It seems like there’s nothing real estate developers haven’t figured out a way to glossy-up.
The new generation of group houses popping up around D.C. and the DMV, called “co-living” apartments, are like the Everlane of the housing world—a comfortable, tasteful basic that’s inoffensive enough to appeal to a broad range of palates and sensibilities.
One such company, OSLO, has leaned all the way in to the Zeitgeist: “You might hit the snooze button a few too many times,” an orange-and-grey card on its website flashes, before showing, inexplicably, a glossy photograph of a white woman’s legs sticking out of her leopard-print coat.
Other missives include “you might not be using your liberal arts degree;” “you might cuff your jeans too many times;” and “you might not be saving 10 percent of your paycheck.” It’s a nod to the fact that young adults tend to have negative savings, and then a wink and a shrug: Life’s hard, it seems to say, so why not pay a premium to live with like-minded people?
OSLO is one of several companies cashing in on the fascination some young adults have with living alongside a pack of lovable screw-ups à la New Girl, reinforcing the stereotype that millennials are pretty and misguided, cashless and pathless.
Better than merely boasting the social comforts of a college dormitory, co-living spaces typically advertise luxury furnishings with elegant architecture, in popular neighborhoods with a multitude of nightlife options. It’s group living with style, or as a cynic might say, an attempt to obscure the reality that many single adults can no longer comfortably afford to live alone.
City Paper toured two of these “co-living” buildings, one operated by OLSO and the other by Common, to gauge how the application process compared to more traditional rentals listed on Zillow or Craigslist.
OSLO has three properties in D.C., which were developed by heavyweight Ditto Residential, and occupy some of the city’s most popular neighborhoods—Adams Morgan, Shaw, and the H Street Corridor. The exteriors are sleek, all steel and elegantly stained wood.
“The website right now is pretty bold. That’s kind of us,” says Callie Bruemmer, marketing director for Ditto Residential. She adds that the company is “in the process of rebranding and rethinking what OSLO is and who it’s for.” Bruemmer says that while the company is “for anybody who wants to live in a community of people,” it is pivoting “to more of a wellness and community-focused brand.”
When City Paper visited the H Street NE-adjacent property at 1219 Florida Ave. NE in September, one apartment was totally empty. The third-floor walk-up, clocking in at 1,800 square feet, was spacious, though the bulk of that was dedicated to the shared living area and kitchen. One bedroom in the five-bedroom, five-bathroom apartment costs up to $1,347 per month, a fee that does not include any utilities, WiFi, cable, or house cleanings.
To apply, prospective tenants fill out a brief questionnaire online that asks about their preferred level of cleanliness and extroversion, standard post-work activity (Drinks with friends? Volunteering?), and typical mode of transportation.
On the tour, the guide explained that OSLO tries to match individuals based on their personalities, and that roommates get a chance to meet before they sign the 12-month lease. Based on your desired move-in date and neighborhood, you’ll get a text from the company asking to arrange a viewing.
The appeal of co-living spaces for many is the promise that quarters will come fully furnished, making life marginally easier for busy professionals. But unlike Common and other companies, OSLO doesn’t furnish tenants’ bedrooms, only providing bar stools, a rug, television, and a sofa for the common area. If residents decide they’d like the furniture to remain in the unit, they have to pay a monthly $25 fee. (Bruemmer says that about half of the residents at OSLOatlas, as that location is called, opted into the furniture rental.)
And the only “common area” for the whole building is a narrow brick patio on the ground floor of the building, which directly abuts the first unit, and is covered on top by a metal staircase. It’s not enough space to, say, let a medium-sized dog roam around, though the building is pet-friendly.
Other units in the building that aren’t on the top floor are less expensive by about $100. But OSLO in Adams Morgan, with fewer rooms per apartment, costs more at a hair over $1,600 per bedroom.
All told, OSLO is more like an apartment building where your landlord just happens to pick your roommates for you.
Across town, on Richardson Place NW, Common operates an apartment building that has vexed neighbors since the beginning of its development in 2016. A septuagenarian neighbor complained at the time that Common is “basically a glorified rooming house” and “too big for the immediate context.”
The fully furnished two-story, six-person apartments will run each tenant between $1,425 and $1,700 per month, a fee that includes weekly cleanings (yes, the housekeeper will wash your dishes), all utilities and furniture, and basic supplies like salt, pepper, olive oil, and garbage bags.
In addition to another location in Chinatown, Common also operates buildings in Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City. On its website, Common boasts a savings of $500 on average in D.C. for its memberships compared to a traditional studio rental.
A closer look at the company’s savings breakdown shows that this ad is predicated on the assumption that someone living in a D.C. studio apartment will pay $1,795 for the apartment, plus $240 a month for a housekeeper and $110 for utilities, among other costs (none of which are even close to true for this reporter, even during the summer’s sweatiest months when the air conditioning is on full-blast). The same is true for its calculation of what it costs to share a Craigslist apartment with friends, which it estimates will run a tenant $1,610 per month in D.C.
A spokesperson for Common told City Paper that the company calculates competitors’ pricing by looking at average rents in the surrounding neighborhood, as advertised on Craigslist and other apartment listing services, and that it compares amenities like housekeeping because that’s what is included in its “membership.” Its housekeeping staff are all full-time employees, the spokesperson said.
To be sure, the company furnishes its apartments down to a T, providing even kitchen appliances and dishware. Like OSLO’s apartments, Common units have modern, open concept floor plans with low-profile sofas. Both love the ubiquitous fiddle-leaf fig trees.
Common Richardson, as it’s called, doesn’t offer indoor communal lounge areas where residents of different units can intermingle, like a rec room or business center. But it does furnish each floor of every apartment with a plush sectional and flatscreen with Roku hookup, as well as offer a large outdoor deck with grills for residents to use, though the building isn’t pet friendly, aside from service animals.
Unlike OSLO, Common doesn’t facilitate roommate meet-ups before they move in, or ask prospective tenants to fill out a questionnaire before visiting the property. But as City Paper’s guide pointed out, co-living spaces are “self-selecting”––it’s unlikely an introvert with little desire to live alongside a pack of five roommates will apply to do just that.
“Living at Common means you’re always invited and never obligated,” the company’s website advertises. For millennials, a camera-worthy pad and crew of suitemates is a mere $350 move-in fee away.