The idea of moving to a new city is full of promise, but the prospect of looking for decent accommodation is a task. You grimace at the idea of an airless PG, or leaping over six beds to get to the light switch in a hostel. The mere thought of staying at that constantly-curious relative’s house makes you want to crawl under the bed. Plus, you just don’t have the budget yet to rent an apartment with roommates and the added costs of utilities and furniture.
Enter co-living, a form of renting where people have their own rooms and share certain spaces — helpful in a new city that may otherwise offer few chances of interaction beyond work. The booming real-estate option has appeal, not just to college-goers, but also to working professionals.
In fact, according to research and advisory firm RedSeer Consulting, India’s co-living market stands at US$120 million. It’s estimated to surpass US$2.2 billion in the next four years.
Most co-living spaces are designed to have shared zones for community and collaborative events for residents. Expect board-game nights, movie-screenings, and live-stream watch-parties for sports. These are the ‘real world’ versions of organised university housing spaces around the world. Or, to flip the analogy around, they’re really the collegiate versions of suburban gated communities with club-houses and community rooms.
Aptly so, perhaps. Millennials — who with late marriages and ‘unsettled’ careers, responsible for the demise of the old-world’s social order — drive this market. To cater to this troublemaker generation, most co-living startups are easy to find, with websites hosting photos, precise location and information on rent and facilities among others.
A big perk? Across co-living spaces, there are no additional costs for cleaners, cooks and utility bills, such as water, electricity (yes, this includes air-conditioning) and Wi-Fi. Cooks and cleaners are on-site for the rooms and communal spaces and some even have washing machines and, like hostels, dhobis on-site which come at additional costs. The core idea is that residents pay a fixed bill each month and go about their day without the worry of hidden bills.
Here’s a birds-eye view at how different cities through the country are taking to co-living:
Premiums galore in Bengaluru
Manish Agarwal, who works in the financial services sector, moved from Mumbai to Bengaluru. There, he’d stayed in a housing society. “They had weird rules like not letting us share a room with someone from a different religion. Also, these places are hardly bachelor-friendly,” he recalls. “The Hub (on centrally-located Infantry Road), on the other hand, is even LGBTQIA+ friendly and does not have restrictions. It would be nice if there are more options like this in the city.”
Another advantage, says Swami Narayan, a videographer who stays in a co-living space in RT Nagar, is that “There is no hassle of brokers, a big security deposit, maintenance.” All you need to do is go online to check out the space and rent (some have a separate sum for utilities), do a quick visit, and move in.
“Pricing is very important,” says Pratul Gupta, co-founder of Grexter. “You can command a premium over PG rates for the services you offer, but you can’t go overboard — not more than 20 to 25% more.”
A home away from home in Hyderabad
If you’re working for Facebook, Google Deloitte or the other big tech giants, Hyderabad is likely your next abode, which makes the pockets of co-living opportunities in Hitec city accessible.
Moonis Ali, co-founder of Living Quarter that has six properties across the county, says, “The architecture of the space is everything. Spaces should have windows for easy ventilation, and in urban areas, this is considered a luxury! We’ve been very careful about the building’s location to make the lives of our residents easier.” They’re also looking at social and environmental responsibility: solar power for central heating and they are planning to add electric bikes for ‘errand commutes’.
Living Quarter properties across areas all have a fun and minimal vibe, but manage to also appear cosy. The idea is to welcome natural light, too, essential for mental health, considering a number of people may be living away from all that’s familiar to them: family, friends, cityscapes.
Varsha Kadam, a 30-year-old flight attendant from Mumbai, and Rajasthan-born Mehanz Mansoori, 40, who works in corporate training, say they immediately knew Living Quarter was for them when they were doing a recce. “My work situation is nomadic, but I wanted something that still had the permanent feel of home,” says Varsha.
Despite Hyderabad being a food-capital, home food still wins, and Living Quarter’s daily menus of home-style chicken curries, dals and fried rices help renters save up and set food delivery apps aside. Plus, the co-ed living situation didn’t deter these girls one bit. The social aspect is a blessing, they say, adding the lounge area hosted screenings for the recent IPL T20 and for the final season of Game Of Thrones, too.
Tapping into campus life in Delhi
Traditionally a city for people who’re never actually ‘from’ here, getting a hostel ‘seat’ is sometimes tangled in a number of university rules and reservations. Once in, you’re bound by curfew timings and permission from ‘local guardians’. All of this feeds into a larger gender and safety issue in this city, so much so that there are student movements like Pinjra Tod (ie, ‘break the cage’) to protest against unrealistic curfew timings. It’s either this, or unreliable landlords and unsafe localities.
CoHo, a co-living startup that began in late 2015 and has been successfully tapping into this market. They not only have independent housing set-ups, but also tie up with universities like IIT Delhi and Pearl Academy of Fashion to further their business. The CoHo in Delhi University’s North Campus has a café-like space within its living quarters for their residents who might want to study in amiable social silence.
In areas like South Delhi however, “the youngest could be an 18-year-old just out of school, and the oldest would be about 32, who’d only leave because they’re getting married, or their work has transferred them to a different city,” says John Jacob, a 26-year-old Assistant Vice President at CoHo. Further south, Sohna Road in Gurugram for instance, typically sees professionals, 25 and over.
At best, co-living spaces are like service apartments, but so much more personalised. You can opt for a single room, a double, or a quadruple. If you’re unhappy with your roommate’s hygiene standards, for instance, your contract even includes provisions for you to move rooms within the premises. Additionally, If you’re a student, your one-time rent not only includes the usual water, internet, electricity — it also includes and a meal plan. If you’re working, you can adapt this last to suit your needs.
Rents at CoHo range from ₹8,000 to ₹15,000 (all inclusive) per head, even for a shared room. Flathood in Gurugram and Placio in Noida are other popular names in the National Capital Region.
Testing the waters in Chennai
Despite a thriving IT industry and a burgeoning migrant population, there’s a dearth of decent co-living spaces. The scene however, may be changing slowly with the entrance of Colive. With their first facility in Velachery, Colive provides members fully-furnished bedrooms with centralised security and CCTV surveillance. They also have referral and loyalty programmes.
Purushottam Varma, 26, founded StayBro in Semmancheri in May last year with the aim to bridge the gap in the market. “I’d faced problems while looking for accommodation as a student and knew that the market was ripe for such a set up,” he says. Though not at par (in terms of design and facilities) with the other professionally-run co-living spaces, StayBro does provide its residents with most amenities other co-living spaces offer. “We’re a very small startup at the moment and have a long way to go,” he says. “But we are looking to expand in the near future. I’m currently scouting for areas where I can invest in property to set up another co-living space.”
StayAbode, another co-living space that has 2,000 contracted beds in Bengaluru already is eyeing the Chennai market with plans afoot to launch in OMR by July this year. “We combine design and technology to provide a co-living experience. We manage everything from security, maintenance to housekeeping at our centres. It’s almost like a unique boutique hotel. Our target members are 21- to 30-year-olds who’ve just moved to a new city and are looking for a place to stay without worrying about exorbitant rents or overheads apart from having to look after maintenance issues,” According to Viral Chhajer, the co-founder, their space is like a “boutique hotel.”
He adds that they are trying to create communities and networking opportunities by organising weekly events (reading clubs, comedy nights, barbecue nights) in the common spaces at their facilities. He adds, “We’ve got everything from PlayStations to Foosball tables for people to unwind and meet new people.”
Rents at StayAbode are between ₹11,000 and ₹11,500 per head (all inclusive)