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This S’pore couple built a profitable co-living startup amid Covid-19 by renting out spare rooms


Friends, lovers, and business partners. Some couples inspire each other to scale greater heights in their life goals while growing together, and Ernee Ong and Jelene Sim are probably that couple that checks those boxes.

Before setting up co-living startup Bespoke Habitat, the husband and wife team had spent 10 years building their careers in sales for the telco and IT industry.

They were initially renting out spare rooms in their home and properties to bring in some additional income. Then in 2019, they decided to expand their services to other property owners, leading to the creation of the company.

Image Credit: Bespoke Habitat website screengrab

“We saw a potential in room rental when we started leasing our own properties to prospects. We then rented from existing landlords and leased the rooms out to working professionals. Some owners also wanted us to manage their properties through the co-living model, instead of leasing out the whole unit to a single family,” said Ernee Ong, co-founder of Bespoke Habitat.

“When we started managing other peoples’ properties, more cash flow resulted from the venture,’’ Ernee said. He noted that the pandemic played a key part in more people wanting to lease co-living spaces.

“Most of our tenants are working from home and they wanted a more conducive place to work and stay for themselves. Therefore, this led to a demand for room rentals with us.”

“Because of this phenomenon brought about by the pandemic, our business has grown and has become profitable,” Ernee said.

Three years on, Bespoke Habitat has grown to a team of 10 people, serving over 500 clients monthly.

Image Credit: Bespoke Habitat

The couple, who are now both 40-years-old, have plans to more than double their current client base in the next two years. “For 2022, we want to focus to grow our business by two times. In 2023, we expect to grow our client base to 2000 customers,” Ernee shared.

What is Bespoke Habitat

Bespoke Habitat launched in Sep 2019, with the aim to provide customised rental services for tenants. 

Today, the co-living spaces are found across key areas in Singapore, such as Tiong Bahru, Queenstown, Tanah Merah, and Jurong West. Rates for a room starts at S$1,000 for a common room and up to S$1,650 for a master bedroom.

This S'pore couple built a profitable co-living startup amid Covid-19 by renting out spare roomsImage Credit: Bespoke Habitat website screengrab

“The logo which we are using for our brand indicates the Chinese character 人. This represents the people who are staying here and also them having a roof over their heads. The co-living space is like a “living habitat” for these tenants. We also provide customised services to our tenants. Therefore, by combining the two, we came up with the name Bespoke Habitat.” 

But why run a business in a rather saturated co-living industry that’s dominated by popular players like Hmlet, Cove, and Funan’s Lyf? “For us, we want to provide a space that is affordable to the mass market,” Ernee explained.

“We understand that most of the operators in the market focus on the niche market where the monthly rental is slightly higher than the normal market rate. However, for Bespoke Habitat, our main target markets are working executive and tertiary students who are in university. We also differentiate ourselves by providing added services like daily customer care support, weekly common area and room cleaning services, moving services, and other room requests through the app,” he said.

Three out of five of Bespoke Habitat’s clients are male with the majority aged between 20 and 32. The bulk – 95 per cent – of them are foreigners who are working professionals (Employment Pass holders) and students.

This S'pore couple built a profitable co-living startup amid Covid-19 by renting out spare roomsImage Credit: Bespoke Habitat

“Based on Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) guidelines, the minimum stay is a three-month period. We are well covered in all of Singapore except the Shenton Way area,” Ernee said.

Prospects can arrange a viewing with the startup’s property manager and the staff will show the interested buyer around the unit. 

The rental amount that the tenant pays includes rental, utilities, broadband, weekly cleaning for the room and common area, daily customer care support, and usage of its in-house app.

“The boom in the short-term rental space during the pandemic made co-living a very ideal way to live. Working professionals who have adopted a hybrid work approach will prefer to stay in co-living spaces rather than apartments or hotels to connect with like-minded people. And Bespoke Habitat was launched with this vision in mind – to provide quality and a fully functional space for people to live, work, and play,” said Ernee.

Tech-driven biz

The co-living operator works on an end-to-end solutions model and offers services beyond just the rental of the space. On top of logistics, cleaning, and moving services, there’s also an in-house handyman to attend to accommodation issues. All these are found on its service app.

“Our aim is to use technology to create living spaces that support the lifestyle of the young and single-demographic household from Singaporeans to expatriates, further enabling a high level of comfort and convenience,” said Ernee.

This S'pore couple built a profitable co-living startup amid Covid-19 by renting out spare roomsImage Credit: Bespoke Habitat

The Bespoke Habitat app also allows users to ‘raise a ticket’ to highlight issues that need to be resolved.

In addition, tenants can use the facilities like swimming pool, gym, tennis court in the estate. “We are also rolling out our tenant benefits where we partner with retailers and they will get a discount or access pass whenever they flash their app.”

Funding of S$1M, future growth plans

Last month, the co-living startup raised S$1 million from angel investors. The investment will accelerate the company’s vision to create the future of shared spaces for working professionals and to work on more modern tech-enabled living solutions to enhance users’ staying experience.

Ernee said that there are plans to expand the number of managed properties and to grow the team.

This S'pore couple built a profitable co-living startup amid Covid-19 by renting out spare roomsImage Credit: Bespoke Habitat

Although the pandemic did give a boost to the business’ sales, one problem caused by it is the restrictions in the number of people allowed to visit the units. “This does affect the services that need to be rendered to the clients and slows down and affects the service level.”

As for longer-term plans, the company wants to bring the brand overseas via a licensing model. It also plans to grow into a full-fledged property management firm with integrated facility management services and is working on operating boutique hotels through smart technology.

Featured Image Credit: Bespoke Habitat

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