Eugenio Ferrante, co-founder of Casa Mia
EDGEPROP (SINGAPORE) - Co-founders Ahmed Shaariq Nizar and Eugenio Ferrante celebrated Casa Mia Coliving’s third anniversary on Sept 1, 2022. Nizar, COO of Casa Mia, is a serial entrepreneur in tech-based businesses, having started his first company in 1997 from the guest room of his parents’ house in Sri Lanka. It is a consumer retail business in PCs, peripherals and mobile accessories that is still thriving today.
After spending a decade in London in banking and finance, Nizar moved to Singapore in 2013. Ferrante, CEO of Casa Mia, is a former management consultant turned software developer, having founded CoLivHQ two years ago. He has been in Singapore for 10 years now.
“We had both moved to dozens of cities and across different continents for work early in our careers,” says Ferrante. “Relocation is always difficult.”
He adds: “When we rented places in the past, sometimes we were stuck in the wrong neighbourhood. And when we shared with strangers, it was a hit or miss. We learnt a lot from all these experiences and have brought these lessons to Casa Mia.”
The two of them decided to merge their operations in December 2020. Before that, they had each run their own co-living companies. Nizar’s co-living company, founded sometime in September 2019, focused on helping people who are new to Singapore to settle in. Ferrante started Casa Mia (“My Home” in Italian) four months later.
Living room at Valley Mansion (Credit: CasaMia Coliving)
It was a few months after the Covid “circuit breaker” (from April to June 2020) that Ferrante and Nizar got together to discuss building a technology platform for co-living operators. Instead of talking about tech, they ended up discussing merger plans for their two companies. They decided to invest jointly in Casa Mia and from the start of 2021, they added more rooms to their portfolio and accelerated their growth.
‘One at a time’
Before the duo joined forces, they had painstakingly grown their respective co-living portfolios “one at a time”, recounts Ferrante. They had a collective portfolio of 60 co-living rooms at the end of 2020. These were focused exclusively on the neighbourhood of River Valley Road. “It’s a great neighbourhood for anyone who is new to Singapore, with its wide options of cafes, restaurants and nightlife,” says Ferrante.
They then ventured out of River Valley, adding strata units in the Orchard and Newton area last year, as well as in the Katong neighbourhood in the East Coast early this year. According to Ferrante, the portfolio of 200 rooms today is spread across 50 apartments in 45 buildings. “We typically have only one unit in each condominium block,” he says. The exceptions are Oleanas Residences on Kim Yam Road and River Valley Apartments on River Valley Road, where Casa Mia has two to three apartments in each property.
Loft room at Valley Mansion (Credit: Casa Mia)
In December last year, the co-living operator raised US$400,000 (about $577,000) in pre-seed funding from angel investors in Singapore, the UK, Italy and Qatar. The funds will accelerate the growth of its room count in Singapore.
Casa Mia’s focus is on young professionals and expatriates in their 20s. According to Ferrante, this age group makes up 95% of the co-living operator’s members. They work across different industries, although many are in tech and finance, he observes. While working professionals account for 80% of its members, another 20% are graduate students or those doing research work. “They don’t want to live on campus and prefer apartments where there is a community,” he adds.
Dining room at Oxley Mansion (Credit: CasaMia Coliving)
Besides the East Coast, Casa Mia has also ventured to the West Coast Road neighbourhood, which caters to tertiary students in the area, says Ferrante. Both occupancy and rental rates have improved significantly since the depths of the pandemic in 2020. Today, the occupancy rate across its portfolio is about 99.5%.
Rates start at $950 per month for a standard room to $2,600 for a spacious en suite master bedroom with a private lounge and balcony. All the rooms come furnished, and rates include weekly cleaning, maintenance and utilities.
Leveraging tech to enhance member experience
Having first-hand experience of what it’s like to have a nightmare housemate, the founders of Casa Mia introduced a screening tool for potential members in the form of a 10-minute pre-selection online questionnaire designed in conjunction with the Department of Psychology at the National University of Singapore. Members are scored on overall personality, communal orientation, interpersonal trust and other traits.
Read also: How tech is helping during the pandemic
Master bedroom (Credit: CasaMia Coliving)
“Our analytics tool allows us to recommend households that individuals may be best suited for so they can enjoy the best possible co-living experience,” says Ferrante. “This tackles the challenge of a perceived lack of control over the housemate selection process.”
Casa Mia’s in-house technology platform was built by Ferrante’s CoLiveHQ, and includes updated information on tenant profiles, such as age and occupation in each unit. Having an in-house customer relationship management system enables Casa Mia to personalise the website to suit the needs of their users.
Ferrante attributes Casa Mia’s success to its focus on its niche target group: the 20-something professional expatriates who are attracted to its strong community ethos, flexibility and cost efficiency.
Casa Mia hosts a range of social activities and events to foster interaction and bonds between members, such as networking drinks, monthly welcome sessions, yoga, hiking and cycling.
According to Ferrante, the average stay at Casa Mia’s co-living space is about 16 months, which is four months longer than the typical 12-month stay at most other co-living operations.
Potential for growth
Casa Mia’s 200 rooms may seem small in number when compared to the likes of Cove, Coliwoo and The Assembly Place, which have over 1,000 rooms each. Despite the overall co-living inventory across Singapore totalling more than 5,000 rooms today, Ferrante remains optimistic about Casa Mia’s growth prospects. “There are 15 to 20 times as many young professionals looking for a place to live,” he says.
Rates at Casa Mia have increased 20% since the start of the year, buoyed by the combination of skyrocketing residential rents due to strengthening demand and tight supply. Hence, Ferrante is looking at new “interesting neighbourhoods with the right lifestyle options” to add to Casa Mia’s portfolio. City-fringe enclaves he is eyeing include Joo Chiat and Kallang.
Ferrante says Casa Mia is continually expanding, at a rate of about 10 rooms a month. More landlords are reaching out directly as the co-living wave has caught on, he says. However, it’s still agents’ recommendations that have formed the majority of the co-living operator’s new pipeline, he adds.