We’re used to stories on how the buying and renting of ‘formal’ accommodation - flats and houses - has become increasingly ‘informal’.
By that I mean stories about the rise of Airbnb and similar platforms for short lets, and about buyers searching for a home on the iPad or smartphone over the breakfast table or in bed last thing at night.
James Dearsley’s PropTech column this week suggests flexible tenancy durations will be a consumer demand easier to meet very soon, as the way we ‘do’ property changes thanks to the advent of technology.
But what if it’s not just the process of renting, buying, letting or selling that becomes increasingly informal, but the very property commodity at the heart of the deal too?
What if it’s not just how we market, book and manage the property product that is being revolutionised? What if it’s the property itself that’s changing out of all recognition?
I’m urged to ask these questions because of an article I’ve recently written on the subject of Co-Living. Researching the subject certainly opened my eyes to a generational culture change in the approach to ‘homes’.
Co-living is a new form of housing where residents gather around a common interest and activity, rather than a traditional ‘stiff’ tenure or sense of ownership. It is the residential equivalent of Co-working, which uses the sense of ‘shared space’ - no one has a set desk but there are communal resources where (usually IT) workers come in, pay a fee, and use space, utilities and on-site expertise as they see fit. And when they’re finished, they go.
To some older readers, a way of living that embraces such informality will smack of the commune or kibbutz-style crazes of the 70s but let me assure you that the professionalism and funding of Co-living is no new-age nonsense.
In London there’s a scheme now called The Collective Old Oak where rents are £225 per week - and that includes all utilities, council tax, wi-fi, security and room and linen cleaning.
In Berlin scores of Baugruppen or Building Groups exist, similar to Old Oak but with the participants co-owning rather than co-renting. In one, called R50, a six-storey block is home to 18 households each owning part of the property but Co-living within it.
There are other Co-living schemes in Hong Kong, Melbourne, Boston, California and New York too, and while each is different from the others, their common denominators include dormitory-style sleeping to make most use of the expensive city-centre space, and a willingness by individuals to share social, eating and often working space too.
There’s no prize for guessing what has driven this movement: it’s the cost of traditional renting or ownership, with many from the Millennial generation feeling unable or unwilling to pay market rents and prices for traditional accommodation, especially if they want to be flexible in where they work and live for at least the first part of their adult lives.
But here is where the Co-living concept departs from the squats, kibbutzes and communes so beloved of disenchanted young people in the 1970s - today, Co-living is a huge business involving millions of pounds.
WeWork, a US shared-working-space company, has started a Co-living off-shoot which is on course to hit a revenue target of $605.9 million by the end of next year. Its portfolio of shared accommodation in the US includes a building on New York’s Wall Street.
For people of my age (and perhaps yours, too) the thought of shared living like this is uncomfortable: that’s not the case for many younger people lacking the financial and emotional attachment to mainstream home ownership that older generations have.
So just as it’s been a steep learning curve for our industry in the past decade to come to terms with different ways of selling or letting a property, perhaps our task for the decade to come is to accept different kinds of property tenure and ownership.
We could, of course, dismiss it all as fluff and nonsense: but then, some people did that about mobile telephones and portals, didn’t they?
*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn