Coworking, Co-Living Companies Are Breaking Into Private Equity Investing
The We Company and many of its peers in shared office and co-living are constantly on the lookout for new income streams, and many of them are finding it in the market where they already reside.
Coworking and co-living firms are forming private equity funds for investing in commercial real estate at a growing rate, The Wall Street Journal reports. The perennially reinventing parent company of WeWork is at the head of what might be the largest, called WeWork Property Advisors.
The We Company co-manages WeWork Property Advisors with Rhône Capital, and has raised over $750M from outside investors as of its March 8 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, the WSJ reports. The New York-based coworking operator has also launched a fund with outside investors, and has already bought property stakes with it in more markets than it has locations for its main business.
Co-living is a newer product than coworking, but some of its players have already jumped into investing as well. With a $300M fundraising round recently completed, Quarters is looking to use equity to get some of its shared living spaces developed, rather than the 10-year leases on which it has relied so far. Sonder, which provides a product somewhere between Quarters and home-sharing services like Airbnb, is also mulling a potential private equity fund, the WSJ reports.
Some who spoke to the WSJ raised concerns that if a company has both a workspace and an ownership stake in a building, it could become a thorny conflict of interest should the fortunes of either take a turn for the worse. But in theory, the endeavor makes sense for operators, who already act as an intermediary between an office landlord and a tenant and would do something similar in a more abstract way (with capital rather than physical space).
Branching out into a new area comes with inevitable risks, as WeWork Property Advisors learned when its $850M purchase of Lord & Taylor's flagship department store on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue took over a year to close. In the intervening time, Lord & Taylor ultimately reversed course on its original plan to remain on the bottom three floors of the building after the sale.
WeWork immediately demonstrated the challenges of such ambitious investing when it needed to take on more debt than originally planned and give previous owner Hudson's Bay Co. a continuing equity stake in the building. The company also agreed to lease the entire building from itself and its partners at a higher rate and with longer guaranteed terms than it regularly negotiates with other landlords, according to the WSJ.