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“Co-Living” Is Maturing But Is it Losing it’s Soul?

Pure House, one of the the companies that pioneered co-living, closed up all it’s New York operations.

Pure House was for most of us  one of the companies that embodied the concept of co-living with all the good, the questionable and the memorable things that many of us associate with co-living.

When I first heard of co-living I was very curious to see how such  a concept would actually take hold in New York City.  Aren’t the hippie communes supposed to be in upstate in New York near Oneonta or somewhere near there? If they move to the City, who’ll be left to supply hemp derived “products” to all the college campuses upstate.

Actually co-living took two very distinct paths and seems that one has come to a dead end.

Living at a Pure House version of co-living is very different than at other companies, say at WeLive and Commons. The Pure House experience was very ably described by Alden Wicker at Refinery29.com.  Indeed Pure House strives to provide a community atmosphere and the company encourages members to participate in a whole array of  planned events.  The company touted these events as being a big part of the experience and it’s not a stretch to say that perhaps it also served as a means of  channeling  attention away from some of the very creative housing solutions they offered.

Pure House is heavy in event-hosting, including  “a life-coaching session, and a storytelling salon hosted by something called Collective Sex that would touch upon polyamory, Tinder, and ‘clitoral confessions’. “

From all accounts, and despite vociferous efforts to deny it, co-living, as was offered by Pure House, is basically sharing a sub-leased apartment. But instead of living with your buddies, you shack up with people that have vaguely similar interests. These interests may range from fervent activism to just dressing somewhat alike, or sounding alike, or whatever.  For Pure House, the gatekeeper is Ryan Fix, and apparently, to get a spot you have to “qualify” via a Skype interview with him – having attended Burning Man seems to a big plus in the effort to secure a place at Pure Home.

Pure House Brooklyn

The business model is no mystery – the company rents a space for a price and tries to make a profit by renting it out piecemeal for a higher total price. For renters, the attraction, at least theoretically, is that they get to live in a super hip neighborhood, like Williamsburg, which they could not otherwise afford, and it’s a month-to-month deal, so you’re not stuck in a lease.

Pure House’s commune in Williamsburg, Brooklyn charges between $1,350 to $1,900 per month for a make shift room constructed out of plywood and by all descriptions having very little concern for building code violations. Other spaces go – or I should say, went – for as high as $4,000 monthly.

The concept is simple enough, but as always execution is what pays the bills and evidently Pure House had problems paying the bills and is closing up all it’s NYC locations.

While Pure House and California-based company, Campus, are closing their doors, other New York co-living companies seem to be thriving.

Common has secured some $23 million in financing and is expanding by buying a 69 unit rental building at 595 Baltic Street. They will, of course, offer rooms for rent in shared apartments, but also studios ($2,835 a month and up) and one-bedroom apartments ($3,295 and up). This moves its model closer to WeLive, which offers both studio apartments and shared rooms at Rudin Management-owned 110 Wall Street.

Both Common and the $16 billion behemoth WeWork’s residential arm, WeLive, offer versions of co-living that are  different than Pure House.

WeLive’s building at 110 Wall Street offers “private bedrooms” from $1,900 per person and studios from $3,050 per month. These rent numbers are not outrageous  by NYC standards, but they’re not bargains either. Text me at 917.545.3438.  I can find you better prices in a weekend, especially if you and your buddies are well-qualified.  That perhaps is one of WeLive’s best attractions – namely that they don’t require the 40X income that so many traditional landlords live by.  Also, to the chagrin of us brokers, the company does not charge a broker fee.
To be fair, the apartments at WeLive are very nice and nicely enough decorated to jump start your Instagram account without leaving home. Creature comforts include comfortable Brooklinen sheets, airplay enabled Bose surround sound, fresh towels,  40″+ flat screen TV with Verizon Fios cable, in-unit wifi and a basic set of dishes in each personal kitchen.  All you have to do is bring a toothbrush. Or not.  WeLive will also provide you with a gift bag that includes a bamboo toothbrush, apothecary kit, and shaving set.

The other attraction is the community atmosphere, which though decidedly different than Pure House’s is cited often as one of the main reasons why people are spending this kind of money on basically rooming with strangers. If you are new to the city and want to make friends fast, attending the communal events that WeLive provides is one way to do it. The company offers an app that helps residents fit these events into their new busy New York life. The app apparently is a huge success and tenants use it for a myriad of things even after they move out of the building.

Many residents confess that once they filled their quota of new friends they would have a hard time justifying paying the prices that WeLive charges, especially considering that NYC does not suffer from a shortage of things to do once you have someone to do them with.

Of course, WeLive is well aware of this issue and I think that the different configuration on different floors are basically an experiment to see what works best and once they got that dialed in they’ll run with it.

For now it looks like the better-healed players are making a go of co-living, while some of the original players, who some argue were the soul of this movement, are forced to pull back and re-evaluate. What the future holds for this concept is still a matter of debate, but time will tell and it’s good to see innovation in real estate, an industry not exactly known as a fountain of new ideas.

 

 

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