Property

To Come Together

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Most of us, at some point in time, would have lived in a dormitory or had a roommate while surviving on a post-grad entry-level salary. Shared living for the elderly is also common overseas. But shared property has since taken on new meaning in the 21st century, particularly inAsia. With skyrocketing prices and a tech-based sharing economy, the time seems right for a new type of co-living in Hong Kong. 


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What is Co-living?
In last November’s Bridging the Housing Gap, JLL separated co-living from flat sharing by its professional management, and Weave Co-Living founder Sachin Doshi agrees. “Co-living is a new way of collaborative living for millennials and young professionals,” he says, describing the concept as “a hybrid between renting your own studio and sharing an apartment with flatmates. [It] combines the best of both worlds with a focus on comfort, convenience and community.” 

Co-living rentals are based on a per-bed structure, with kitchens, laundry facilities, andliving and dining rooms among shared spaces, with operators highlighting amenities like cocktail hours, fitness classesand guest speakers. Monthly rates can startas low as HK$2,800. “For those locked out of the residential market, the emergence of the co-living model offers an affordable housing solution for their needs: an alternative to staying in the family home, sharing a rental unit, or living in a subdivided flat,” said JLL’s head of research, Denis Ma, adding the potential for greater overall well-being was another bonus. 

In its recent ‘Shared Real Estate in Hong Kong’ report, CBRE argued shared real estate was entirely feasible in Hong Kong, as cost-effective and innovative uses of limited space would always be in demand, but added it was most effective in the office sector. “Currently, co-living is not necessarily a long-term solution for most people. They may like to try out co-living spaces for different reasons, such as affordability, lifestyle and networking, but they may not stay there permanently.”

Co-living is proving something of a salve to outrageous prices. The growing appeal of co-living is rooted in its core community, convenience, and cost considerations. More time spent online has resulted in greater desire to connect offline, and doing so in open, welcoming, nearby spaces is a bonus. Affordability remains the deal breaker.

Hong Kong has the least affordable real estate in the world right now—nearly four times as pricey as New York. A 500-square-foot flat gobbled up 88% of a young professional’s income in 2016, and data from Colliers International stated rents have risen nearly 76% since 2008 (102% according to JLL), while wages have risen just 45%. But Colliers warns co-living may not be worth the value as advertised, noting that while monthly debits can be reasonable, the “space leased by each person could be even smaller than ‘nano flats’ in Hong Kong, below 150 square feet, resulting in a higher unit rent than a conventional residential unit in the same district.”


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A Great Start
Nonetheless, JLL noted common interests and lifestyles as overriding factors in opting into co-living space for young professionals and post-secondary students. Socially speaking, co-living is a solid option for twentysomethings trying to express identities that they otherwise can’t while living in their family homes—as can be the case for LGBTQ Hongkongers. Co-living is still an emerging sector, but SynBOX, Bibliotheque, Campus Hong Kong, Mini Ocean Park Station (the city’s largest) and Mojo Nomad are all active in the market, usually in “cool,” connected areas: Wong Chuk Hang, Prince Edward, Mong Kok. Joining the co-living landscape soon are Weave on Boundary and The Nate, both opening this summer.

Weave offers rents inclusive of beds and common areas as well as all-day dining, comprehensive tech, and services starting at HK$6,900; even its premium beds come in well below average rents in Prince Edward at just HK$10,250. Weave features a chic, deconstructionist design, a purpose-built app for seamless communication, a comprehensive event calendar, en suite bedrooms, semi-private pantries on each of its 10 floors, a large common kitchen and rooftop barbeque. Early response has been strong since its May 5 launch. “Weave on Boundary’s offering […] is centred around millennials and young professionals, who could live, experience and inspire at Weave,” says Doshi.

Alex Bent, co-founder and managing partner developer of District15, explains The Nate (rates to be determined) is targeting a slightly different, yet sizable, market, and is emphasising choice and sophistication. “I personally think co-living has many different layers to it and I don’t think we’re co-living in the [purest] sense,” says Bent, adding he expects fewer students and more young professional residents. “We’re focusing more on […] people who want privacy, but who also want the ability to connect. We’re big believers that when you come home you’re at home. You want to recharge and you don’t necessarily always want to be part of the community.”


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The Long Run?
Census and Statistics Department data states the population of Hongkongers in their ’20s will fall to 720,000 in the next decade. Combined with government efforts to correct the supply-demand imbalance, affordability should ease, restoring standard rental and purchase patterns. In addition, the current crop of co-living properties comprises of repurposed small hotels. Does that hint at a possible third life for these properties when demographic changes demand them? Are co-living spaces flexible enough to offer potential solutions to the looming housing demand from 2.5 million seniors over the same time?

In theory, public rental housing is cheaper (approximately HK$2,400), roomier and more private than co-living spaces for seniors who don’t own a home, argues JLL’s Ma. Hong Kong’s small, connected nature also makes isolation less of an issue. Co-living could be an option, but “there is a need for proper aged care facilities and accommodation in Hong Kong, where there are quality care services available, but these facilities will typically require bigger premises to operate, not to mention licensing issues.” Elderly Asians still prefer to live with family or in their own homes, “so getting elderly people to move into elderly housing is already challenge in itself, especially given that domestic helpers are an affordable option (as a caregiver) here in Hong Kong,” finishes Ma. Still, the times they are-a-changin’. 

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