• Matt Baker

Covid-19: How will shared living change?

What a strange time for shared living!

Until recently, I was living in a one-bedroom flat, as was my pregnant fiancée at the other end of the country. With word of the spreading pandemic, I couldn't imagine living by myself for eight weeks without being able to visit her, or anyone, for that matter.

Thankfully, just before lockdown, we moved in together in to our four-bedroom home on the south coast. However, having been deemed at-risk as a pregnant couple, we found ourselves locked in! We had to learn to live together 24/7, working out the boundaries of our relationship which, until now, had been long distance, with us longing to see each other between visits. Abruptly, we found ourselves having to make it work within our four walls.

Now, imagine that same scenario with a group of six housemates. They may or not have socialised before. They may have differing views of each other based on assumptions, previously passing as ships in the night or exchanging no more than pleasantries for several months. Suddenly, they find themselves locked in together. What does this mean for a shared house?

There are a few scenarios here:

Housemates coming and going, as key workers.

If there are people coming in and out of the house, the other members of the household staying within the confines of the property will likely fear for their safety - especially if they share facilities. The people going in and out may even feel guilty about the situation and do their best to self-isolate, but if their facilities are not their own, it becomes harder. Even the most sanest of people can become paranoid. It's like walking around a supermarket these days. Most people will respect the recommended two meters of personal space, while some just steam on, clueless, indifferent or perhaps rebellious. If you've experienced this, it makes being in the supermarket an uncomfortable, possibly fearful situation. Now imagine feeling this way in your own home. Not pleasant!

It's understandable that all parties, accustomed to being independent, would prefer to self-isolate and create their own bubble to protect themselves as well as the others in their household. That would mean that the more facilities they have available to them in their room, the better. Exclusive access to a private, en-suite bathroom, would be hugely desirable as well as the means to cook the basics, with space for a microwave and perhaps a small fridge. Fundamentally, more space is required.

A group of housemates furloughed

These housemates are getting paid 80% of their wage. Enough to pay the rent and get by given that their normal extra-curricular activities have been curtailed. Unable to work, they must find ways to occupy themselves within the house. They begin by individually binge-watching a box set in their respective rooms, and as they venture out for food, they bump into their housemates more and more. Conversations ensue and bonds form. They have been living with these people for months, but never really got to know them. They realise that they are part of a wider community of people within the safety of their building, so it's time to break down any barriers. Great communal facilities will help these bonds to form. Movie/sports/games/quiz nights become the norm, a trend that will likely continue into the future post-lockdown. Fundamentally, more space is required.

Housemates working from home

Many people have found themselves suddenly having to work from home, where they haven't been furloughed. They need space in which to work. Is working in the same room that you sleep in good for your mental health?

I've done this as a self-employed person living in an HMO and I can tell you it felt much better to set up shop on the kitchen table than in my bedroom. But is there enough space for your tenants to work at home, whether it's outside their rooms, or even inside? Once, just the demand of student properties, desk space will become a pre-requisite of all shared living. Is it possible to create a workable co-working environment in a co-living house? Certainly. Desk space can be created within a shared area against a wall or by providing a large dining table with sockets nearby. Fundamentally, more space is required.

We will see three trends emerge within HMO properties moving into the 2020s:

  1. Increased demand for self-contained facilities - larger rooms and en-suites

  2. The need to work from home - larger rooms with a desk in the room and potentially co-working spaces in the building.

  3. Community - useable shared spaces that encourage housemates to congregate together and socialise, inside and out.

A fundamental change is coming: the rise of co-living and the end of the traditional HMO.

Tenants will demand more.

And those investors, landlords, agents and operators who don’t evolve will be stuck holding the baby.


Matt Baker is the co-founder of Scott Baker Properties and The HMO Platform.

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