This HK start-up gives flat owners a hassle-free way to tap the co-living trend

20-Mar-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

In crowded Hong Kong, co-living operators have made good business matching the needs of renters and landlords around shared living concepts involving big spaces.

But a new entrant, which went live earlier this month, is seeking to push into an area that has so far been overlooked: helping young people source housing in flats shared with a small number of tenants.

Michelle Chau Wang-yu, one of four co-founders of the Chinese-language website, which went live on March 6, says her company focuses on managing flats with as few as two bedrooms throughout communities in the city. In some instances that even means arranging for complete strangers to share a bedroom within a flat.

“We received a dozen registrations within one day after launching the service,” Chau said, referring to prospective renters. “We will then spend four to six weeks to do selection and matching.”

On the landlord side of the equation, Chau said her start-up offers full management services, from renovation to tenant placement and day-by-day oversight of the property.

Chau said the company matches flatmates based on preferences, provides cleaning, and helps guide new tenants as they move in.

Other co-living operators have tended to focus on much larger living spaces and operate more or less like hostels. Chau says her company identified a missing need in the market, as many young people want independent living that doesn’t feel like a college dorm.

In a typical flat that will be home to up to five residents, tenants face monthly rents ranging from HK$4,000 (US$510) to HK$11,000, depending on location and whether a bedroom is shared or leased individually. The monthly rental fee covers all utilities. Harbour City landlord Wharf REIC says fate of Hong Kong’s retail market depends on outcome of trade war

About 10 landlords have signed up for the platform so far, according to Chau. To participate, landlords must agree to renovate their properties to make them suitable for co-living, a process that will be managed by the company and cost around HK$50,000 to HK$80,000.

Chau said her company strives to offer residents a little bit more for their rental dollar. One upside is providing living spaces that feel less crowded.

“We hope to offer rents at 30 to 40 per cent of residents’ income,” said Chau.

Chau said limiting the number of tenants in a shared flat to around five or so tends to make for a more harmonious living environment.

There are around 10 co-living operators managing about 15 buildings in Hong Kong.

Chau said her company has priced the leasing rates at levels that imply relatively low profit margins while in the early stages of building the business. She added that maintenance and furniture costs are addition burdens that will weigh on margins.

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Chau said she plans to have 20 flats under management, equivalent to 80 sleeping beds, by the end of this year.

However, barrister Albert Luk cautioned that homeowners leasing to co-living operators should take note of potential pitfalls.

“Even if [homeowners] bought home insurance, the insurance company will not pay compensation if co-living is involved,” said Luk. “If there is rental conflict, such as damages involved in bad weather, [the co-living residents] are not eligible to make claims.”

Luk said co-living operates in a legal grey zone.

“There is no law governing the co-living business. The existing law is only about the traditional relationship between homeowners and tenants,” said Luk. “If there is any conflict, there will be no legal protection.”


Category: Hong Kong

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