Co-living finally catches on after a decade of resistance in France

Investors, including the French state bank Bpifrance, are putting money into co-living projects in France after 10 years of resisting the concept

19 May 2021

The three founders of Colonies co-living company who received €30million in equity funding earlier this year from investment fund LBO France Pic: Colonies

Co-living projects are organised by property investors and allows people to rent rooms, studios or small flats in buildings with shared common areas, including lounges, gyms, kitchens and gardens.

Traditionally, French people moved into individual flats as a first move away from home, often avoiding university residence schemes, which are organised differently from residential accommodation in UK and US universities.

For a number of reasons, including higher property prices in some cities, that model is now changing.

Co-founder of co-living company Colonies François Roth said he and the two other founders, who had all been friends at business school, realised something had changed when they reached their 30s.

“We were all living in shared flats with friends, or friends of friends, and saw the possibility of putting our small savings together to buy other flats to rent out on the same principle.

“Then we read about the co-living concept in America and the UK and visited the places, and we realised we could do something in France.”

The company, founded in 2017, received €30million in equity funding earlier this year from investment fund LBO France, with a promise of another €150million to help it expand.

It has opened an office and its first properties in Berlin. “We intend to be in all the major French cities as quickly as we can,” said Mr Roth.

“If anything, our concept of co-living, where the shared accommodation is limited to a maximum of 12 people, adapted well to the Covid lockdowns – people were able to interact within the house with people they knew, which took away a lot of the stress experienced by people on their own in Paris flats.”

The company did not offer specific co-working spaces as part of its package, but is now about to open some for its renters – away from their homes.

“People are saying that home-working is driving them mad, and they want somewhere they can go.

“Effectively, there will be one or two places, normally 10-15 minutes away from the houses, where they can go and work, away from their home.”

One surprise for the founders was that they expected most of their lodgers to be millennials, who came into active life around the year 2000, like themselves.

“Instead, we found all age groups, from people in their 50s through to 20-year-old students, took us up.”

Around 40% of clients are foreigners working on projects in France, or living here for a while, with the great attraction being the ability to mix with other people and escape the restrictions of renting traditional flats, requiring large deposits and long contracts.

A surprising number of renters are couples.

Opening the business in Berlin was also an eye-opener – rules and regulations there, such as a requirement for deposits to be put into separate escrow accounts, took some time to adapt to.

Prices for Colonies’ co-living flats vary, depending on location.

Mr Roth said a small room in Paris or its suburbs of around 10m² near to public transport, with shared bathroom, kitchen and lounge, could cost €600 with all bills, fast wifi, cleaning and linen services.

Other accommodation offered by the company includes small studio flats of 15m² to 20m² with their own bathrooms and small kitchens, or larger one-bedroom flats.

The company is interested in hearing from property owners prepared to rent or sell their properties and is also in the process of converting two buildings from office to residential use.

The Babel Community, another co-living company based in Marseille, has backing from the state-funded Bpifrance bank.

This will allow it to build six more of its residences, in Marseille, Grenoble, Paris, Lille, Bordeaux and Aix-en- Provence, by 2024.

It has a target of 25 co-living buildings by 2025.

Babel combines restaurants and sports halls with the buildings it converts into co-living residences.

Property giant Vinci Immobilier is launching a co-living brand called Bikube and another large company, Keys Asset Management, has started a concept called Quartus Coliving.

A survey by consultants JLL estimated that €40billion might be invested in the next couple of years in European co-living projects.

Mr Roth said there were interesting similarities between modern co-living and the foyers de jeunes travailleurs which were started in France after World War Two and which, until recently, were common in most large cities and provincial towns.

They still have a special regime, under the education ministry, offering housing help, mainly in hostels, for those aged between 16 and 30.

“They developed because of the shortage of housing which affected especially young people after the war,” he said.

“The co-living movement fills a similar housing need, and should be accommodated better within the legal framework.

“Too often, we seem to fall between rules for hotels and rules for traditional leases, and we are neither of these.” 

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