The Organic Development of Co-Living Communities

Common's co-living spaces have been successfully operating for three years. Founder & CEO Brad Hargreaves discusses the lessons learned along the way, as well as the company's future plans.
Brad Hargreaves, founder & CEO, Common

For the last three years, Common has been successfully operating its furnished co-living communities in major markets such as New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The shared living experience is one of the top trends in contemporary multifamily design and it’s thriving on the concept of building a community. This summer, the company launched its first two homes in Seattle, in partnership with developer Anew Apartments. Totaling 161 rooms, the communities represent the company’s fifth expansion in the U.S. 

Founder & CEO Brad Hargreaves reflects on how experience has shaped the company’s overall strategy, sharpening and expanding the knowledge about residents and their needs. Among other subjects, he touches on the importance of comfortable shared spaces in their facilities, the target demographic for co-living, as well as Common’s future growth plans.

You now have about three years of experience in managing co-living facilities. What was the most surprising thing you learned along the way?

Hargreaves: At Common, our goal is to create communities where people know their neighbors. When we first started out, we knew we wanted to program our buildings with activities so members could get together and build relationships, but we didn’t expect their genuine willingness to take the lead. Across our network of homes, members have planned weekly Sunday brunches, movie nights, neighborhood outings, spontaneous TV binge watching sessions and so much more. By providing beautiful and comfortable shared community spaces throughout our buildings, we created a successful backdrop for something we didn’t immediately expect—the organic development of community building.

I also came to realize how critical long-term residents are to building a community. To accommodate mobile urban renters, we initially offered shorter-term leases, including three-month terms, at some of our homes. The thing is, it’s nearly impossible to build relationships and invest in people when they might be gone in three months. We have largely moved away from this model and now more than 75 percent of our members are on year-long leases.

What are some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome during this time?

Hargreaves: Education was a definite challenge. When we first started working with industry partners, we spent a great deal of time helping them understand what exactly co-living is and what it isn’t. The reality is that our buildings operate just like any other rental property, with the added benefits of community and convenience. Today, developers and owners are very familiar with our brand, and questions have shifted from “What is co-living?” to “What is the next step to finance this property?” and “How can I design my new project with co-living in mind?”.

What are the most popular amenities available in Common’s properties?

Hargreaves: Members love our spacious, furnished apartments. Especially for those moving to a city for the first time, it creates a seamless experience of being able to move in with just some clothes and other belongings, and settle into a beautifully furnished home—avoiding the cost and hassle of buying and assembling their own furniture. Our design team thoughtfully plans each of our units down to the inch to maximize them for comfort and efficiency. They have thought of everything—how much storage is needed in bedrooms, the ideal number of people sharing a bathroom, how many seats to put at the kitchen counter to ensure it’s used and welcoming—and it shows. We get rave reviews from our members and it’s why so many of them stay with us for the long haul.

What segment of the population does co-living attract and why?

Hargreaves: Our membership is very diverse, including young professionals, couples, people moving to new cities for a job opportunity, those moving from abroad and even Baby Boomers. Thirty-two percent of our members were born abroad and overall hail from 27 different countries. Common homes across the country accommodate a wide range of renters who are currently underserved in today’s housing market and are seeking out the kind of convenience and community we offer in urban centers.

Tell us more about the two new Seattle communities and the reasons for choosing those particular sites.

Hargreaves: I absolutely love what we’ve brought to life with Common Terry and Summit. For our Seattle market entrance, we partnered with Anew Apartments on two co-living homes in the centrally located neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and First Hill. Beyond the clear quality of design and architecture, I saw a huge opportunity in aligning with their team, who had already been working on both projects before Common got on board. They have an incredibly compelling vision for what efficient housing in Seattle can be, and we’re thrilled to be working alongside them to achieve it.

I’m excited about these communities because they embody the type of neighborhood our members look for, but can’t always afford to live in—vibrant, walkable communities with access to public transit, so they don’t have to rely on a car—great restaurants, culture and local retail. 

Both new co-living communities include sustainable features. What can you tell us about the energy-efficient strategies used?

Hargreaves: Common Summit includes a photovoltaic solar power array on the building’s rooftop. Common Terry is a National Green Building Standard (NGBS) Silver-level building, meeting the organization’s high standards for sustainability through features, including high-efficiency LED lighting. Being sustainable is part of being a good neighbor, and we were so thrilled Anew had the vision for this at Common Terry and Summit.

How did the initial ‘model’ for the Common co-living home change since opening the first property in Brooklyn until today?

Hargreaves: Common’s model has evolved driven by the increasing demand from members and the specific needs of markets we enter. Common Pacific, our first home, has 19 members living in Brooklyn. Now that they are more familiar with co-living models, national developers working on much larger scale ground-up projects are turning to us for partnership and expertise. At our Baltic home in Brooklyn, we have a mix of co-living suites, studios and one-bedroom units. In New Orleans, we are working with the City on a special project to develop affordable workforce housing. Common isn’t just about co-living in a brownstone—we’re taking our signature, hands-on approach to end-to-end property management to buildings of all residential types and use it to deliver unparalleled services and community. At any time, we’re evaluating more than 100 deals across the country. It’s a truly exciting time.

What are Common’s future expansion plans?

Hargreaves: We continue to expand in our current cities and strengthen the communities we’ve already created. Common also announced expansions to Los Angeles, New Orleans and Miami which will happen in the coming years. Expansion is happening fast and we are ready for it, with a goal of 1,000 members across our homes by the end of this year and 10,000 members in 2020.  

What are the company’s goals going forward?

Hargreaves: Common is at the cutting-edge of addressing housing challenges in cities across the country. Our goal is to continue to grow our robust network of homes to meet the evolving needs of cities, and create community-driven homes that remove the stress and hassle that can come with urban living. We want to grow with the members who have chosen us, adapt to their changing needs, and serve the growing number of city dwellers nationally.

Images courtesy of Common