I first moved to Singapore in November 2020 for Antler - a global early-stage VC enabling and investing in exceptional entrepreneurs. Not knowing where to live and having only a month to make a decision, I googled "co-living rentals in Singapore" and clicked on the first few options that I saw.
Finding a room was easy - the websites had up-to-date availability and clear 3D walkthroughs. I liked a condo in Farrer Park near where I wanted to be. It was easy to book and there was little back and forth. The website provided a brief profile on housemates' age and occupation, and I thought, "What's the worst that can happen?"
I was so, so wrong.
Living with strangers can be already stressful under the best of circumstances. But with COVID circuit breaker restrictions, we were basically spending 95% of our time together, working from home.
Shared Common Spaces
The entire apartment was only 600 sq feet for 3 bedrooms. This meant each room could only contain a bed and a wardrobe. Conflicts arose as a result of everyone converging in the living room and getting in each other's way.
As the third person to join this house, I entered a toxic culture that had already been established. One person took the couch, another took the table. What was left for me was the open-air balcony, which I gladly took. However, conflicts easily flared up when I was challenged on why I was using the balcony space - well, there's nowhere else for me to use. The rest of the guys took it!
Because the kitchen was so small, preparing meals or eating properly became an impossible task due to the lack of counter space and the presence of used utensils in the sink and week-old leftovers growing mold in the fridge.
It was hard to consider it a home when I don't feel like I can utilize the common spaces, and to have to dread housemate interactions. I ended up staying out more often, and eventually moved out to live with a friend that I made in my Antler cohort before becoming nomadic.
Ultimately, co-living in its current state is a fantastic deal for students and fresh graduates. If your standards aren't that high, you're always out, and you don't want to socialize at home, co-living at Cove, Hmlet, Colivoo, and other places is absolutely for you.
For me, I needed something more. I had heard about the Family Without Borders through a personal introduction to some of the members, staying there, and they shared about it with such positivity and fervor I knew I had to try it out the next time I was back in Singapore. So when I decided to make a pit stop in Singapore during my nomadic journey, I made the decision and it couldn't have been better.
When I moved into The Castle, I was greeted by all of the housemates and had an opportunity to bond with them through weekly round table meetings and events throughout the week. House rules were clearly communicated upfront and mutually enforced, and everyone respected each other's time and space.
Best of all, there is an abundance of private and common areas so we never feel like we're invading each others personal space. The presence of a host was a new and wonderful experience to have, because I felt like he maintained a positive culture and stimulated meaningful conversations to help us learn and grow.
There are clear solutions to the problems I experienced that are simply not implementable by the co-living services available today. They all optimize for a "fuss-free" experience, but at the expense of a terrible experience living there and interacting with the other housemates. You're sending a message that you're optimizing for quantity when you aim for fast and easy, but for entrepreneurs and professionals, we value quality.
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and I want to spend my time with the best people in every city. It's a drastic difference between having the opportunity to meet the people you'll be living with and having meaningful conversations to ascertain their character and evaluate the housemate fit - from both sides.
It's simply not an option for current co-living spaces to optimize for housemate fit over room occupancy as they can't justify it to their investors. That's why I think the solution lies within community. Find a co-living space that values the people, not just the place.
I really love the motif that is shared within our Family Without Borders - we are not just housemates, we are family. So any time I need a place to live, I know where I'm going - home.