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

Bespoke Habitat

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 about 10 years building their sales careers in 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 on growing our business to two times the customers we currently have. In 2023, we expect our client base to grow to 2,000 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 startup’s co-living spaces are found across key areas in Singapore, such as Tiong Bahru, Queenstown, Tanah Merah, and Jurong West. Rates start at S$1,000 for a common room and up to S$1,650 for a master bedroom.

Image 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 audience are working executives 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.

Image 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 fee that the tenant pays includes rental, utilities, broadband, daily customer care support, weekly cleaning for the room and common area, and the 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 runs on an end-to-end solutions model – 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, providing them comfort and convenience,” said Ernee.

Image 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 in the estate, like swimming pool, gym, and tennis court. “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 announced that it raised S$1 million from angel investors. The investment will accelerate the company’s vision to build the future of shared spaces for working professionals and to create more modern tech-enabled living solutions to enhance users’ staying experience.

Ernee added that there are plans to expand the number of properties they manage and to grow the team.

Image Credit: Bespoke Habitat

Although the pandemic did give a boost to the business’ sales, one problem caused by it is the restrictions in the visitors allowed per unit. “This affects the services that need to be rendered to the clients and slows down processes,” said Ernee.

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


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Featured Image Credit: Bespoke Habitat

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