Entering and exploring new markets with GROWE NL

Interview Yianni Tsitouras of POHA HOUSE

Amsterdam – 10 december 2023

Yianni Tsitouras

“While technology has interconnected us, it has also, paradoxically, led to isolation and disconnected us.”

POHA House, active in Germany. Could you briefly introduce POHA House and its concept?

POHA House revolutionises living, bridging real-world connections for a unique life experience.

We create ‘Cospaces’ for professionals to live, work and stay. We offer a diverse mix of sustainable furnished and serviced apartments, creative, flexible workspaces, and apartments where you can stay for a shorter period. And that is all under one roof.

It is a home like no other in terms of comfort and flexibility; it is a home as well as a community, and it connects us in a new and better way. The pandemic underscored the importance of human connection, exposing housing limitations. We offer spaces where you can connect or disconnect.

We focus on sustainability and wellness, which go hand in hand. We have weekly events and community managers onsite, creating buildings where no one has to be alone.

We have four successful homes in Aachen and Münster, with over 550 residents. We’re expanding with three new developments across Germany, accommodating 670 residents.

We are looking to expand across Germany but are also focused on extending beyond Germany, targeting key markets in the Netherlands and the UK.

How would you describe POHA House, including its concept, portfolio, vision, and plans for expansion?

POHA House is a new way to experience a home. We are driven by the belief that a home should be the base for pursuing happiness.

Our mission is to craft vibrant communities that bring about positive transformations. Our Cospaces enables individuals to live, work, and stay all within a single building. We’ve observed a growing demand for this shift among a new generation, prompting us to develop this unique concept.

Could you elaborate on POHA House’s expansion in Germany? What specific strategies did you employ to enter this market successfully?

Initially, our target was primarily the larger cities in Germany. However, our approach underwent a significant shift when we became aware of the demand for our product in smaller cities. The truth is that in smaller cities, people crave an urban, vibrant experience; they want well-designed spaces with the comfort of a home where they can have the opportunity to connect. Pressing housing supply constraints in smaller or secondary cities has increased the need for better-designed spaces. Recognizing this opportunity, we changed our strategy to address this underserved segment of the market.

Central to our success was forming a strategic alliance with a great development partner. This collaboration was essential as they understood and shared our vision for redefining living spaces. Their alignment with our objectives allowed us to focus our efforts on pursuing targeted projects aligned with our vision.

This shift in strategy enabled us to channel our resources effectively, creating a tangible impact in regions grappling with housing shortages. By identifying and partnering with a development partner that aligned with our belief, we could push forward with projects that fulfilled a societal need and aligned with our vision for progressive and transformative living spaces in Germany.

How do you ensure that the community attracts individuals seeking more than just accommodation, but those genuinely seeking a community experience?

Housing scarcity is undeniably a reality, but it’s not solely about the shortage of physical spaces; Our concept is about creating real human connection. Technology has connected us, but it has also, paradoxically, led to isolation and disconnected us in many ways.

This situation of loneliness and detachment presents us with an opportunity: not merely to reside in a place where neighbours are strangers, but to forge meaningful connections and cultivate a richer communal living experience. This is where a concept such as POHA HOUSE adds value.

Coliving studios can be perceived as expensive. Why do you think this is?

This is a misconception. Coliving offers more than just accommodation where you sleep; residents can access various spaces, private dining areas, lounge spaces, rooftop terraces, meditation rooms, fitness areas, maker spaces, and so much more. We always ensure our community spaces have the best views and facilities so everyone can enjoy them. You don’t just get an apartment; you get a whole building. It is a simple model where the more we share, the more we can afford.

On top of all your bills are included. We have smart technology throughout the house, making the experience extremely convenient, and we offer weekly, biweekly and monthly events. And that is all included. We will never be the cheapest living solution on the market because every accommodation has different standards. However, we have done the maths for all our locations and living in a POHA House can save you money when you compare it with a similar standard of accommodation once you add on the furniture you need to buy, as well as the services and all the utilities included.

To make sure we are accessible, we try to offer different price points where you have the opportunity to grow with your changing accommodation needs and budgets. Your journey could start in a shared flat, but as your desires evolve, you might find yourself in a studio or even a fully furnished flat—all within the same community. Imagine fulfilling your aspirations without having to change your location.

What quantity of units is crucial to render the POHA House concept financially accessible for residents?

We’ve determined that reaching a volume of around 150 residents is needed to make our concept financially viable, enabling us to optimise operational costs and subsequently allowing us to offer a more affordable living experience without compromising on the quality or range of services provided. This scale ensures cost-efficiency in delivering the amenities that the concept promises to the residents and allows us to balance affordability and excellence in our offerings.

In some locations, we have clustered buildings together to make the efficiencies work, and in A cities, there are cases where a slightly smaller number of residents can work.

Which segments or target markets within the Netherlands do you identify as offering significant investment opportunities for POHA House? How do you plan to contribute value to these markets?

In the Netherlands, we perceive significant investment opportunities in addressing the pressing housing shortage. We are strategically looking to settle not only the larger cities, but also smaller cities around them. Of course, access to public transportation is essential here.

Coliving stands out as a good solution, especially given the scarcity of adequate housing, which is notably apparent in the country. While the concept of coliving is more prevalent in larger cities, there’s a tremendous untapped potential in the surrounding smaller cities. Coliving is a great solution as compact housing with shared amenity spaces will accommodate more people in a better way, rather than traditional housing. The sharing of space, utilities and a reduced carbon footprint is also sustainable. The reality is that many people are forced to live in shared accommodation that was not designed to be shared. A POHA House can free up these spaces for the wider housing market.

Our focus lies in housing young professionals, a target market that stands to benefit from the improved quality of living offered by coliving spaces. We have been surprised by the demand for our spaces from an older demographic. In Münster, we have many residents who are over 40 years old. It is clear that the accommodation is not limited to an age group but is for people who want real life connection, an innovative living solution that prioritises community, convenience, and comfort. POHA House creates vibrant coliving spaces that offer not just accommodation but an enhanced lifestyle experience for our residents.

Real estate markets can be dynamic and subject to various trends. Could you share some insights into the current trends you see within the coliving sector as a whole, in The Netherlands and how you adapt your strategies to align with these trends?

Major cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague are making strides in embracing coliving concepts. However, executing these ideas is relatively new. For example, sustainability initiatives that go beyond solar panels and suitable energy labels. At POHA House, sustainability is threaded through the complete life cycle of our product, from the design of our spaces to every facet of operation, from the use of furniture to the selection of vendors and communication with residents. Residents’ engagement is essential, and we have learning sessions, such as TED talks.

In Hamburg, we have partnered with a Cradle to Cradle developer, delivering the first cospaces cradle to cradle building in Europe. We’ve introduced innovative measures across design, operations, and leasing through initiatives like “green leases.” At POHA House, for every resident, we actively remove one kilogram of ocean-bound plastic from rivers and the seas each month, representing a unique innovation in our sustainability efforts.

Our sustainability isn’t just limited to the design and construction phases of our buildings; it’s deeply embedded in our operational strategies. We strive to make a tangible difference in our environmental impact, ensuring our buildings operate in a highly sustainable manner. There are numerous avenues through which we accomplish this, aiming to make our approach not just sustainable but truly transformative in the way we operate.

We are conscious of making sustainability viable, which means working proactively with developers to achieve the best possible solutions. This holistic approach ensures that our commitment to sustainability is comprehensive and enriching for everyone involved.

The housing market of the Netherlands is very regulated. What is your view on the Dutch point system and how does this impact the quality and feasibility of coliving concepts?

The Dutch housing market operates within a highly regulated framework, notably through the point system. In terms of coliving concepts, this system seems more attuned to traditional housing setups

rather than studios and apartments with shared spaces. It can be challenging to close a business case. Transforming existing spaces to fit within this framework presents more challenges compared to newly constructed properties.

However, the landscape is evolving. With the upcoming presence of coliving concepts in the Netherlands, there’s a learning curve in adapting to the existing regulatory system. I am optimistic that as the coliving sector continues to grow, we’ll progressively refine our approaches to align better with the current point system. Moreover, there’s hope for reciprocal adaptation, where the system evolves to accommodate and support the

unique dynamics and value propositions offered by coliving concepts. Currently, there are already numerous examples of successful coliving properties in the Netherlands. With the right preparations and local knowledge, it is perfectly possible to further expand the coliving industry in The Netherlands.

What is the reason that you are not yet based in the Netherlands? What obstacles and challenges have you been facing?

Upon entering a new market, the essential requirement is securing good local development partnerships. We’ve encountered challenges in identifying a suitable development partner to progress with our initiatives. We have taken a steady approach, engaging the right consultancy partners who have assisted us as we navigate through the regulatory landscapes and the unique dynamics of the Netherlands’ real estate market.

We are extremely excited to enter the dutch market, a market which strongly reflects our core values.

Any new insights you would like to bring to the Netherlands?

Notably, a growing trend revolves around an increasing desire for community among individuals. As mentioned earlier, while technology has connected us, it has also led to disconnection in many ways. This has fueled a rising interest in seeking meaningful connections and community. Our primary focus is to create a home that materially improves your life. It is a convenient, elevated living experience that can connect you to your neighbour and your neighbourhood as soon as you move in. Part of this revolves around the community we create, our onsite community managers, and the experience we deliver.

This means creating homes that focus on sustainability and people’s well-being. Creating spaces where our residents can feel good socially, mentally and physically, given the shared resources that inherently reduce each individual’s carbon footprint. However, our commitment goes beyond this.

Being flexible in the accommodations we offer, the various leasing structures and an engaged user experience allows our residents to grow within our buildings whilst focusing on their impact. The cospaces concept allows your friends and family to stay in the building with you as we offer short-term stay apartments and coworking, so you have ultimate flexibility in setting up your day. Best of all, no one has to feel alone anymore.

Join us on the journey to redefine home.