Co-living, while still highly niche in the UK and across Europe, has been growing in size and stature in recent years – doing its best to distinguish itself from similar investment trends like Build to Rent and purpose-built student accommodation, which share many similarities with co-living.
Here, Tomer Bercoviz, chief executive of fast-growing co-living brand Vonder, speaks to PIT about the differences between BTR and co-living, why Covid will actually enhance demand for co-living and why the company is providing a new take on co-living to focus more on community than a communal living experience.
You recently launched the first phase of a co-living development in Brentford – Vonder Skies. Can you tell us a bit more about it and why you chose Brentford as the destination?
We are very excited about Vonder Skies. At Vonder, we are seeing high demand for safe, flexible and social rental experiences at achievable prices. Brentford provides the ideal solution to this, and for those who want an up-and-coming area within easy reach of the West End.
Based on our previous success with Vonder Village (135 apartments in Brentford), which is located just a 5-minute walk away, we decided to launch a second location in the area.
As the former Sky TV Headquarters, Vonder Skies contains over 100,000 sq ft of residential space. The development spans five floors, and includes state-of-the-art amenities and unique courtyards. We have worked hard with our team to convert all 271 apartments within the building into tailor-made properties, to provide options from studios to one-bedroom and two-bedroom flats.
The first phase consists of 127 apartments in the heart of Brentford, and over 50% of them are already pre-let. The second phase, which will launch in spring 2021, will add a further 144 apartments to the complex. All apartments come fully furnished with modern fixtures and fittings, designed to create a contemporary look and feel.
Co-living is still very niche in the UK, but has been growing – how big do you expect it to be in five years’ time?
Contrary to those who say Covid-19 could be the end of co-living, we at Vonder are seeing a high demand for our product, especially from young professionals. By offering consumers flexible leasing options with a minimum of three months available, as well as a wide range of amenities and events, Vonder caters to this target demographic.
We are not providing the ‘traditional’ co-living offering – which often means micro units, with small shared living spaces, communal bathrooms, and shared kitchens. We are redefining urban living. All our apartments are spacious and independent, with high-quality furniture and amenities which provide the ideal space for people to come together. Our goal is to improve how people live, work and socialise.
Based on the current demand, we believe that Vonder’s concept will continue to grow. People will need, more than ever, cosy and comfortable spaces where they can work remotely from home and enjoy privacy, vibrant community life and amenities.
The fact that our locations are spread in key areas within different boroughs of the city, offers people more lifestyle choices at achievable prices.
Will Covid-19 actually increase the desire for co-living developments as people seek community and companionship?
If Covid-19 [has] taught us anything, it’s that people need communities. During the first and second lockdown people spent months in isolation, living alone or within their limited support bubble. We believe people appreciate the social aspect of our rental experience.
The average stay for our tenants is around 10 months and this timeframe has helped us to heighten the focus on building a community to reduce isolation at times like these, driven by a regular and diverse programme of off-and-online events to encourage safe socialising.
Our community is global, however we put a lot of attention and emphasis on the local community as well, with exclusive, locally tailored events and content. Our members are more than just neighbours, they are like-minded individuals with similar lifestyles. We have built a platform to help them connect, network and create future opportunities.
Most importantly, we are commited to the safety of our tenants and staff. We are currently operating increased hygiene measures, with 24/7 cleaning, and a strong focus on health and safety. Vonder delivers a safe, all-inclusive, and hassle-free living solution.
Tenants must feel this is the safest and most secure place to live and work. It is our responsibility to provide it for them.
Certain co-living developments have been criticised for being expensive, glorified student halls with tiny rooms and a narrow target demographic (wealthy millennials) – what would you say to these criticisms?
We at Vonder provide a new take on co-living. We see the ‘co’ in co-living as community experience, events and not ‘communal’ living.
Our schemes allow people to live in large, independent and beautifully-designed apartments, while using separate communal areas and amenities for work, wellbeing and leisure.
Our average apartment size is 37 square metres. Tenants belong to a true, active and supportive community but are still able to enjoy their alone-time in their spacious private spaces. We believe community life cannot be forced, but should be an active choice.
We strive to ensure we offer achievable prices of entry and choose locations where young professionals especially can benefit, whether it is the proximity to public transport, universities or business centres. If we take Brentford as an example, it is very appealing for those wanting to be able to access great amenities, but also be in great proximity to the city centre where rent prices are much higher.
What is Vonder’s main goal or mission statement?
We are a market leader. Our goal is to become the most well-renowned co-living brand across the globe. We believe in the freedom of moving, travelling and working around the world while feeling at home within a community anywhere. Our mission is to help renters find their feet in a new city.
By offering fully-functional homes, an easy onboarding process and a sense of belonging, we turn what could be a stressful experience with bills, bank accounts or referencing, into a hassle-free and quick process.
Vonder isn’t just about the housing, it’s a way of life. Our curated events and content also provides people with the opportunity to connect, experience and embark on new urban adventures.
Could you tell us more about your current portfolio across the UK and Europe?
Vonder Skies strengthens our growth and global portfolio of over 30 locations spread across London, Berlin, Warsaw and Dublin, with many more cities in the pipeline.
As a global brand, Vonder takes a consumer-led approach when selecting key locations for our members. Our consumer-led approach means we have been able to gain a greater understanding of what our Vonderers are looking for when searching for a new home, and where they want to be.
What distinguishes co-living from Build to Rent – or are they two sides of the same coin?
First, co-living provides an experience rather than just shared living spaces, which is often the case in BTR schemes. The focus is on the lifestyle aspects of renting. The chance to connect with your neighbours in a BTR development usually takes place in the lobby or elevator for a few seconds.
I hardly believe these moments are enough to really get to know each other and create opportunities that might change your life. Co-living is about offering a full infrastructure for the renters to fulfil different aspects of their life, whether it’s for their business, wellbeing, or social needs.
Second, unlike BTR, co-living is an all-inclusive product. Our locations consist of fully furnished apartments, amenities, community managers, 24/7 support – on one all-inclusive bill.
And thirdly, co-living provides designated shared spaces for the community members such as co-working spaces, rooftops, games rooms and gyms. These spaces are designed to be dynamic and adaptable in order to fulfil different events and purposes. As such, the developments must reflect the nature of co-living and enable it to constantly evolve and develop.
This post has originally been featured in Property Investor Today.