The Evolution of Co-Living

I’ve lived in large cities including New York City and Boston, as well as smaller but densely populated places like Worcester, MA, Charleston, SC, and Durham, NC. I feel comfortable in places where I can walk to dinner or a movie―call me an ‘urbanite.’

As we all know, living in cities, especially larger ones, is financially challenging nowadays. I’ve juggled roommates and was lucky enough to eventually share the financial burden with my girlfriend, then fiancé, now wife, along the way. We went from co-renters, to signing a lease, then a mortgage, and now home ownership. This, for many, has been the traditional path. But that’s starting to change, as schedules, commitments, and overall attitudes evolve about what cohabitating means in today’s world.

Cohabitation is quickly morphing into Co-living in many urban settings. With co-living you don’t really know the people with whom you’re sharing your home space. With cohabitating, one usually goes through an interview for a room in someone’s place to see if there’s a fit; with co-living, the arrangement is more transactional, with one renting a private room in a quasi-dorm-like setting, where common spaces such as kitchens, living areas, and laundry are shared. 

Co-living it up!

Co-living is quickly evolving from its pragmatic roots in high-rent cities with newly arriving college grads and people who’ve yet settled into a community into more permanent digs. Common is a firm that currently operates in a half-dozen U.S. cities, often with multiple locations in each. Its mantra is “private rooms within beautiful shared suites in friendly homes.” Everything is inclusive, including modern furniture, household staples, even weekly cleaning―all one needs is to fill out a form online and lay down a deposit.

While many of Common’s homes are located within traditional “hipster-centric” up-and-coming locales, which makes sense given the demo/psychographic for such living and current mass rehabilitation of such neighborhoods, co-living is quickly evolving beyond typical millennial nomads traversing the gig economy. Co-living personal spaces are getting larger, and even family friendly, as the Millennial cohort ages.

The Collective, a U.K.-based pioneer in the space currently operates the world’s largest purpose-built co-living development in the world, has already set up shop in Manhattan’s Murray Hill. A non-descript New York neighborhood, it is arguably one of the more mundane areas of greater Manhattan. And that’s the point, it’s a place in which to live, not “live it up.” Units are up to three bedrooms, family friendly, and possess some of the amenities of traditional co-living such as shared rooms and services, but also offer more personal autonomy for those seeking co-living as a service, as opposed to a lifestyle. On deck is a much more ambitious nearly half-billion dollar multi-purpose co-living project slated for Broadway Triangle, in Brooklyn replete with workshops, seminars, and performances alongside a restaurant, bar, and art gallery.

Kin, of both the U.K. and Australia, is doing much the same in smaller U.K. and Down Under markets, but nevertheless allows for private bathrooms and kitchens―with the assumption couples and families may need a bit more personal space.

While cost savings are initially the main driver piquing consumer interest, I believe the real benefits reflect human behavior and overall well-being. Kin promotes co-living as “contributing to a more well-intentioned life,” where meaningful relationships are cultivated through “shared experience at home.” The Collective seeks to “build a world that’s more alive, more together, and more collaborative.” All in all, the theory is that by bringing people closer together, with exposure to new people and ideas, they are inspired to do more with what they learn.

It all makes sense to me. While co-living may not appeal to everyone, it’s an emerging lifestyle taking hold in today’s larger cities. If the economic, social, and psychic benefits continue to play out, the practice may grow beyond tier one cities, and take hold with other demographics with similarly rapid shifting needs, i.e., a Boomer alternative to Florida living, or even newly arrived peoples from other countries seeking to reside in the U.S.

Whatever evolves, the effects on consumer behaviors will be great as food, transportation, entertainment, and learning behaviors are likely to be altered. Even the concept of what constitutes familial units may need to be redefined, ever so porous as they may become. For a marketing researcher who focuses on better understanding consumer behavior, interesting times are ahead!

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