Photo: ST PHOTO, Lim Yaohui
Singaporean Christine Tan and Malaysian Chow Beatus have been sharing a two-bedroom apartment in Sarkies Road for the last five months, but they were strangers before moving in together.
They are among a growing group of young working professionals here who rent a room in an apartment shared with other tenants, usually strangers, in an arrangement called co-living.
Billed as an affordable and convenient housing option, co-living usually involves leases as short as three months, with rent that covers utilities, Wi-Fi and housekeeping. Co-living companies also help to match flatmates according to their preferences and personalities.
Membership with a co-living company also includes access to shared spaces, such as rooftop lounges and co-working offices – often in the same building – as well as activities organised by the company.
In Singapore, the co-living scene looks set to grow, with at least three players eager to expand.
Hmlet, started in 2016 by Frenchman Yoan Kamalski, 30, and American Zenos Schmickrath, 38, has 800 rooms in more than 20 locations across Singapore.
These include a building with 26 rooms in Joo Chiat, another with 80 rooms near Newton and the top 10 levels of Lumiere, a condominium in Tanjong Pagar. Rent varies from $900 to $4,890 a month, depending on location and room type.
Hmlet aims to increase its supply of rooms by about 25 per cent to exceed 1,000 next month.
Another player, Login Apartment, owned by Shanghai-based ZhongFu Investments, is looking to expand to 110 apartments by the end of the year. It launched in Singapore in March last year and currently has 16 apartments in Queenstown, Novena and East Coast.
Its master bedrooms are rented for an average of $1,800 a month. Common rooms with shared bathrooms are about $1,500 a month.
New co-living space lyf, which is under The Ascott, is also set to open its nine-storey property at Funan in the fourth quarter of this year.
The building will have 279 apartments and the flexibility to offer up to 412 rooms. It also plans to open locations in Farrer Park and one-north in 2021.
The people who prefer co-living
Most people who stay in co-living spaces here are foreigners in their early 20s to mid-30s, with a small but growing percentage of Singaporeans.
Ms Tan, 26, a freelance digital marketeer, moved to Boston last year and moved back to Singapore at the end of the year. She wanted to continue to live independently rather than live with her family.
Mrs Beatus, 36, who plans to move to Australia next month to join her husband, appreciates the flexibility.
"I wasn't sure how long I would need to stay in Singapore, so I wanted a lease that was more flexible," says the accountant, who has been living at Hmlet for about a year.
While most rental leases range from 12 to 24 months, co-living ones can be as short as three months.
Indian digital strategist Girish Khanna, 32, who lives in a Hmlet unit in Newton, loves co-living as it has allowed him to meet people from all over the world. "I've stayed with a Mongolian couple, a woman from Slovakia as well as people from Germany and Britain. I never imagined I would live with these different nationalities."
Both Hmlet and Login Apartment organise events to help members socialise. These include wine-tasting sessions, visits to local attractions, open-mic nights and pool parties.
Mr Kamalski, co-founder of Hmlet, says: "We are living in a world that is overly connected to and by technology. But that means people can also be very lonely. Finding real friendships and meeting new people is difficult today."
Referring to Friends (1994 to 2004), the popular American sitcom, he adds: "In the show, they shared apartments and their lives with one another. Like a small village, which is what hamlet means in old English. That's what we want to create."
Login Apartment and Hmlet have not experienced any major issues between flatmates so far. If tenants were to request a room change, both companies would oblige and make the necessary arrangements.
Previous co-living companies in Singapore
Co-living is not new to Singapore.
Local company Techsquat and 13, managed by property start-up 99.co, started the ball rolling in 2014 and 2015. But both closed within a year, reported The Business Times.
But with the sharing economy becoming more common, co-living companies say more are starting to buy into the concept.
Mr Calvin Cai, 37, country head at Login Apartment, says while many young foreigners relocate to Singapore for work, companies are opting to cut costs by leaving accommodation out of expatriate packages.
"So to balance out the relatively high cost of moving to and living in Singapore, expatriate professionals are looking to co-living for more affordable and hassle-free alternatives."
Singapore is also a good springboard for co-living companies that want to expand in the region.
For instance, Login Apartment plans to expand into Australia and Japan by next year. Hmlet launched in Hong Kong last year and in Australia earlier this year. lyf has properties in China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines which are slated to open between this year and 2022.
Mr Richard Baker, head designer of design and build consultancy Space Matrix, says Singapore's credibility and small market makes it a good test bed. Space Matrix focuses on workplace design and recently organised a design competition with Temasek Polytechnic on "the future of co- living spaces in Singapore".
For those renting co-living apartments, they say the convenient arrangement and opportunities for socialising are part of the appeal.
Filipino Gem Laforteza, 32, who has been living in Login Apartment for the last four months, likes that his rent covers all the housing bills – including electricity, water and gas – as well as housekeeping.
"I would recommend co-living to people who, like me, want to leave the managing of the household to someone else."
For Ms Tan, co-living has allowed her to escape the minefield of having to search for a flatmate. "Living alone, things can be too quiet, but it's not easy to find someone to live with. I'm glad that, through this, I got a good flatmate and a friend."
This story was first featured in The Straits Times.