When touring a new set of apartments, one seldom expects to hear the units are “not for everybody” from the founder and CEO of the firm selling them. Brad Hargreaves of Common, however, isn’t fearful his words will affect his business. New York–based Common, which manages nine co-living apartment buildings, prides itself on making living with strangers easier while offering a slew of amenities, including fully-furnished rooms, regular cleaning, WiFi, and more. This tour of 595 Baltic—the company’s sixth location in Brooklyn—showcased their latest endeavor into the emerging co-living market.
To get a place at Common, prospective tenants are interviewed and checks are made on their finances and background to ensure everything is in order. (This isn’t Craigslist.) And while Hargreaves increasingly sounded like he was whittling down his audience in search of the right type of tenant, people are applying in their droves. Prior to opening Common Baltic, the company received more than 12,000 applications for an existing 120 rooms in New York and San Francisco.
Walking into 595 Baltic Street—which can house 135 tenants—you’re greeted by a lobby with elevators and two social areas coming off it. Herein lies the premise of Common: It aims to be a community, where faces are familiar and residents engage in activities together, even outside their apartment. “There are plenty of buildings where you can have your own private space and be anonymous in the elevator, but this is not that place,” said Hargreaves.
Kitchen in one of the co-living apartments. (Courtesy Common)
When setting up Common, Hargreaves said he and the firm took inspiration from the co-living culture in Europe, in particular, Bjarke Ingels‘ 8 House in Copenhagen. “In Europe, co-living is much more accepted. There are buildings built specifically for co-living residents, but not so much here,” he said, later adding that Ingels’ other housing projects in Denmark’s capital acted as precedents for “fostering community.”
Common is attempting to establish this way of life in the U.S. Once a week, cleaners replenish kitchen basics (salt, pepper, kitchen roll) and tidy up the shared living spaces. All apartments are fully furnished, complete with washers, dryers and SONOS speakers. A gym, bike storage, and 40 parking spaces are available too.
“We wanted to create a residential management company that specifically addressed the challenges of moving to a city and living with strangers,” Hargreaves continued. “The biggest part of this, is the idea of community. We like that people here don’t just open their doors to a hallway, they open to a living room where there are other people.”
“Communities” are bound by floors which typically hold 15 to 25 residents. On each level there is a “house leader.” This person, who volunteers their services in the application process, keeps most things in order and plans events and activities for residents to take part in. Common even provides $50 a month per person for this. Floor managers also enjoy subsidized rent.
Front lounge on the ground floor is a shared space, accessible to all residents. (Courtesy Common)
The experience sounds akin to living in university dormitories. At 595 Baltic, “traditional,” more private dwellings are available to rent too, the split is 50/50 between co-living and traditional apartments. Sophie Wilkinson, head of design and construction at Common, said the bedrooms across the nine Common locations all the same. Social areas, though, are slightly different and offer some variation. Wilkinson also explained that floors weren’t designed for a “specific type” of person in order to avoid cliques.
Fostering and focusing on a particular community can have its consequences. In his own article, Hargreaves studied two polarizing communities: The Villages in Florida, where the community is 98.4% white with a median age of 71; and Kiryas Joel, New York—the poorest zip code in the U.S.—where the median age is 13. “There’s a lot of talk right now about building new cities. But there’s surprisingly little attention or respect paid to the people who are actually doing it,” he said. On the flip-side, Hargreaves argued: “People are complicated, building for humans is messy business, and the designs that work are often not the designs we want to work.”
“Our community spaces are intimate and comfortable, and become an extension of your suite, as another space for you to retreat to (by yourself or with friends),” Wilkinson added. “When designing the interiors of the suites, we considered comfort, layout, and convenience. Our members move in with a bag and a toothbrush and can be cooking that evening and crashing on the sofa that night. Our design style is focussed on quality with an eye to creating a relaxing home, but once moved in, members add their own furnishings, art, color, and style.”
If you do not like your community, those at Common are free to move to other locations and floors when the opportunity arises. Hargreaves, however, said that the main issue was having to turn people away. Developers it seems, are happy too. In June of 2016, Common raised $16 million with significant investment from the real estate community; led by 8VC, participants included Circle Ventures, the technology arm of the Milstein Family, LeFrak, Solon Mack Capital, Ron Burkle’s Inevitable Ventures and Wolfswood Partners. Common residents at 595 Baltic will begin moving in at the start of February.
Common isn’t, however, the only company vying for a share of the co-living “pie.” Micro-apartment with similar amenities and living arrangements are also on the rise.