaoke nights to table tennis championships, among others.

“The Halloween party was a lot of fun. The common area was dark except for neon lights. I put on neon sunglasses and bracelets. We danced,” giggles Misba, who attends social events at her residency from time to time when taking a break from her studies.

As far as property owners are concerned, co-housing as a real estate asset class may offer a higher rental yield compared to residential properties. “It is paving the way for a new asset class in real estate investing. Interestingly, co-living spaces can also bring down the average cost of living for consumers by as much as 10-15% on the back of optimal real estate utilisation and the economies of scale,” Anuj Puri, chairman, Anarock Property Consultants, says.

The co-living segment also faces challenges in that it requires much higher investment as part of setup costs as well as regular maintenance and services, experts say.

“One of the major issues we face is visibility. Despite all our efforts, reaching out to people is a challenge. Apart from that, getting the right property is always a concern. Most of them are pre-constructed, so they may not always have the structure we require to provide the sort of amenities we aim to,” Saurabh Kumar, co-founder of ZiffyHomes, says.

Around 9pm, Housr’s cafeteria fills up fast. Its benches and tables are dotted with backpacks as their owners dig into the chicken being served. In a corner, salad, raita, and papads are stacked next to the main course. The staff hurry between the kitchen and food counter, balancing trays of puffy chapattis. The residents ladle food on their plates, dressed in either pajamas or formals.

It is the hour when tired office-goers return, finishing dinner before retiring to their bed for Netflix or games. Those lucky enough to come back early spend some time at the gaming zone, waiting for food to be served while a few others carry their plates of food to eat in the solitude of their beds.

“The prices are pretty affordable. As of now, I don’t have a reason to shift out of here. I can only think of a transfer for me to leave this setup,” Avpret says.