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The Landlord's Perspective on Coliving: A Conversation with Ian Bluck

Welcome back to the second and final part of our Coliving Blog Series. In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1: "Unveiling the Co-Living Movement: A Conversation with Louise Wynne." In this series, we delve into the world of coliving, exploring various facets and gaining insights from key figures in the industry.



Portrait of Ian Bluck: Experienced HMO Landlord Sharing Coliving Insights


A Landlord's View


As the coliving movement gains momentum, we turn our attention to the perspective of landlords who play a crucial role in shaping the coliving experience. Today, we are thrilled to introduce Ian Bluck, a distinguished figure in our community, renowned for his remarkable expertise in both financial services and the property sector. With a rich background in navigating diverse roles, Ian brings a wealth of experience to our business. His journey is marked by the adept acquisition, renovation, and successful management of various properties, showcasing his acumen in optimizing returns for investors.


Ian's strategic approach to property selection, coupled with his meticulous project management and insightful market perspectives, has positioned him as a trailblazer in the field. Beyond financial success, Ian is deeply committed to fostering community development and championing sustainable housing solutions. His unwavering dedication aligns seamlessly with our mission to provide safe and welcoming homes, making him an invaluable part of our journey. Today, we have the privilege of tapping into Ian's extensive knowledge as he shares his insights at the dynamic intersection of coliving and property management.



Ian Bluck: The Landlord's Lens


Co-living is more than just a nicely decorated HMO. In my view, co-living properties represent an innovative and community-driven approach to modern housing. These spaces are designed to offer residents not only a place to live but also a vibrant and interconnected living experience. Co-living emphasises shared spaces, amenities, and a sense of community that extends beyond what traditional housing typically provides.


In a world where housing costs can be a significant burden, co-living addresses some of these challenges by offering more affordable options. It caters to a diverse range of individuals, from young professionals seeking convenient and social living arrangements to those looking for a sense of belonging and shared experiences.


In co-living spaces, residents often have their private bedrooms but share common areas such as kitchens, living rooms, and communal spaces, both inside and outside the home. This arrangement encourages social interaction, networking, and the creation of a tight-knit community. Additionally, co-living properties are often designed with modern amenities, making daily life more convenient and enjoyable.


As a property investor and manager deeply committed to community development and sustainable housing, I see co-living as a promising avenue for meeting the evolving needs of today's renters. It aligns with my mission to provide safe and welcoming homes while fostering a sense of belonging among tenants. Through strategic property selection, renovation, and management, co-living can offer an attractive and fulfilling housing solution that benefits both residents and investors.



Creating Harmonious Communities


Coliving spaces thrive on the sense of community they foster. Ian, from your perspective, how do landlords contribute to creating environments where residents feel connected and supported? Share your thoughts in the space provided.


At Co:home, the UK’s first nationwide co-living managing agent, we uphold four values that we instil throughout our colleagues, housemates, and landlords.


Connection:

Our approach at Co:home is to design spaces that naturally encourage interaction and camaraderie. This could mean having well-thought-out common areas that are inviting and comfortable, facilitating social events, or simply ensuring that communal spaces are conducive to casual gatherings. By designing homes that balance private living quarters with engaging communal areas, we encourage a culture of sharing and interaction.


Community:

Organising regular events and activities is key to building a strong community. This can range from communal dinners, and games nights, to group outings. Such activities not only bring people together but also allow residents to explore new interests and form meaningful connections.


Comfort:

As landlords, responsiveness to the needs and feedback of our housemates is crucial. This means being attentive to their concerns, ensuring a safe and well-maintained environment, and fostering an inclusive atmosphere where everyone feels welcome and valued. We instil a culture of mutual respect and support among housemates. This involves setting clear guidelines on communal living while promoting an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable and secure.


Convenience:

We leverage our property technology platform, CoHo, to significantly enhance the living experience. CoHo streamlines the onboarding process, ensures compliance with legislative requirements, and provides a seamless transition for new housemates. It also serves as a centralized communication tool, moving interactions away from fragmented platforms like WhatsApp groups. This technology simplifies maintenance requests and prioritization, ensuring that residents' needs are addressed efficiently and effectively.


Through these initiatives, we aim to create a living experience where residents can enjoy the best of both worlds: the privacy of their own space and the enriching experience of a connected, supportive community. Our role as managing agents and landlords is to facilitate this harmonious balance, continually adapting our strategies to cater to the evolving needs of our housemates.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a living experience where housemates not only coexist but thrive together, finding a unique blend of privacy and community in their everyday lives. As landlords, our role is to be the catalysts for this harmonious living, constantly evolving and adapting our strategies to meet the changing needs of our housemates.



Navigating Challenges


Every venture has its challenges. Ian, could you shed light on the specific challenges landlords face in the coliving space, and how these challenges can be overcome? Your expertise will undoubtedly provide valuable guidance.


Addressing the challenges in the coliving space is pivotal for landlords to ensure the sustainability and success of their ventures. These insights provide my perspective on these challenges and potential solutions:


Tenant Engagement and Longevity:

A primary concern is whether the effort put into creating these community-centric living spaces truly resonates with housemates. Our experience shows that when housemates buy into the coliving concept, they tend to stay longer. The shift from an average tenancy of 9 months to over 20 months is a testament to this. Encouraging movement between properties under the same management across different regions further reinforces the sense of belonging to a broader community. This not only fosters loyalty but also creates a sense of continuity and familiarity for housemates who move.


Balancing Costs and Returns:

Another challenge is convincing landlords to invest in the additional costs required for setting up and maintaining coliving spaces. While some may be hesitant due to the upfront expenditure, the longer tenancy periods associated with coliving can significantly reduce vacancy rates, thereby increasing yields. The key is to view these additional costs as an investment in creating a superior product and service. When landlords focus on providing high-quality living experiences, the financial returns become a natural byproduct. This mindset shift is crucial for landlords to appreciate the long-term benefits of investing in coliving spaces.


Quality of Service and Amenities:

Maintaining high standards in service and amenities is crucial but can be challenging. Landlords need to ensure that the properties are not only well-designed but also well-maintained. This requires regular upkeep and a proactive focus on maintenance issues, which can help avoid bigger outlays in the long term.


Community Management:

Building and managing a community is not straightforward. It involves ongoing efforts to organize events, facilitate interactions, and resolve conflicts. This requires dedicated resources and, sometimes, specialized skills in community management.



Balancing Individual Needs and Collective Living


Coliving is a delicate balance between individual autonomy and communal harmony. Ian, as a landlord, how do you navigate the fine line between respecting individual needs and nurturing a sense of community among residents?


Navigating the delicate balance between individual autonomy and communal harmony in co-living spaces is indeed a nuanced aspect of property management. Our approach at co:home offers insightful strategies for achieving this balance:


Recognising Individual Needs and Preferences:

Understanding that each housemate has unique needs and preferences is key. It's crucial to respect their desire for privacy and personal space. By designing homes that offer private retreats alongside communal areas, we provide housemates with the option to engage or retreat as they please. This flexibility allows residents to feel at home, catering to their need for solitude or social interaction.


Fostering a Sense of Community Without Imposition:

The aim is to create an environment where housemates naturally feel inclined to interact and connect, rather than imposing socialization. Regular, thoughtfully planned events that are perceived as treats rather than obligations contribute to this. By not forcing participation, housemates feel more inclined to join in when they genuinely want to, making these events more enjoyable and authentic.


Creating a Respectful and Adult Environment:

Moving away from strict house rules to more flexible guidelines resonates with the idea of treating housemates as responsible adults. This approach respects their autonomy and ability to make mature decisions about living in a shared space. It allows for a more organic development of community norms and behaviors, guided by mutual respect and consideration.


Responsive and Adaptive Management: 

Being responsive to the evolving dynamics of the household is crucial. This includes being attentive to feedback, mediating conflicts when necessary, and continuously adapting the living environment to meet the changing needs of the housemates.


In essence, our approach at co:home is about striking the right balance between creating a sense of community and respecting individual autonomy. By offering a living experience that values both privacy and connection and treating housemates as responsible adults, you are redefining the rental market and setting a new standard for co-living spaces.



Designing Spaces for Coliving


The physical environment plays a crucial role in the success of coliving spaces. Ian, could you share your insights into the design considerations that landlords should prioritize to create attractive and functional coliving spaces?


The physical environment indeed plays a vital role in the success of coliving spaces. We highlight several important design considerations that landlords should prioritize to create both attractive and functional coliving spaces:


Versatile Communal Areas: 

Incorporating diverse communal spaces, both indoors and outdoors, is essential. Outdoor areas, such as gardens, offer excellent opportunities for social interaction, especially during warmer months, through activities like BBQs. Providing comfortable seating areas in these spaces encourages residents to spend time together, fostering a sense of community.


Multipurpose Indoor Spaces: 

Internally, it's important to have versatile living spaces that can cater to various activities. Spacious and well-equipped kitchen and dining areas encourage communal cooking and dining or takeaway evenings, strengthening bonds among housemates. Additional amenities like cinema/TV rooms can provide a unique shared experience, further enhancing the sense of community.


Adequate Storage Space:

Recognizing that many residents will have their entire world in their room, ample storage space becomes a necessity. This allows housemates to keep their personal belongings organized and maintain a clutter-free living environment.


Personalization of Private Spaces:

Allowing residents the freedom to personalize their private spaces with pictures, shelving, and other homely touches is important. It helps them feel more at home and comfortable in their personal space.


Provision of Desks in Private Rooms: 

Including desks in private rooms offers residents the flexibility to work, eat, or engage in hobbies without being confined to their bed. This feature is particularly crucial in the current era where work-from-home arrangements are prevalent.


Dedicated Work-from-Home Spaces: 

In addition to desks in private rooms, creating dedicated work-from-home spaces within the communal areas can be beneficial. These spaces can provide a change of scenery for those working from home, helping to mitigate feelings of isolation and promoting a better work-life balance.


Design Aesthetics and Comfort:

The overall aesthetic and comfort of the space should not be overlooked. This includes quality furnishings, pleasing interior design, and appropriate lighting, all of which contribute to a welcoming and comfortable living environment.


In summary, when designing coliving spaces, it's crucial to consider both the communal and private needs of housemates. By creating spaces that are functional, comfortable, and conducive to both individual and collective activities, landlords can significantly enhance the coliving experience and foster a thriving community.



Landlord Strategies for Premium Rents


Fostering a positive living experience is pivotal for the success of co-living arrangements. Ian, could you elaborate on how landlords actively contribute to creating a favourable atmosphere, ultimately leading to higher rents in co-living properties? Additionally, could you provide examples of comparables of rental a similar property could achieve if it's not enhanced to the co-living standard?


Our experience in the HMO and co-living sector provides valuable insights into how landlords can foster a positive living experience, ultimately leading to higher rental yields. Here's an elaboration on our approach:


Creating a Co-living Culture:

The significant increase in rent, over 40% since 2020, despite not changing the physical design of the properties, underscores the value of the co-living culture itself. This suggests that tenants are willing to pay more for an enhanced living experience that goes beyond the physical attributes of the property.


Enhancing Housemate Experience:

Initiatives like welcome gifts, pizza nights, games nights, and personal touches such as birthday or anniversary cards contribute significantly to a positive housemate atmosphere. These gestures create a sense of belonging and community among residents, making the living experience more enjoyable and valued.


Added Value Through Community:

The added value in co-living arrangements comes from the community aspect and additional services provided. Housemates are often willing to pay a premium for a living environment that offers social interactions, community events, and a sense of belonging, which traditional rentals typically lack.


Positive Atmosphere Leading to Housemates Retention: 

A positive living experience not only justifies higher rents but also contributes to higher housemate retention rates. Satisfied housemates are more likely to stay longer, reducing turnover and vacancy rates, which are additional costs for landlords.


In summary, landlords contribute to creating a favourable atmosphere in co-living properties through cultural enhancements, community-building activities, and personal touches. These efforts can significantly increase the value perceived by housemates, justifying higher rents compared to standard rental properties. The key is not just in the physical space but in the intangible aspects of community and experience that co-living uniquely provides.



The Future of Coliving from a Landlord's Perspective


Coliving is undergoing dynamic transformations, presenting landlords with new challenges and opportunities. Ian, considering your unique perspective, what emerging trends do you anticipate in the future of coliving, and how can landlords proactively adapt to these changes to offer an enriched living experience for residents?


On a related note, have you considered participating in the upcoming Co-living Awards in Amsterdam? It could be an excellent platform to gain insights, network, and showcase your innovative approaches to coliving. Will we be seeing you at the awards in the upcoming years?


"Given my current commitments, which include managing a full-time job, running a thriving property business, raising four young children, and indulging in my passion for golf, I won't be able to attend the Co-living Awards in Amsterdam. My schedule is quite packed, and I need to prioritize my time carefully. However, I am always eager to learn from the industry's best practices and innovations. I make it a point to stay updated on who is participating and winning at these awards, as I find great inspiration in their achievements and ideas. It's a way for me to stay connected and informed, even if I can't be there in person.


That said, I am planning to attend the HMO Awards 2024 in the UK. Attending the HMO Awards will be an excellent opportunity for me to network with industry peers, gain insights, and perhaps even showcase the innovative approaches we've implemented in our co-living properties."



Conclusion


As we wrap up this chapter of our Coliving Blog Series, a heartfelt thank you goes out to Ian Bluck for graciously sharing his insights into the world of landlords in the coliving space. We appreciate his valuable contributions and the unique perspective he brought to our series.

We express our gratitude to Louise Wynne, the featured expert in our first blog post in the series, Louise's wisdom set the tone for our exploration into the diverse facets of the coliving movement.


But before you go, check out these social media snippets related to our coliving journey:


Thank you for reading our Coliving Blog Series. Your support keeps the conversation alive, and we can't wait to share more with you in the future. Until then, happy coliving.










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