Shared office provider WeWork is attempting to expand its offering into apartments, both for its traditional transient clientele and also, just people looking for a place to rent.
It’s called WeLive and the value proposition is a powerful one, with tenants being able to apply directly to the company and not being required to produce references or… anything apart from a set monthly fee. No yearly lease or even the need to stay in the same place. Just move cities to another WeLive location. It’s just a matter of walking through the door – all furnishings and amenities are taken care of in the price.
For WeWork, it’s an opportunity to diversify. The company has come under significant criticism lately for a number of reasons, including missing out on the acquisition of URWork, which is now the largest co-working space in China, and is making its way into the US and Europe. The other criticism is focused on the company’s business model, its valuation and how sustainable its long-term is. The organisation is currently valued at 20 times its annual revenues. To put that in context, Airbnb is valued at around 10 times its annual revenues, a major disparity. The reason for this is that WeWork is being valued as a technology business rather than a real estate concern and this makes a lot of people nervous. Especially because the organisation acts as a middleman – leasing valuable property, upgrading it and then selling memberships to businesses and freelancers. This means that there is no safety blanket in the event of a downturn, and WeWork has no plans to start purchasing property now. Again, for context, WeWork is valued at $16 billion, and Boston Properties, a listed business who owns 47,000,000 ft² of office space is worth $18 billion. The business that actually has tangible assets is only worth slightly more than the organisation that leases offices, and then subleases them to tenants.
In saying that, the business model is working and perhaps it is a sign of the times that WeWork doesn’t over complicate matters by tying up the balance sheet with ownership. By focusing on young, transient professionals who want to live the good life without commitment, WeLive and WeWork may have struck at the right time.