Ascott takes on co-living with lyf

By EdgeProp Singapore | September 13, 2019 7:00 AM SGT
Spanning nine storeys, lyf Funan houses 279 apartments with 412 rooms (Credit: The Ascott Limited)
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - The Ascott Ltd is pushing the boundaries for its first co-living venture. Unlike other hospitality properties, residents at lyf Funan will be greeted by the sights and sounds of a laundromat foaming and frothing to the cycle of soiled laundry. “No hotel, no serviced apartment, no co-living space has put a laundromat in front, at the entrance,” says Tan Gan Hup, lyf chief and assistant VP for brand & marketing, digital innovation and lyf at The Ascott Ltd. “But then again – why not?”
Shrugging off the usual hospitality conventions, lyf Funan will fit the laundry area with a beer vending machine. “While you’re washing your clothes, you can actually interact with people,” says Tan. “It’s all about … giving people the opportunity to connect if they want to.”
lyf Funan is located in the newly re-opened Funan mall at Hill Road, occupying over 121,000 sq ft of gross floor area. Ascott has described lyf as Southeast Asia’s “largest co-living property”. Spanning nine storeys (levels 4 to 12 of Funan mall), it houses 279 apartments with 412 rooms, and links guests to City Hall MRT Station via a sheltered underground walkway.
lyf Funan Singapore has a laundromat at the main entrance (Credit: The Ascott Limited)
There are five apartment types, ranging in size from 194 to 1,130 sq ft, and accommodating single, dual or group bookings. On its first weekend on Sept 7 and 8, lyf had already enjoyed a 99% occupancy rate with 115 apartments opened.
Currently, 126 apartments at lyf Funan Singapore are available for booking. By end-October, all 279 apartments at lyf Funan Singapore will be fully opened. There is also a wait-list for popular apartment types such as the “All Together” units and “One of A Kind Plus”.

Targeting corporate and leisure demand

Guests who stay at lyf can settle for a single night’s sleep, unlike other co-living spaces which typically require a stay of at least three consecutive months – in line with the URA’s regulations for short-term rentals. Due to this flexibility, lyf is able to cater to tourists and short- and long-term corporate travellers.
The six-bedroom duplex apartment at lyf Funan Singapore is comfortable enough for even 13 people (Credit: The Ascott Limited)
Mindy Teo, the chief and deputy managing director of lyf, says that although the focus is still very much on the corporate, longer-stay demand, leisure demand helps to complement the take-up rate and “allows [lyf] to yield up, [especially] during times like F1 season”. The Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix will be held from Sept 20 to 22 this year.
In addition, the team has established corporate partnerships with Fortune 500 companies. “They are looking at lyf for long stays and shorter-term corporate travel,” Teo shares.
One of their longer-term residents will be cosying up in lyf till March next year. Stays at the co-living space start from $150 per night, while monthly rates are from $3,060.
The “one of a kind” studio unit at lyf Funan Singapore (Credit: The Ascott Limited)

Changing demands and demographics

The co-living market in Singapore has seen unprecedented activity over the past year, with millions of dollars being pumped into operators, enabling them to go on an expansion spree, highlights a JLL report in April. Current players so far include Singapore-based startup Hmlet; Shanghai-based startup Login Apartment; CP Residences, owned by founder and former banker Wendy Yap; LHN Group, which has branched into the market with its 85SOHO brand of co-living-cum-co-working suites; and most recently, Ascott’s lyf.
The growth of the industry has been aided by the Singapore government’s move to lower the minimum rental period for private homes from six to three months in June 2017, enabling co-living operators to target members who want flexibility in their housing options. In August, Hmlet opened its latest co-living property in Tanjong Pagar, which is at a site that the URA allows for stays of six nights and above.
Rental trends have changed, too. “We have couples waiting for their HDB flats, and young locals who are single, under 35, [and] are between leases,” lyf’s Teo says. Some of them “actually just want to move out to a space where housekeeping is provided”, she adds.
Past the reception, lyf opens up to a large breakout space, designed for a wide range of events, and doubling up as a co-working space (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ EdgeProp Singapore)
Costs to develop lyf have amounted to $193.5 million. In 2017, Ascott, through its serviced residence global fund with Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), acquired the space from CapitaLand Mall Trust for $90.5 million to develop lyf Funan. Subsequently, the fund invested about $103 million to further develop the co-living property.

Regional expansion

Despite having just opened its first operational property at lyf Funan, Ascott is looking to power through with some 1,600 units in the pipeline. Plans are in place to open more lyf properties in Asia – in Bangkok, Fukuoka, Kuala Lumpur, Cebu, and Shanghai – by 2020. In the same year, lyf will open a 240-unit space back in its homeground, at Farrer Park. In 2021, 324 apartments will be offered at lyf one-north.
In the meantime, Ascott is exploring the idea of introducing lyf to gateway cities on a partnership model – via investments, management contracts, or leases – in Australia, France, Germany, Indonesia, the Netherlands, South Korea and the UK.

Changing demands

While the strength of hotels lies in their hospitality and comfort of rooms, the heart of co-living spaces is its communal areas. Past the reception, there is a large breakout space dressed with quirky furniture. The area is designed for a wide range of events, from larger-scaled ones to more intimate workshops, and doubles as a co-working space.
While the strength of hotels lies in their hospitality and comfort of rooms, the heart of co-living spaces is its communal areas (Credit: The Ascott Limited)
To that end, the furniture is modular for ease of use, and power plugs are available every 10 sq m (108 sq ft). Users can use the mobile projector screen or the drop-down option that hangs from the staircase. Other than fixed sound systems, the team also ensures that there are portable ones to cater to the needs of their guests.
The design features were adopted from Ascott’s takeaway from lyf@SMU, a partnership set up in 2017 between the company and Singapore Management University to co-manage a “living lab” that occupies over 32,000 sq ft. It was through running small and large events – such as TED talks and hackathons – that the team learned what worked and what required tweaking.
At lyf, residents can download a dedicated app which allows them to check-ins, get room access, make direct bookings, and even participate in social activities (Credit: The Ascott Limited)
The co-living property at lyf has an attitude going for it. The washroom on the first level is endearingly called the “Royal Flush”. There is also a ball pit at the nook of the staircase, which Tan has admitted to playing in: “Once you go in, you start sinking in, [and] it’s really quite comfortable.”
On lyf’s second level, the gym takes up an open space on with kettlebells and weights lined along a corner, TRX gear for suspension training and a treadmill disguised as a life-sized hamster wheel. Each apartment door boasts different entrance designs, while the doors of the rooms feature old-school games like Snake and Ladders.
Adding on to the fun element, the gym on the second level not only has weights and TRX gear, but also a treadmill disguised as a life-sized hamster wheel (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ EdgeProp Singapore)
Ascott has also used its hospitality experience to its advantage – in lyf, all the beds are decked in white, quality linen, while the bath features a rain shower. “These are the two things that are super important,” says Tan.
At the reception area, one will find service staff, called lyf Guards, who work round-the-clock to ensure that residents have a pleasant stay (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ EdgeProp Singapore)
The service staff at lyf are aptly called lyf Guards, as they work round-the-clock to ensure that residents have a pleasant stay.
On its first co-living space, Tan captures lyf’s ethos aptly: “We say Funan sleeps, but lyf at Funan never sleeps.”
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