You know you’re in Peak Bengaluru when you visit the Colive Signature tower on the Outer Ring Road near Marathalli: Bougie interiors in bright pastel shades, a plethora of security cameras in every common area, a Yulu dock with several Miracle electric scooters parked next to a locker by K’s Faabcare, an app-controlled laundry experience, and a Big Basket vending machine from which you can buy chips, biscuits, cup-noodles, and Red Bull.
Everything is accessed through an app. Make your selection and make your payments to manage everything, including your rent at the start of each month. Residents enter by entering an access code, or just looking at the face recognition camera.
Visitors like me — there for a tour organised by the company — walk to a small reception area to the side of the steps, where Swiggy and Amazon packages await their owners.
A passage behind the reception leads through two small conference rooms, a ‘coworking space’ and a cinema room, to a large cafeteria, and then a garden with benches and tables.
Inside, there are mixed floors with shared and private rooms — 280 beds — that can best be described as fancy upscale versions of engineering college dorms for techies, caught in Bengaluru’s self-contained bubble of isolation, but pining for their engineering college hostels.
In this city, everyone is used to living off their screen. Need food? Open Swiggy. Going for a movie? Get the ticket on BookMyShow, and get there with an Ola. Need cigarettes at night? No need to leave home, just Dunzo it.
Coliving just seems to complete the circle: Now you never need to speak to your landlord either. Just book a bed over the Internet, track your electricity usage and pay your rent through the company’s app, and if a lightbulb needs replacing or a tap fixing, just raise a ticket.
Yet those who live in such accommodation say the lure is just the opposite — companionship in a city of screen-staring out-of-towners.
“How do you make new friends? Everyone that I knew worked with me, so I’d see them in the morning, sit with them all day, then go out for a drink together, and in the bar, we’re talking about the same problems from work,” said Mayank Sharma from Delhi, who works with a health-tech startup near Sarjapura in Bengaluru, and lives in a similar arrangement.
Housing and community
“The concept of co-living is derived from the renting philosophy that millennials ascribe to where they are willing to share living spaces, utilities etc in order to make an affordable rental decision and be part of a community,” said Rohit Kapoor, CEO of Oyo’s New Real Estate business, which includes Oyo Life coliving.
“Community living allows residents to mingle and interact with like-minded individuals,” he added.
Coliving — like coworking — feels like a branding exercise in hyping up the real estate business for the tech set. Just like office rentals have been around for a long time, paying guest accommodation or “PGs” are not a new idea. But a number of companies, like CoHo, Colive, Simply Guest, and Oyo Life, are emphasising the difference by focusing on amenities, apps, and the promise of community. Free Wi-Fi, meals, game rooms, CCTVs for security and events are selling points.
As people move around the country chasing tech jobs, finding a house to rent, navigating challenges like “veg only”, “no bachelors”, “no visitors of the opposite gender” are big problems. Tech companies promise a solution.
One Signature occupant, who asked not to share her name, said that she moved into the building a month ago after colleagues at work told her about the service.
“I was living in a friend’s house because I’d just moved to Bangalore, and it is impossible to find a decent house here,” she said. “Landlords hear that I’m a single woman who wants to rent a flat by herself and they start to say families only.
“Security is also a problem—people ask for a 2 lakh deposit when I’m trying to pay less than Rs 20,000 in rent, do they think if they shake me lakhs will fall out?”
Sharma, the techie from Delhi, said that he was feeling stuck in a rut in Bengaluru, cut-off from friends and family and familiar food, until he moved into the Colive building.
“I was initially renting a flat with two office mates, but then one of them moved out, and when we didn’t find a new roommate after two months, we decided to give notice and look for a smaller place. Instead, I found this place, and it has been good, it’s helped connect with new people,” Sharma added.
For Sharma, the common gaming room and the chance to meet people and play a game of FIFA without having to approach total strangers was the selling point. “I didn’t really know what to do so I went to the top floor and saw a guy playing FIFA. I was watching the game and he asked if I’d join. I did, and we’ve found a group of regulars who will come back after work, and just chill and play some football,” he said.
The football, it is worth noting, is played on a screen not on a pitch.
What about privacy?
While the companies promoting coliving are understandably keen to emphasis the various amenities on offer, this new form of cohabitation is perhaps best understood by what isn’t on offer — the privacy to hook up.
Many of the companies didn’t think of this when starting out — despite this being, for many young people, one of the most compelling reasons to move to a place of their own.
A Colive representative, for example, tells us that twin-sharing double rooms are the bulk of the company’s offerings, but it’s fastest growing segment now is private single rooms. Similarly, the YouTube ad for Guesture talks about private rooms — preferred by managers living alone in Bangalore, away from their family, Guesture’s website says.
“The double room is the biggest chunk of our configurations,” said Suresh Rangarajan, founder of Colive. “In the sharing room, you’ll have a roommate but the layout helps maintain privacy. The private room, you see couples, both live-in couples, and young married couples without kids, renting together. And there’s also an increasing number of people taking private rooms for themselves, so we might make smaller private rooms as well.”
Privacy doesn’t come cheap: while the rooms in coliving homes span a fairly wide range of prices, ranging from as low as Rs 5,999 per bed in some of Oyo’s listings, to Rs 13,000 per bed in Colive’s luxury offering, Colive Signature. There’s also the private room goes up to Rs 25,000 — the cost of renting a three bedroom apartment in parts of Bengaluru.
But then that three bedroom apartment is unlikely to come with its own cinema room, PS4 and VR headset.
A demanding business
“Living near your office in functional, stylish, technology enabled spaces is the ground on which this is built. Upgrade your lifestyle, and live well in the age of social media,” said Colive founder Rangarajan. “Young people have to keep moving from one place to another, without the hassle of furnishing and upkeep. This is the Uber, Swiggy economy.”
But online, there seems to be a fair amount of criticism of Colive. While Twitter has relatively fewer complaints, Quora, which is very popular in India especially among tech-workers, you’ll see many posts that are criticising Colive for poor service, excessive electricity fees, and unresponsiveness to complaints.
While the companies we spoke to stressed that they’re focused on these issues, and the people we spoke to living in these rooms didn’t share the same issues, given the wide range of housing the company manages, it’s quite possible that things vary across buildings.
“Customers can be very demanding, and they want washing machines, TVs, Wi-Fi… if any of this is not working in a co-living space, they will immediately let you know, and you will get shouted at on social media,” said Amit Agarwal, Founder and CEO, NoBroker. “It is not easy and it is very expensive.”
Agarwal, whose company focuses on buying and renting said, “co-living is a growing business, but the challenge that companies in this space will have to deal with is churn. From a customer perspective, you would love to have a place without having to manage the extra challenges.”
“But young people will make friends and then go out and rent on their own. And if the tenants churn, then the owners of the building will also churn out of the platform,” he added.
However, he also felt that the business is growing fast, and although it’s not going to replace renting, especially for families, this could serve as “starter housing” for young professionals in the early stages of their career, when mobility is very important.
“Earlier a young professional could only choose a PG, which was a sub-standard solution, and the price would be almost the same. But these people are still a much smaller part of the market than families,” Agarwal said.
“What is the real difference between a PG and a coliving,” mused another Colive executive. “It’s the community, the sense of belonging. It’s got to be more than the local WhatsApp group to discuss problems and plans. It’s something we’re trying to figure out, and there are different ideas. Maybe we can do a newsletter, but run by residents who are interested in this, so it becomes a community model and brings people together.”