What makes a great co-living site? Expert view from Watkin Jones

With ambitious plans to increase its co-living pipeline, Watkin Jones provide an expert view on what makes a great co-living scheme.

Co-living scheme on Gladstone Road in Exeter - Watkin Jones | BTR News
Co-living scheme on Gladstone Road in Exeter.

By Watkin Jones

What makes the perfect co-living site? Following on from our first expert view on finding the best sites for Build to Rent homes, two experts from Watkin Jones’ Investment team, Manu Dinamani and John Holley, reveal how they seek out the very best places for co-living developments.

Watkin Jones has been at the forefront of co-living in the UK and recently exchanged on the UK’s first forward funded fully co-living scheme with BP’s pension fund, having previously delivered co-living as part of mixed-use schemes in Sheffield. The company has ambitious plans to expand its co-living pipeline over the next few years, pioneering into new markets such as Glasgow and Bath.

Manu Dinamani:

What is the first thing you look for in a site for co-living?

“Co-living gives us a great opportunity to create a physical asset designed with community engagement in mind. Well planned buildings will support the co-incidental interaction that many younger people have reported missing through the pandemic and might continue to miss as working life changes. This is enhanced through well-planned and co-ordinated physical community features; exciting co-working spaces, inviting kitchens and a well-planned professional service offering.

Manu Dinamani, Watkin Jones | BTR News

“Being able to integrate the wider community and local businesses is key to the vibrancy of the offer to the resident. Co-livers typically want to enjoy a locally connected lifestyle beyond the development. Socialising in local restaurants, enjoying green space, and shopping in independent stores are the hallmarks of this way of life.”

Who are you thinking of when looking at a potential co-living site?

“These homes are especially attractive to people graduating now, who are different to even those ten years ago. They are more focussed, professional and connected. The quality available in the purpose-built student accommodation market means many young professionals have experienced fantastic accommodation through their early adult lives and expect to maintain this. Yet, post-graduation, they have found that below par privately management HMO’s are the only available and affordable place to live. What we tend to see is cities that don’t offer this quality of life will lose the best quality talent for local businesses and enterprise.”

What makes a site stand out for co-living?

“Ultimately, great co-living products are built on sites that are sensitive to the needs of the tenant and fit their lifestyle aspirations. They should be in an amenity rich location to support a busy social life, close to key employment centres or transport hubs to fund it, and in highly aspirational locations.

“A lifestyle led, affordable, high quality and sustainable offer within strong micro-locations drives robust tenant demand, converting to successful co-living schemes. Resident lifestyle centred site selection is key. That’s how we create the future of living.”

John Holley:

What makes a co-living site stand out to you?

“A great co-living site is one where we can create convenient, affordable and community-focussed homes. The nascent co-living sector gives developers, investors, and operators a golden opportunity to create homes for the future. It’s a hugely exciting moment and the fast pace fits our team’s ability to innovate without the burden of a prescriptive definition of what constitutes ‘institutional specification’.

“For me, that presents an amazing opportunity to put sustainability, customer experience and flexibility at the very forefront of our minds, from project inception through to operation. The concept of co-living is premised on the same principles as Netflix, Uber and AirBnB, where access to high quality ‘leased’ products is preferred to the typically lower quality ‘owned’ alternatives and the downsides that come with them. This is the way our culture is moving – it’s greener, more connected and more experiential.”

John Holley, Watkin Jones | BTR News

How do you identify what people will want from a scheme to maintain resident demand and occupancy?

“Watkin Jones benefits from insights driven through Fresh [Watkin Jones’ specialist third-party rental home management company], meaning that we are able to actually ask the tenants of the future what they want, rather than guessing.”

What are the most important factors in a co-living scheme?

“It’s important to me that sustainability, wellbeing and inclusive design are considered fundamentals to a co-living scheme, as opposed to afterthoughts. The tenants of the future want to know that their home was built in a way that matches their values, and we want to build them this way! This is something that we as a team and a company are really working to deliver.”