Co-living or microliving: is this the future?

With urban space becoming harder to come by, could new ways of living - such as co-living and microliving - help to end the drought of good-quality, affordable housing?


Buying a property in the UK is becoming ever more difficult. It’s nigh-on impossible to buy a property in some cities - especially London - with people either living further and further away from their places of work, or being priced out of the market entirely.

With the cost of urban living at a premium, new models of living are emerging to enable more access to city centre properties. In particular, microliving and co-living are becoming increasingly popular - styles of living where less is indeed more.

What’s the difference between microliving and co-living?

The two are related, and there’s a good deal of crossover. Essentially, microliving is the desire to live in small yet functional spaces. Co-living is having one’s own space, but sharing certain facilities such as living spaces, laundry rooms and garden areas. So not a million miles from how many halls of residence are set up. But the emphasis is on a high quality of accommodation, and the residents span generations.

Many current projects encompass both. Residents live - through choice - in compact, often modular apartments; but then communal spaces mean that no one feels boxed in. Despite being a highly social way of living, with strong senses of community developing, residents can still live independently and can easily enjoy their own time alone.

Deborah Smyth, country partner of Tempohousing (UK & Ireland), says: “These projects do tend to be very social, which can be really useful in combating loneliness. But residents have their own front doors, meaning they can keep themselves to themselves if they want to.”

Tempohousing builds high-quality yet compact living spaces. The apartments have their own bathroom, kitchen, and truly are properties in their own right.

The apartments need not compromise on storage space either. While displaying at the Bristol Housing Festival in 2018, the Tempohousing showroom was nicknamed “The TARDIS” on account of its use of space and surprising capacity for storage.

“A lot of young professionals crave something a bit nicer. It doesn’t mean the properties have to be big - but they do need a good finish.

“It’s all about choice, and this type of living really allows for that.”

Building innovation

Modular accommodation is effectively buildings that are constructed off-site, usually in a factory setting. One of the challenges that modular housing faces is the question of whether the buildings are viewed to be of adequate quality.

Deborah Smyth says: “We’re trying to change people’s perceptions that modular housing is maybe inferior - perhaps not a proper house.

“Because the apartments are pre-fabricated, there’s sometimes an association with the prefab homes that were built immediately after the second world war. But of course, manufacturing has improved a great deal since then, components are of better quality… It’s a much slicker operation now.

“And many of these projects are almost zero carbon.”

Modular housing is another area which has seen a great deal of development and innovation in recent years. Accommodation can be essentially stackable, and doesn’t necessarily require traditional foundations to be laid.

Recycled shipping containers, and modular units for instance, can often just be stacked on top of one another.

Another advantage of this style of housing is that urban areas can be reclaimed for accommodation purposes, but without any loss of functionality. Units can be built on top of car parks, for instance, without losing any spaces.

Perhaps this is how we’ll all be living in the future?

How small is too small?

It turns out that anything below 37m2 is too small. That’s the minimum standard space for a new home in the UK. However, the units may be smaller if there’s an element of communal space provided, such as common rooms.

Such planning regulations are intended to clamp down on unscrupulous landlords cramming tenants into unliveable spaces.

But what of the people who want to live in smaller spaces by choice?

Deborah Smyth says: “When we visited the residents of our units in Utrecht, they told us that they loved living there, and really felt part of a community.

“For them, having all the main amenities in their own home was really important - such as a private kitchen and bathroom. But also having the option to mix with the other occupants was crucial, particularly for those who lived alone.”

So the results from inaugural projects suggest that, for many residents, small truly is beautiful.

What about home insurance for modular housing?

As the new modular housing trend is still in its infancy, home insurance isn’t available across the board. Yet.

But this could be set to change. Financial institutions are already looking at the viability of such homes afresh. At the time of writing, Barclays offers mortgages for modular housing, and other banks are looking at the mortgageability of the product.

And some insurance providers do offer certain levels of cover for modular homes. As for Admiral? Well, at the moment, we do cover non-standard construction, so long as it meets certain requirements. There are a few considerations:

  • We can only offer cover as long as each unit has an individual address with its own main entrance, and pay council tax individually
  • The units need to be permanently fixed and adhere to planning standards
  • As the units have many shared elements - such as walls, stairways and solar panels - they’re likely to be treated like flats. In which case, we’d only insure the policyholder’s proportion of any shared part of the buildings (if buildings cover is required)
  • If a housing association owns a proportion of the pod, it’s likely they'll be responsible for buildings insurance, and the tenant look after contents insurance
  • Finally, if units are shared by non-family members - for example colleagues or friends - we’d still be able to consider cover subject to additional terms and conditions.

In short, yes - so long as the right boxes are checked. But will this type of accommodation become more readily available, and insurance become more standardised? Watch this microspace.

Microliving is helping to overcome the living space issue in the UK, an issue which is compounded by the amount of houses sitting empty around the country