Asia’s Millennials open up co-living market

The Millennial move towards communal living is opening up opportunities for real estate developers and investors in Asia’s busiest cities.

March 18, 2018

Co-living, a term used to describe a living arrangement that is something more than shared space, is growing in Asia, especially in China and Hong Kong. Typically, a co-living facility will offer tenants small rooms but also shared facilities such as a TV room or a gym. There is also a social aspect; some facilities have a manager who will organise events. As well as convenience and community, co-living facilities also claim to offer cheaper rent than an individual apartment.

Hong Kong is seeing a growing number of co-living developments – unsurprisingly given its status as the world’s most expensive housing market. Young workers face the prospect of living with their family until they can afford to buy a small flat; ‘small’ often means less than 200 square feet.

At present, some developments described as co-living are no more than upmarket dormitories for budget-conscious students, while others are just shared apartments with different branding.

However, Denis Ma, Head of Research at JLL Hong Kong, says: “Though current schemes in Hong Kong are built around affordable housing, there are some really interesting projects that will be opening soon where the communal space is quite significant and the operator has hired an activities officer to bring residents closer together.”

Recent co-living developments include Gaw Capital’s Campus Hong Kong in Tsuen Wan, which offers a gym and pool as well as common areas in a 12 storey building and SynBOX in Hung, M-Living in Wong Chuk Hang, which offers tiny (80-100 square foot rooms) with shared common areas, inclusive bills and cleaning facilities. Campus Hong Kong’s extra facilities do not come cheaply: a private room costs HK$20,000 per month.

From the property investor’s point of view, co-living offers an attractive opportunity to gain extra revenue from services and to be able to fit a larger number of rooms in a single building. Hotel owners have also been converting underperforming hotels to co-living facilities.

Ma calculates that an owner of residential building could boost net operating income yield by 400 basis points if it was converted to a co-living facility, while a hotel’s conversion could boost the NOI yield by 300 basis points. Thus conversion to co-living could add substantially to a building’s value.

In China, the co-living trend fits with Beijing’s desire to build a residential rental market, which will boost labour mobility by allowing graduate workers to live in first tier cities such as Shanghai, where property costs have soared. Operators such as You+, 5Lmeet and Mofang Gongyu – which has received funding from Warburg Pincus – house thousands of tenants in hundreds of buildings.

Their business model is underpinned by two factors: firstly support from the Chinese government and secondly the opportunity to reposition older or underused buildings.

In Singapore, affordable public housing is available to a large portion of the population and perhaps due to this, there is only a small portion of rental housing or co-living establishments, says Regina Lim, Head of Capital Markets Research – Singapore at JLL. “One could argue the Singapore case study implies that co-living is born only in cities where housing is unaffordable.”

Some Singaporean companies are testing the water: CapitaLand’s serviced residence unit, The Ascott Limited, has created a new coliving brand ‘lyf’, which claims to be “designed and managed by millennials, for millennials.” Five properties across China, Singapore and the Philippines are slated for opening from this year to 2021. lyf Funan Singapore will be part of CapitaLand’s integrated development Funan, which also includes retail, office and coworking spaces

Apartment space is not cheap in Tokyo, but years of deflation have been good for renters and so far the city has seen the development of only a few co-living spaces. Roam, in Akasaka, offers tenants a 340 square foot room with a balcony. Shared spaces include a co-working space, multiple meeting rooms, a circus themed workout and Yoga room, and a shared commercial kitchen. Rooms can be leased for as little as a day and with a monthly cost of around US$3,000, Roam – which also has facilities in Miami, London and Bali – is closer to a serviced apartment than a space for long-term living.

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