Is coliving the cure for loneliness during the confinement? El confidential investigates Coliving during the Covid 19 pandemic. They spoke to Urban Campus, and some other key players in the game, as well as our coliviers to get their opinion on living in one of our spaces during lockdown.
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Coliving is a residential model based on renting a private space and sharing common areas between people with similar values and interests. Some residents of these spaces define it as a ‘lifestyle’. It may seem that this set-up is incompatible with the pandemic, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it has proven to be one of the most resilient Real Estate sectors in the face of COVID, triggering a rise in occupation after lockdowns. Experts agree that there will be a boom in coliving in the next two years.
Urban Campus has two coliving spaces in Madrid, one in Malasaña and the other in Chamberí. Marketing manager, Marta Torres, acknowledges that during the confinement around 20% of the residents left, however, currently, of the 120 units between the two spaces, capacity is now at 95%. “As of mid-June we saw an increase in demands,” explains Marta to El Confidencial.
The most surprising thing is that the majority of new ‘colivers’ are Spanish, whereas before there was a higher percentage of international residents. “The trend has been reversed, now we have 60% national and 40% international,” Marta details. To make residents feel safe, they have implemented a multitude of sanitary measures. As in any public place in Spain the use of masks is mandatory in common areas, where the capacity is also now reduced to 50%. They have also popularised ‘online’ activities, such as the weekly community dinners, which before the pandemic were held in person. In addition, potential residents are offered the possibility of visiting the rooms online and can even ‘check-in’ remotely.
One Urban Campus ‘coliver’ is Xacobo Agraso, a 32-year-old young man from Galicia. Since August 2019 he has lived in the space that the company has on Andrés Mellado street, in Chamberí, which is where he spent the lockdown. During those three months only the five other people he shared the apartment with were allowed in & out. “It was very different because we were used to a dynamic of sharing spaces and moments with all of the residents of the building,” he explains to us.
He feels a much stronger sense of community has been created. “We feel protected and we protect each other,” he says. A WhatsApp group for all residents helped them to stay in touch and send words of encouragement, between the difficult months of April and June. Today they continue to use this means of communication to share the latest restrictions implemented by the Government, organize yoga classes, distribute job offers, and so on. It even helps them lend a helping hand to those who have tested positive in the community, and can therefore not leave their homes. “There is a very strong community feeling that we all really appreciate”, Xacobo emphasizes.
Of course no space is totally free of the Coronavirus. For this reason Urban Campus have developed a protocol to isolate any infected person and persons with whom they have been in contact with. Thanks to this strict protocol, they have managed to have no more than four cases. One of those cases was that of Esteban Sánchez, a 41-year-old Venezuelan who overcame Covid 20 days ago, without suffering any serious symptoms. “It was strange to experience this situation with roommates. The first thing I did was notify all of them, and then stop using the common areas. We then put in place an agreement for when I could use the kitchen” explains the ‘coliver’.
Another reference in ‘coliving’ is the Italian company, DoveVivo, who operate in Spain under the Oh My Place brand. Its Director of Operations, Irene Trujillo, recalls the feeling of “uncertainty” that she had when the pandemic began. Luckily they have seen though that “the sector has been very resilient and has come out much stronger.” Their strength lies in the fact that they are not part of the tourism sector, so residents stay living on average 12 months in their spaces. In addition many people do not want to go back to living alone with the possibility of another lockdown always hanging in the air, so this model “is a very interesting alternative.” Of course they have also implemented the necessary sanitary measures to prevent infections. They have increased the levels of social distancing, limited face-to-face activities, reinforced cleaning and they carry out a regular control of air quality. Regarding the protocol in the event of a positive case, they follow the steps stipulated by the Minister of Health.
Coliving in Spain is still in its young stage, with just 500 beds available. The growth opportunities within the sector are insightful and some international investors are already looking at potential properties. “We are seeing European, American and Asian investors who are already analyzing buildings”, points out Javier Caro, Director of Coliving at CBRE, a Real Estate consultancy group. He assures that some operations have already been finalised, and predicts that the offer will multiply by up to five by the end of 2022. This is also something demonstrated by the main operators in the sector. For example, DoveVivo plans to open a new centre in Madrid of 1,600 square meters and 400 beds, in the incoming weeks. In addition, it is about to close on two other projects in the capital, one in Chamberí and the other in Moncloa. For their part, Urban Campus plans to open more than 2,300 beds by 2023, for which they have a team dedicated to finding new buildings in both Spain and the rest of Europe.
Caro clarifies that “the business model has a long history in Spain, with a more adjusted profitability, drawing more attention to it, compared to other more consolidated markets”. He adds that these spaces will be increasingly specialized, distinguishing between, for example, communities of divorced people, entrepreneurs, MBA students, young professionals, digital nomads etc. Other real estate sectors are also seeing the potential of ‘coliving’. “Residential areas where people have common interests are the future. We are beginning to move in that direction, something we are already seeing in some Anglo-Saxon countries”, indicates Rebeca Pérez, founder and CEO of Inviertis, a company specialising in buy-to-let property. Above all, he is struck by the coliving spaces on offer for the elderly, “a segment of the population that is very large in Spain and lacks modern proposals.” He points out that these new communities will have a 24-hour infirmary and a hot water pool so that the elderly can exercise. Despite the fact that the sector still does not have specific legislation in Spain, the Director of Living at JLL Spain, a Real Estate Consultancy firm, Juan Manuel Pardo does not think that it will be an obstacle to the arrival of new international investors. “It comes under the sector of lodging, which perfectly covers the term ‘coliving’. Pardo also believes “that having specific regulation will encourage the arrival of even more investors”. He affirms that “more and more operators are deciding to enter the Spanish market and are actively looking for products.”