Just around March when the lockdown had started, the co-living sector went into a tailspin. The large-scale migration of working professionals and students (two big sets of users) across the country - from metros to smaller towns - resulted in large organised players like OYO, Stanza Living and Nestaway revisiting their growth plans.
Much like other shared economy services, the co-living market was also on a high growth trajectory prior to Covid with market size expected to double by 2025 to $13.92 billion from $6.67 billion in December 2019, said a Cushman & Wakefield India report. For almost two-three months post the lockdown, most companies had no clue where they were heading towards. "During that period, occupancies tanked by 50-70 per cent across the board," says a real estate consultant.
Although the occupancies are still down by 15-25 per cent; Covid turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the co-living players. How? The paying guest (PG) accommodation has been happening for donkey's years. The market is divided between unorganised and organised players where the share of branded segment is less than 1 per cent in terms of inventory. For instance, 15 million people require accommodation when they migrate from one place to another. This includes about 8 million students and 7 million working professionals. Organised market is offering just about 100,000-120,000 beds at the moment.
But here's the catch! In the current phase, there are lots of businesses and educational institutions who are showing interest in managed living spaces so that they can ensure that their students and employees are living in the right ecosystem.
"We are bringing a tech-driven, consumer-focussed, and service-driven mindset to what has been an unorganised and fragmented market. All managed living players find themselves significant beneficiaries of a shift in consumer focus towards hygiene, sanitation, safety, quality of living and processes. Covid has accelerated the migration of customers from unbranded to branded segments," says Anindya Dutta, MD & co-founder of Stanza Living (the largest player in terms of beds). Backed by over six times rise in B2B (business-to-business) queries in the recent months, Stanza is in the process of doubling its inventory in over three months, and launching in three more cities on top of 10 existing cities.
"All sides of co-living will rise, primarily because it is the only modern and acceptable alternative to conventional PGs and hostels, which clearly outlived their relevance some time ago," says Anuj Puri, chairman of ANAROCK Property Consultants.
Unlike regular PGs, and rented accommodations, managed living spaces provide a service layer that sits on top of the real estate. In a normal rented accommodation, people would have 15-20 points of interaction with the outside world - plumbers, laundry, food, housekeeping, security, etc. By investing in technology, players like Stanza Living have significantly reduce the touch-points for their consumers, almost making every service delivery contactless.
So even if the colleges and universities are shut for the time being, and a large number of manpower is working from home, there are signs that things would get back to normalcy in a few months. Colleges are already giving out dates of re-opening. For a university or an organisation, the key priority is to restore the confidence of their students and employees, respectively. That can happen if they are able to plug the gaps on the accommodation side of their employees and students.
"A lot of colleges, universities, and businesses are blocking our inventory. We are seeing a surge in demand like we have never seen before," says Dutta.