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Live where you work: Co-living, co-working an attractive alternative as Europe housing costs rise

If you read posts on the various expat Facebook communities across Europe, you know finding a place to live is the biggest challenge we all face. Far bigger than finding a job. Okay, you knew that … but stay with me here. The good news is, for those of us working in startups and tech, co-living is a thing, now, and getting bigger across Europe as more real-estate developers begin combining co-working space with micro-apartments.

What is co-living? If you’re American or Brit, think of co-living as a return to the college dorm, but with digital nomads and highly skilled internationals as neighbors. Oh, and without the 4 a.m. impromptu parties, the lingering aroma of stale beer or holes in the walls courtesy of previous students. BUT, with your rent, you can get – though don’t always get – workspace and the support to run your startup. And a few co-living/co-working developments are quasi-accelerators offering startup events, seminars and coaching.

All this intersects with student housing niche because the relaxations of rules regulating student hotels and short-term housing in the Netherlands and other countries opens the doors to entrepreneurs, many of whom are, students, or who just graduated. Now, just about anyone can stay at, say, The Student Hotel for up to a year.

Okay, bottom line: Most of the co-living units in major cities are tiny, with the average “apartment” only about 100 square feet, roughly the size of a jail cell. (We’re not the first to use that analogy.) But, you also get to use a lot of common space, and that’s the idea – a tiny room at the place where you also work.

Why do this?

• Flexibility. Most co-living companies don’t require a long-term lease and some will take you in on a weekly or monthly basis. Also, some companies take care of all the really annoying tasks such as getting utilities, wifi and phone service. And companies offering both co-living and co-working sometimes throw in amenities such as events spaces.

• Convenience. The alternative affordable apartment often ends up being far outside the city, away from urban co-working space and the support of your ecosystem. So the cost of commuting is higher than co-living in places such as Amsterdam.

• Support. Would you rather living in shared space with strangers, or with talented internationals who might end up being part of your startup?

Of course, you get what you pay for. Some co-living spaces can be super-chill, such as Roam, which is a collection of repurposed resorts. Others are pretty basic, such as The Collective in London.

But most focus on offering twenty-something entrepreneurs a more affordable alternative to an apartment in Europe’s tech centers, and certainly to shared rooms. Also, for the right people in scaleups who are actually getting paid, it’s a not-inexpensive alternative to the claustrophobia of working for days without end out of a home office. And of course, co-living can prove to you your investors see just how dedicated you really are.

Business is booming

With the digital boom that’s brought tens of thousands of tech jobs to cities such as Dublin, Amsterdam and Berlin, this communal alternative that started in The Valley, with its crazy housing costs, is a growth industry. Berlin-based co-living firm Medici Living has a deal with Frankfurt-based Corestate Capital, a REIT, to invest about a billion euros to buy and build as many as 35 co-living facilities in Europe, according to media reports and a news release. The deal will add an estimated 6,000 rooms to Medici Living’s current 1,800-room Europe inventory during the next three-to-five years as well as position the developers to move into the U.S. market.

The founder of the above-mentioned The Collective has plans to expand to at total of 4,500 units in  Germany, the UK and the U.S.

The largest co-working firm, WeWork, has created WeLive, with its first co-working, co-living units in the U.S. – New York City and Washington, D.C. But with housing expectations more modest in Europe – a typical Dutch family lives in about 120 meters2, or about 1,200 square feet – we see co-living as far more appealing here, where housing is far harder to find than in the U.S.

We’ve put together a quick list of co-living spaces, most of which offer co-working:

A Landing Pad, Barcelona

This is more of a landing pad for digital nomads and creative types looking for a long-stay in Barcelona than a co-living space that also has co-working facilities for startups. That said, A Landing Pad has both indoor and outdoor workspaces and 5G wifi as well as events and networking. And Barcelona has a growing startup scene. So, we’re thinking they’re bound to connect here.

The 2-story house in the center of Barcelona has 12 ensuite bedrooms, a large shared kitchen, a lounge area, and a terrace with chill out areas, a big BBQ and outdoor workstations. And we’d like to point out this is the center of Barcelona, where the search for a place to stay has literally driven some of our friends and colleagues to tears.

ALP has private rooms from 800 euros per month to mini-apartment for 1,400 euros per month. You have to book for at least one month.

The Collective, London

The Collective has a 550-apartment co-living complex in the Old Oak section. Two additional sites in Stratford, Ilford Bridge and Canary Wharf are scheduled to open by the end of 2019.

The Old Oak location has micro-apartments, gym, spa, library, co-working space, a cinema, various classes and all utility bills in a single monthly bill starting at 800 pounds. The 706-bedroom development near Canary Wharf will have 16 m2 rooms – double the size of the smallest rooms at Old Oak.

The BBC has sent a reporter to spend a few days at The Collective and at Roam in London. Check out her report here.

PROJECTS, Berlin

Telling someone in the U.S. that you live in “the projects” is uncool. But telling someone in Berlin you live in PROJECTS has good deal more caché.

PROJECTS has four buildings in some of Berlin’s grooviest neighborhoods: Kreuzberg, Ostkruez, Neukollen and Friedrichshain.

The mission statement is, “building the housing of the future: simple, beautiful and community-focused.” The website entices apartment hunters with,a curated series of 2-and-3 bedroom renovated apartments located in a former DDR building complex. Join the buzziest hippest neighborhood of Berlin.”

DDR, of course, is the German Democratic Republic, aka East Berlin, and these are in the famously drab post-war housing blocks built by the Communists. But hey, prices start at 700 euros per month. And you are in Berlin. However, PROJECTS DON’T include co-working space.

The company behind PROJECTS, Projects Co-Living GMBH, has raised 2 million euros to expand into France and Italy. The founders are a couple of Italian entrepreneurs.

Quarters, Berlin is similar but owned by Medici Group.

Rent24, multiple locations in Europe, Israel and the U.S.

Rent24 is reversing the trend – taking co-living/co-working to Chicago after starting (and expanding) in Europe, pushing up against WeWork.

Rent24 has multiple buildings in Berlin, for example, including five co-living complexes. But it also has multiple co-working facilities in Berlin … and they aren’t always the same. Let’s look at the Schöneberg location, which does have both, or at least connects both. Directly connected to the co-living building is a co-working space. This is more for the corporate team who’s in Berlin for a long spell of meetings or prolonged negotiations for, say, a merger or acquisition.

A month in that Schöeneberg location will run you a minimum of 3,400 euros for a three-bedroom space. On their website, Rent24 says all the right things about bringing people together and startup cultures. But Rent24 is clearly more focused at the minute on co-working, with 52 facilities from Lviv to New York.

Roam, multiple locations around the world including London

Let’s say your startup just turned into a Unicorn, and Kleiner Perkins or Benchmark just gave you 100 million to go play. Then you might want to play in Bali at Roam, where the livin’ is large … and expensive.

Unlike other co-living/co-working projects, Roam emphasizes comfort amid a “small community of friends.” The BBC calls Roam in Chelsea “more like a boutique hotel than a hostel.” Also, because this is a bit more trés cher, if you’re a senior entrepreneur who’s still in the game after several exits (guilty), Roam will throw you together with people more like you and less like the cast of Beverly Hills 90201.

Prices start at about $2,000 per month, and the only Europe location – London – is moving, then reopening in a larger space for 2019.

Station F, Paris

Station F is the largest startup hub in Europe, and maybe the world. Considering what it costs to live in Paris, it’s natural this would be the place that adopts the live-where-you-work ethos first. And they might have.

Last year, Station F announced it would start providing co-living space for its entrepreneurs 10 minutes away from the Mothership.

Those plans included:

• 3 towers
• 100 shared apartments
• 600-person capacity (not in the same apartment, come on!)
• a sports center
• a café and private lounge bar

We think but aren’t sure (because no one is returning out emails) that co-living startup Colonies is their partner in this. More as we know more.

The Student Hotel, various locations across Europe including the Netherlands, France and Germany

This began as a business offering nicer (and more expensive) apartments to students. But since it was founded by Scots entrepreneur Charlie MacGregor in Amsterdam, it’s spread across the spectrum from dorms to include business travelers, digital nomads and others including people who want more flexibility. Or as Lonely Planet puts it, the Student Hotel motto is, “May the student in you live forever.” TSH is expanding the “student” moniker by offering the same accommodation they offer student accommodations to people who are still students at heart. Like startup teams.

That formula appears to be working because there are 10 Student Hotels in the Netherlands alone including two in Amsterdam, as well as multiple locations in Italy, Spain and France. Plans call for Student Hotels in Portugal and Austria.

We spent 6 months at Holland2Stay, which is similar, and the apartments are seriously cool and spacious, but relatively expensive (by Eindhoven standards) at about 800 euros per month. The Student Hotel has features Eiindhoven2stay doesn’t including work areas and a library.

We’ve been in the Student Hotel in Eindhoven, but haven’t stayed there. Still, the company is known for offering great spaces to students from well-heeled families.

Sun & Co., Juvéa, Spain

Okay, we’re throwing this in for fun because Sun & Co. is a sort of a startup resort, and nowhere near any city. Which means nowhere near the talent, investors and other connections you need.

BUT, it is on the Mediterranean for when you need a working holiday. And that appears to be the idea. (See the video review above by a Dutch guest, with English subtitles.) Sun & Co. is in a 19th-century house in a historic seaside town in Spain south of Valencia. They promote this as a place to come focus or have a company retreat. We see it as a great place to recover from burnout while still getting stuff done at a more reasonable pace.

Sun & Co. offers:

  • rooms in a 4-floor stone house
  • a “dream” kitchen with organic coffee
  • More than 200 m2 of common area including a “BBQ terrace/chill-out patio”
  • Cleaning services
  • Communal supplies

Private rooms start at 40 euros per day, so a full month would only be about 1,200 euros … less than a crappy apartment in rainy Berlin. Shared rooms start at 20 euros per day.

Additional resources:

CoWoLi has lists of co-working/co-living spaces, but most are not in major cities.

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