Mr Edouard Chamorel, 26, in his One Shenton apartment run by Hmlet, which handles 50 apartments and three buildings in Shenton Way, Raffles Place, River Valley and Joo Chiat. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG


Bartender Benedict Poh has given up the comforts of his family home to fork out almost half his pay on a room in a Joo Chiat apartment that he shares with five others.

"My friends think it's dumb to spend money to live on my own," says the 23-year-old. But he feels the expense is worth it.

He moved out of his parents' house in Marine Crescent last December because he was concerned that his unusual working hours were disrupting his family's sleep.

"I love having a little haven of my own, where I can learn to mature and be more responsible," he adds.

Mr Poh belongs to a small but growing group of people who have taken to co-living, a new rental model that, unlike hostels or sublets, emphasises convenience and a sense of community.

Many firms offer bedrooms in metropolitan areas with utilities included, and organise events like barbecues and yoga classes. Some even interview and place people with others they are likely to click with.

Hmlet also organises rooftop parties for clients. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

The trend has taken off in busy – and expensive – cities like New York, where "hacker houses" and "communes" are taking root in a country accustomed to dormitory life at universities and rental culture.

But it is also gaining traction in areas like Beijing and Bangalore, where rents have priced young millennials out of the city. Co-living spaces, which maximise a given area with smaller rooms and shared facilities, are often an affordable way to live in prime land.

However, Singapore's emerging co-living market is primarily directed at young expatriates looking for a fuss-free way to find a flat.

Indonesian palm and freight trader Brian Mulyadi, 24, said many housing agents seemed uninterested once he told them he was renting, not buying. "Maybe the commission from my renting a room was not big enough," he says.

Agents earn up to a month's rent as commission, depending on the lease. This could range from $500 for a Housing Board flat to $3,000 for a room in town.

Mr Mulyadi's housemates, Swiss Valentin Pietra, 25, and Edouard Chamorel, 26, wanted to be near their workplaces in the central business district and the nightlife. They also did not want to be stuck with the usual one-to two-year leases if they rented a flat on their own.

So when they stumbled on Hmlet, a tech start-up set up in 2016 and the first player in the co-living space here, they gave it a go.

The trio share a four-bedroom apartment in One Shenton that can take five. Mr Mulyadi pays $1,100 for the space normally used as a maid's room, which has its own bathroom. His housemates pay about $2,100 each for their bedrooms and share one of two common bathrooms.

After three months – the minimum tenancy for a private residence – tenants can end their contracts after giving a month's notice.

Mr Chamorel, a marine operations manager, says: "I don't think Valentin and I would have got a space on our own to rent at this location at this price, fully furnished."

Hmlet handles 50 apartments and three buildings in Shenton Way, Raffles Place, River Valley and Joo Chiat. Rents go from $900 for a "pocket" room to $2,800 for a master bedroom with en-suite, which can take up to two tenants.

The rent includes utilities and cleaning services in common areas once a week. Clothes can be ironed and rooms cleaned for extra fees.

Hmlet co-founder and managing director Zenos Schmickrath said it aims to capture about 1 per cent of the 300,000 Employment Pass holders in three years' time.

Hmlet currently has 200 tenants in Singapore, 5 per cent of whom are Singaporeans.

Service apartment provider The Ascott is also wading into the co-living space with a new brand, lyf, which has five properties in the region, including two in Singapore.

Its operations at the new nine-storey Funan will have 279 units that can be turned into 412, while its building at Farrer Park comprises 240 units. Both will open by 2020.

These Ascott properties will be managed by "lyf guards" – millennials who may be residents themselves but double as community managers and city guides.

Analysts agree there is a limit to how much this will appeal to young Singaporeans. Cushman and Wakefield research director Christine Li says it will "take a whole mindset change to persuade Singaporeans, even the younger generation, to embrace renting homes".


Written by Rachel Au-Yong for The Straits Times. Click here to read the original story.