Where digital nomads shower and sleep

So, like the bicycle, invented long after its time, why has it taken so long for co-living to arrive in Israel? Znaty says, “I don’t know. This is the land that created the kibbutz.”

(ABOVE AND top right) Furnished single rooms at Roomizzz. (photo credit: JO PEREZ)
(ABOVE AND top right) Furnished single rooms at Roomizzz.
(photo credit: JO PEREZ)
Have you ever wondered why it took so long to invent the bicycle?
Everything needed to create a functional, if somewhat uncomfortable, bicycle had been available since the beginning of the Iron Age. People could have been riding bicycles up and down the roads of ancient Rome. Bicycle traffic could have crowded the squares and main streets of medieval European cities. Messengers on bicycles could have been deployed in wars, or to warn people of spreading disasters like London’s Great Plague of 1665 and Great Fire of 1666.
But bicycles did not appear until the early 19th century, more than a thousand years after they perhaps should have been invented. Why?
Because apparently no one thought of making them.
Similarly, an emerging new phenomenon is appearing around the world, almost exclusively in cities, and primarily involving millennials. For lack of a snappier term, it’s called “co-living,” and it is more or less the residential version of “co-working” arrangements like those provided by WeWork, a company that provides offices and workspaces, services and shared kitchens, to tech start-ups, entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Co-living companies typically provide young, single employees of these start-ups with single-room occupancy in a furnished room, often with a bathroom, in a larger space containing a shared living room and kitchen. Some co-living arrangements also provide amenities like laundry services, shared activities, discounts for local theaters, restaurants and other recreational activities. The length of time spent living in such a facility can vary from a few days to a few years, but it is usually around four to six months.
While one might imagine this idea appealing to various age groups – aging baby boomers, for example – co-living has thus far involved mostly millennials in their 20s. Many, if not most, of these young people are “digital nomads,” traveling while working for companies, clients and employers through their laptop computers and smartphones.
Unlike the hippie communes of the 1960s, which were typically established in rural locales, the digital nomad scene is a distinctly urban phenomenon. Co-living is thus becoming increasingly popular in cities like New York, San Francisco and London, where apartments are expensive and scarce.
Co-living is especially suited to a city that often seems to be inhabited mostly by young, millennial digital nomads – Tel Aviv, where finding apartments can be an ordeal and paying the rent and utilities for even small apartments in run-down old buildings can be next to impossible. In such an atmosphere, one would have expected co-living to have appeared there more than 20 years ago. But apparently no one thought of doing it until recently.
SHIMON ZNATY, 26, is the “digital manager” of a small but growing four-year-old start-up called Roomizzz, which claims to be, and indeed might actually be, the first co-living company in Israel. Znaty made aliyah from France and was recruited by Roomizzz fresh from the army.
His description of co-living is instructive: “The most common business plan is to make a residential version of WeWork. Then, depending upon where you do this and your client base, there are a lot of different forms. For instance, in South America, the co-living is a lot like hostels. Because they saw that the typical clients are people traveling for a very short time. They’re looking for a nice place to gather, and take their computers. In South America, the nomads have a tendency to not stay long. In New York, the nomads will stay a bit longer because with co-living they have a chance to meet people, people like themselves.”
Asked whether the people attracted to co-living are more or less always young, Znaty unequivocally answers yes. “The main target are the digital nomads, people working on their computers, not living in the same place as their company is located, traveling all the time. Hi-tech people. After all, co-living was born in San Francisco in the 1990s. That’s where a lot of Silicon Valley software developers were, say, living in a house, working in their own rooms, sharing a kitchen.” That, says Znaty, was the model from which co-living developed.
Znaty agrees that co-living is the “perfect storm” result of a combination of millennial lifestyles, the expanding hi-tech work world that enables people to live anywhere they want, and the often prohibitively high cost of housing in places where ambitious young millennials want to live. “You can now even sign a contract with your smartphone. You don’t even need to go to an office to do that.”
As for affordability, Znaty mentions Paris, where some people are moving out to smaller towns because they are cheaper. But not co-living’s target market. “These people are saying no, I don’t want to move to places that are cheaper. I want the best, but I want to pay less. And that’s what co-living offers.”
Co-living also offers the free-ranging digital nomad a sense of community and connectivity, temporary as that may be. People want to connect, even though they are nomadic, and that is not necessarily a contradiction. These wandering young professionals want to do the work they do, and have an instant community when they close their laptops.
NOW FOUR years old, Roomizzz has been renting three- and four-bedroom apartments, all in Tel Aviv, and converting them into co-living spaces. They are presently renting 15 apartments, with a total of 50 individual living spaces. Monthly rental prices range from NIS 2,400 to NIS 3,000 per unit. They boast 100% occupancy, with a lengthy waiting list. In September, the company will offer accommodations in an entire building in the Florentin neighborhood, with 22 co-living apartments.
Znaty says, “We work with landlords, who say something like, ‘We want NIS 40,000 every month. I don’t care what you do with the flat, as long as it’s well taken care of and I get the money.’ So we provide them with the security of getting the money every month, and we take care of the maintenance and everything. So we don’t own anything, but in the end we have a five-year contract with the landlord. So that gives us the opportunity to do the projects that we want, without actually being the landlords.”
One of the landlords that Roomizzz deals with is Yaron Serbi, who made aliyah from Los Angeles 12 years ago and now owns and manages his own company, Serbi Realty Group. He currently rents five apartments to Roomizzz.
When asked why, he explains that it is primarily a matter of convenience. “I have a few apartments, and this saves me from dealing with all the tenants. Instead, I deal with one company and they take their profit. So, I’d rather profit a little less and get the quiet of not having to deal with so many tenants.”
This is the third year of this arrangement, and he says: “So far, so good.”
Serbi thinks the relationship with the co-living company has been good for the tenants as well. “I think this is the future. Like people are doing all these WeWork offices, I think it’s going to be ‘the thing.’ Living is expensive in Tel Aviv. It makes sense for tenants to do this, to meet people.”
Znaty says that most Roomizzz clients stay for at least four months. “We have one guy who stayed for four years. He is now getting married to another of our clients, who stayed in the room across from him. It’s a nice story.”
With a waiting list and a large pool of potential clients, Roomizzz now markets mostly to landlords. They’re now looking for buildings as well as flat shares, all in Tel Aviv and in neighborhoods expected to be gentrified and trendy.
Znaty explains, “We went to the Levinsky neighborhood, and a landlord we talked to said, ‘It’s very interesting what you are doing, but are you sure you want to do that here? You’re going to bring young people to live in a place like this?’ So we told him yes. And we also met with neighborhood people, people in the streets. And they were very nice people, willing to make something better out of the neighborhood, a nicer atmosphere. We’re working on that.”
So, like the bicycle, invented long after its time, why has it taken so long for co-living to arrive in Israel? Znaty says, “I don’t know. This is the land that created the kibbutz.”