by Marc Linn | May 12, 2019
Coliving members having a good time!
Coliving is more fun than eating alone!
Coliving is getting a lot of media attention recently. Many people moving to the big, expensive cities are finding coliving to be a great way to quickly settle into a new city while keeping housing costs somewhat affordable.

So what is coliving? More importantly, will you like it? This article will help you decide if it’s for you.

 

What is Coliving?

Coliving is a form of shared housing. Companies that rent coliving spaces focus on providing tenants with a combination of private spaces and shared “communal” spaces. This enables them to keep costs down and provide more housing for a given amount of space.

The specifics vary but in general, the private space refers to a bedroom, sometimes including an attached bathroom. The shared spaces consist primarily of kitchen and dining areas, along with various lounging and recreational spaces.

Many include common work areas as well, reflecting the blending of work and life in general adopted by many among coliving’s primary demographic, the Millennials. The “digital nomads,” those who work remotely from wherever they happen to be, can get their work done using the (usually included) wi-fi while enjoying the common work area provided.

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How much money can you save with coliving?

A major provider of coliving units, Common, puts it this way: “Common members save over $500 every month over a traditional studio apartment.” Most coliving providers, especially in the big, expensive cities, are emphasizing community and convenience for their residents. Still, compared to living alone, your total housing expense in a coliving building is likely to be less.

Here is a breakdown of potential savings at one of the Common locations.

Utilities, washer/dryer, wifi, and cleaning are among the services provided by Common at no extra charge.

At least one coliving company, PadSplit, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is emphasizing saving money in their marketing. Their target market appears to be regular, working-class individuals. Their offerings may be less “upscale” than those of coliving companies serving the relatively prosperous tech community, but their prices are likely to be more affordable as well. If this turns out to be a trend in the coliving world, it will be a welcome development.

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What are some examples of modern coliving locations?

Coliving has become extremely popular in the last few years. As of this writing there are probably hundreds of coliving facilities throughout the USA and many other parts of the world. I will show a few examples here but be sure to do your own web searching for the areas that interest you.

Common

Common is one of the early coliving providers, with operations in several major US cities.

PadSplit

PadSplit, based in Atlanta, Georgia is taking a different approach. By converting existing homes to coliving locations, they are offering housing for significantly less than many alternatives. The affordable housing they provide targets what’s called the “workforce housing” market. This housing helps people live in the same communities where their jobs are located.

The Collective Old Oak (London)

One of the larger coliving locations, The Collective Old Oak, London is “A community of over 500.”

WeLive

WeLive is the “shared housing” spinoff from “shared workspace” giant WeWork.

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Is coliving only for Millennials?

Millennials are the primary demographic for the coliving lifestyle, at least so far. But the twin appeal of simplified housing and built-in community is beginning to attract seniors as well.

In a recent article, Christopher Bledsoe Co-Founder & CEO of Ollie, said:

“No doubt there is a millennial influence to this, but over 20% of our inquiries are from baby boomers…

“Roughly 80 percent of tenants in Ollie buildings are in their 20s and 30s, but just under 20 percent are over the age of 50 — and about a third of those are in their 60s,” he says. “We’ve learned that ‘millennial’ is more of a mindset than an age group.”

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How big is a coliving facility? How many people?

London, England has one of the larger coliving facilities: the Collective, Old Oak, with room for over 500 souls.

Not to be outdone, Bay area developer Starcity has a nearly 800 unit coliving facility in downtown San Jose in the works.

At the other extreme, PadSplit, out of Atlanta, Georgia modifies existing homes for coliving. I haven’t found specific information about numbers of residents but depending on the size of the home it seems 3 to 6 or thereabouts would be a good guess. You can browse their available homes on their website by creating an account.

Both of these are included in our video section.

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Socializing happens naturally in a coliving location.

Busy Millennials, many of whom are heading off to the big city for a new job, really appreciate the convenience of coliving. Compared to traditional methods of finding a place to live, the convenience offered by coliving can save tons of time and effort, allowing them to concentrate on their new lives.

Even though coliving buildings are designed with plenty of comfort in mind, they can also be less expensive than living alone.

The biggest attraction coliving offers Millennials, however, appears to be the promise of an “instant community,” the ability to socialize and develop friendships simply by going home after work. A big city can be a lonely place.

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Is coliving a new idea?

Modern coliving operations are certainly much more comfortable if not downright luxurious compared to boardinghouses, single room occupancy (SRO) hotels and similar living arrangements that have gone before. Of course, they are considerably more expensive as well – although that may be changing. At least one coliving provider is emphasizing economy: see PadSplit in our video section.

In terms of their primary objective, however, today’s coliving facilities have the same goal as their humbler predecessors: to maximize available housing, especially for newcomers to an already crowded city. Similar functionality notwithstanding, operators of modern coliving facilities are quick to point out the increased comfort in contemporary group living.

A good example is Bay area developer Starcity, which has recently gotten approval to build a nearly 800 unit coliving facility in downtown San Jose. According to a recent curbed.com article, the old-time SRO hotels used about 95% of the available square footage for private rooms, with the remaining area mostly consisting of hallways.

A Starcity building compares favorably: it is about 65% bedrooms with 20% of the building available for “communal spaces and kitchens.”

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Have you (the author) lived in a coliving location?

I know this kind of living arrangement has been around for quite some time since I lived in a coliving type house with about 20 other guys in my undergraduate days. It was a fairly standard arrangement at the time, an off-campus alternative to living in one of the dorms.

I moved into the “Hunt House” – an older home with half a dozen or so bedrooms as well as a finished lower level with a big kitchen and dining area. A local couple, the Hunts, turned this into a home for about 20 students. Everybody had a semi-private area, a bedroom that they would share with one or two others. (I believe there was one large bedroom with four occupants.)

This would probably qualify as a coliving arrangement using today’s definitions, although one significant difference concerned our meals. Our rent payment would cover food as well. One of the owners would keep the refrigerators and pantry stocked based on menus that we would provide. The residents – meaning a random assortment of young college guys, many on their own for the first time – would take turns preparing meals and cleaning up afterward.

As you might imagine, the quality of the meals varied greatly, especially in the early part of the term when many of the guys were literally learning the basics of cooking. Fortunately for us, there was a hamburger joint right down the street for the occasional “emergency.”

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What are typical pros and cons about coliving?

Our goal here at affordablehousingtips.com is to give you useful information to help you make the best possible decisions regarding your housing choices. If you are considering giving coliving a try, this section will help you answer the most important question: is coliving right for you?

Things you will probably like

Judging by the popularity of the coliving startups, it appears their primary selling points are appealing to quite a few people. The early coliving operations actually wound up with waiting lists very quickly, but the rapid addition of competitive startups has helped with availability. Chances are that you will also appreciate the core selling points:

  • More convenient location right in the city
  • Somewhat reasonable rent, at least compared to available alternatives
  • Convenience of having everything ready to move in with one bill to pay
  • A ready-made community. Making connections and friends in a new city can be difficult.
  • In many cases, a coliving operation will have a much shorter minimum required commitment. For example, some operations allow you to move in for as little as a week, although longer commitments than this are usually required. Note that flexibility in the minimum stay required, combined with the minimal amount of “stuff” you’ll need to bring (“Just bring your suitcase!”) can make “try before you buy” a possibility. More on this shortly in the “How to find the right coliving operation” section.
  • Responsible only for your rent payment. BE SURE TO CONFIRM THIS! In a typical rental situation, all parties are individually responsible for the full rent payment. Many coliving operations only require you to be responsible for your own payment. This can vary, so be sure to confirm with your chosen provider.

Things you might not like

  • There is no mystery about the aspect of coliving that some will love while others will find to be major showstoppers: the “co-“ part, the fact that a good portion of the time you spend at home, assuming you don’t live in your bedroom, will be around other people.
  • Are you naturally gregarious? Do you look forward to meeting new people? Are you pretty social by nature? If so, there is a good chance that you will become a real fan of the coliving lifestyle. (If this turns out to be the case and you’d like to take it even farther, I have a suggestion below.)
  • Of course the opposite of the above is possible as well. Maybe you are more of a loner and don’t really care to meet new people very often. Even if your tendency is to avoid this kind of a situation, you might want to at least check out the operations. People frequently find themselves pleasantly surprised when they are thrust into a situation where they need to interact with new people. For all our difficulties, we are in fact social animals and we do need each other – like it or not.
  • If coliving appeals to you but you don’t like the idea of living with a bunch of random strangers, you might consider a coliving operation that emphasizes a particular interest or lifestyle. As these operations become more widespread, some are beginning to specialize and find ways to pursue a particular market. For example, some coliving operations emphasize environmental concerns, vegan/vegetarian lifestyles, political activism, or entrepreneurial interests. It is generally easier to “fit in” with a group when you know that you share some important values.

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How can I pick the best one for me?

Find the right coliving location

Maybe you have decided to give coliving a try. If you are going to a big city, you will have quite a few, possibly dozens to choose from. How can you decide which one?

Try before you buy?

Let’s say you go through the obvious decision-making process: price range, location, and your overall impressions. Maybe you will wind up with several possibilities. What can you do to break the tie?

You need to get an idea of how you are going to get along with the kinds of people in your potential new home. It is true that the individuals at any given location will come and go. Even so, the kinds of individuals – the personalities, the values, the temperaments – are likely to be fairly consistent at a given location. If you are able to determine which location seems to attract “your kind” of people, this could be a strong indication that this would be the place for you.

What you need to do, then, is spend a little time with the various groups. Since the big selling point of the coliving operations is the community that they provide, it seems reasonable that they would be willing to let you join in their group activity on a trial basis to find out if it is a good fit.

Here is where it begins to get somewhat speculative. Coliving operations frequently make use of online services like slack to arrange group activities and facilitate group communications. I don’t know if any of them offer any kind of online meetings, such as a zoom videoconference, but this would be an ideal way to check out a group, especially if you are doing your “househunting” before you have moved to the area.

Location! (within the building)

It goes to privacy: how much privacy will you really have? If your bedroom is too close to a popular (read: noisy) area, you might not feel as “alone” as you would like.

When I lived in my long-ago “coliving” house in my undergraduate days, the guys who had the room downstairs, nearer to where we tended to congregate, were the ones with the most complaints about not being able to sleep. Something to keep in mind.

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Can coliving help my career? How?

Your career just might get a boost if you decide to live in a coliving operation. Some coliving facilities are specifically aimed at entrepreneurs, programmers, or other lines of work. The “hacker houses” in Silicon Valley are a good example of the power of several people spending a lot of time together while focusing on a particular project.

Even if you don’t choose a facility that is aimed at a particular career, the potential for networking, for making important connections will be an inherent part of your day-to-day existence. One important indicator of success is the quality of your personal network.

Many employers have stated that one area in which they would like to see improvement among many new hires is the ability to work with others and to communicate well.

Many of these same skills will be useful in the kind of group environment that is part of coliving, so an opportunity to improve in this area will be yours for the taking.

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I’m a student. Is there a “budget-version” of coliving that would work for me?

Coliving on a budget for students: homesharing.

There is! It’s called “homesharing.” Like coliving, it is a form of shared housing. Homesharers generally have a private bedroom, sometimes including a private bathroom, in a home. In addition, they share common areas in the home, such as the kitchen and living room.

Unlike most coliving arrangements, homesharing usually involves just two individuals – the homeowner and the renter. In many cases rents are reduced in exchange for some help around the house.

For more about homesharing, see Home Sharing: An Affordable Housing Solution for All Ages and Attention Students: 7 Ways a Senior Home Share Saves You Money.

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How much privacy do you have?

Coliving offers a combination of private bedrooms and shared “communal” spaces, usually kitchen, dining, and “lounging” areas. If you have a bedroom to yourself (some coliving locations have optional shared bedrooms for lower rent) you can be assured of privacy in your bedroom.

Beyond that, it depends on the overall design. Many coliving providers emphasize the relatively private “corners” and other areas available within the shared areas. If this is an important issue, it’s another reason to spend as much time as possible in a location before signing up.

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Are there quiet areas to work, or is it all open and shared space?

Coliving and coworking – shared living, shared workspaces – are merging to some extent, especially among those (e.g., “digital nomads”) who work remotely from wherever they happen to be. As a result, some coliving locations are emphasizing the “coworking” aspect of their offerings. In some cases specific areas are designated as work areas, typically with areas suitable for laptop or tablet usage.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your preference) the “open plan” appears to be the guideline in most cases. If your work requires peace and quiet and relative isolation from others, it might be worth finding out if getting your work done in the (private) bedroom would be practical.

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Are there locks on the bedroom doors?

At least one operation doesn’t allow locks.

I haven’t seen this issue mentioned on other coliving websites. The one mentioned here states that “The New York Housing Department policy disallows residential properties from placing locks on bedroom doors for fire safety purposes.” If the ability to lock the door on your private space is important to you, it would be a very good idea to inquire when deciding on a coliving location.

In this case, they do offer secure storage of valuables, including private lockers. They also mention that since there will almost always be someone “at home” in a group living situation, security from the outside world is increased.

Since most coliving locations allow members to have friends visit, in many cases overnight, I would prefer a more secure arrangement. Regardless, it’s a good thing to keep in mind.

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Is parking included?

This is another one of those “It depends – and it’s worth checking out” issues.

Many coliving buildings are located right in the heart of the city. This is great for those who work in the city as it keeps the commute to work from becoming intolerably long. However, since parking is usually at a premium in or near a city’s downtown area, many coliving residents are more or less on their own when it comes to parking. If you have a car, be sure to check on this to avoid surprises.

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Are pets allowed?

Almost all the sites I have visited say “No pets.” However, more coliving operations are coming online all the time, so this may become an option in some cases.

Many of the coliving sites do indicate an exception for “service animals.” I would definitely check on this if it affected me.

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Do coliving locations allow smoking?

At least one major coliving operator, Welive, does not. They say anyone who violates this rule will be fined or asked to leave. I get the impression that most coliving operations do not allow smoking, although few of the websites I have visited mention it specifically.

If this is important to you I would definitely suggest inquiring about a location’s policy before making any decisions.

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Is there a minimum time commitment, e.g. 1 year?

This varies, as you might expect. A typical example is that of Los Angeles / San Francisco coliving company Starcity:

It really depends on you. We offer 3, 6, and 12-month memberships terms. After that you can leave, renew for another term, or go month-to-month. Generally, the amount you pay per month decreases with longer commitments.

Regardless of policy, it might be a good idea to see if you can arrange a brief “trial” stay at the coliving location you are considering. The ease of moving in and out is one of coliving’s main selling points… and it can be extremely useful to “try before you buy” when it’s an important decision. If the location you choose has some vacancies that they are anxious to fill, they might make an exception like this.

Might be worth a try!

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What if I want “coliving – but with equity?” Does that exist?

It does! See the section on cohousing.

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Is there a version of coliving that is more family oriented?

So you pick a coliving operation, you move in, you love it, and all is well. At least for a while. There may come a time, however, when you feel the need for a change. Two reasons you might “outgrow” the standard coliving arrangement:

• You want to own your home
• You want to start a family

Then again, maybe you have come to really appreciate your “extended family,” as some coliving residents have come to feel about their housemates. Can you have both?

Actually you can: there is a form of housing that typically involves home ownership, with all the expected benefits — AND an “intentional community,” along with as much involvement as you want, e.g. shared meals and other activities. It’s known as “cohousing” and it’s becoming more popular.

For more information, check out the Cohousing Association of the United States.

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Are couples allowed? What about children?

Many coliving buildings allow couples, sometimes with an additional charge. Almost all describe themselves as “adults only” locations; the minimum age for residents in most cases is 18. This has variations as well. At Welive, for example, it depends on the length of your stay:

“You must be 18 to apply alone for long stay. For short stay the reservation must be booked by someone who is 21+ and will be staying on premises during the reservation.”

New! Coliving for families!

It is a rapidly changing landscape, however. Common (common.com) has recently announced a new operation, Kin, available May, 2019 in Long Island City, NY. Kin will be the first coliving facility specifically designed with families in mind. From the website:

“Kin members will be able to find a variety of childcare options through Kin’s app, including babysitters, long-term nannies, and nanny sharing.”

Remember those movies where the city-dwelling couple decides to start a family, so they have to move to the suburbs, complete with long commutes? If things like Kin catch on, some of them may get to enjoy the big city for a while longer!

For a more permanent solution, see the section on cohousing.

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Would I give coliving a try?

I hope this article has given you an idea of what coliving is all about. If you are just curious, hopefully you now have a bit more information.

But if you are exploring the topic to decide whether or not to give it a try, maybe I can add a bit of perspective based on my own experiences. In addition to my early “coliving” experiences, I have on more than one occasion moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone. I clearly remember the somewhat lonely experience of picking out a place to live in a brand-new area.

Coliving as it exists today was not an option back then. But if it had been, I am pretty sure I would have been glad to give it a try. It is certainly a significant difference compared to having your own place or sharing a place with a few friends. However I think it would be an ideal way to get started in a new area.

I would have tried coliving! With a short-term stay, what’s the risk?

The secret to this working is the short-term commitment required. This varies but many coliving operations offer a 3-month term. Some even offer weekly commitments. Even if the location that interests you doesn’t offer a short enough membership, don’t be afraid to ask for an exception so you can check the place out. If they have empty units that they are anxious to fill they might work with you. It never hurts to ask. 

One of the big selling points for coliving is the ease of moving in: everything is set up and ready to go. All you have to do is show up! Utilities are in place and the kitchen is stocked. Your short-term membership puts you in an ideal position to do important stuff: 

  • Check the place out. Maybe you’d like to stay on.  (NOTE: if you do decide you want to stay, be sure to let management know right away.) 
  • Get a feel for the part of the city you’re in. Maybe a different neighborhood would be more to your liking? 
  • Make some connections!  If you decide you’d prefer a standard apartment or other rental, now you’ll have some potential roommates. And they won’t be strangers! 

I don’t know if I would have liked coliving once I started working full-time. Maybe my “Hunt House” experience as a student would have been enough of the “extended family” lifestyle. But I am certain I would have wanted to try it, especially given the low risk involved. I have a hunch I would have wound up liking it!  Maybe you will too? 

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