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  1. Florida

Would you live with 7 people for the right price? Try co-living in St. Pete.

A fully furnished apartment for only $550 a month in this economy?

So you’re looking for a place to live in St. Petersburg.

Yet your search is starting to feel like an episode of House Hunters. Each apartment doesn’t quite meet your needs. One is too expensive, way over budget, while another has a location much too far from your office.

LUIS SANTANA | Times Exterior view of a home in St. Petersburg fully converted for co-living on Friday, May 3, 2019 in St. Petersburg.

Then you drive up to a house tucked on a residential street in the Harbordale neighborhood of St. Petersburg. The house doesn’t appear to be completely finished, but its white-fenced, triangular-roofed exterior looks inviting. A wooden porch with chairs and a table beckon.

You open the door and find an entryway that looks like what you imagine to be the prototype for “millennial apartment.” This could be on an episode of Friends, if Friends were set in 2019. There are blue accents, a low, neutral couch and a wooden floor. Each bedroom and bathroom, all eight of them, come with a style, from birch tree wallpaper to a geometric ocean feel. They are fully furnished.

Living room area at a home in St. Petersburg fully converted for co-living on Friday, May 3, 2019 in St. Petersburg. LUIS SANTANA | Times

When you finally ask what the price is, you learn it’s between $550 and $750 a month. And so you wonder: What’s the catch?

Here it is: It’s a co-living space. You must share this house and space with seven other people. That includes the kitchen, the laundry machines, the hallway and the entry room. Your house is essentially a long hallway and kitchen with door offshoots that open up to your private bedroom and bathroom. It’s kind of like a college dorm.

Color coded glassware is assigned to each resident at a home in St. Petersburg fully converted for co-living on Friday, May 3, 2019 in St. Petersburg. LUIS SANTANA | Times

Residents receive color-coded dishware, their own pantry and mini fridge. They sign up for a six-month minimum subscription, which includes an about $150 application fee and a security deposit of their first month’s rent. Renters pay no penalty for leaving as long as they give 30-day notice, said Kate Berlin, a managing partner for the building, who largely supervises the day-to-day operations in the house.

The house is owned formally by Docked Living, a company that advertises itself as having a “new model of housing that is flexible, convenient and financially smart.” Berlin said the company is controlled by four managing partners, all of whom are local.

“We wanted to bring this to St. Pete because it’s becoming so expensive to live close to downtown,” Berlin said. “$1,500 is insane for a studio apartment for people who want to experience more or digital nomads who have the ability to work remotely. They don’t want to spend that money on just a roof over your head. You want to use that to travel and do other things.”

The addition of co-living to the St. Petersburg apartment scene comes as rents are rising at a growth rate higher than the national average, according to HotPads economist Josh Clark.

Rental prices in St. Petersburg are growing year-over-year by about 5.6 percent, which is 2 percent more than the national growth rate of about three percent, Clark said.

“What could be causing this push toward more affordable housing inside the city is people are used to living in the city but they still need to save money,” Clark said. “...Often times, as you’ve seen in the last decade, rent growth moves too fast for wage growth to keep up.”

The median rental prices for a studio in St. Petersburg is $1,425, according to data from Zillow, while the median rental price for a studio in the ZIP code associated with Harbordale falls at $1,560.

Those prices fall squarely in the middle of nearby metros Orlando and Atlanta. St. Petersburg is higher than Orlando’s median rental of $1,400 but lower than Atlanta’s median rental of $1,590, based on data provided by Zillow.

The building opened to residents in early April and they are already at nearly full capacity, with another resident expected to move in soon. Berlin said there is already a wait list of 15 people.

They plan to open two more spaces by late summer, she said, one that will be another traditional co-living space and another that will more closely resemble a bed-and-breakfast.

Records from the Pinellas County Property Appraiser show that Mark J. Hunter bought the house in the 500 block of 28th Ave S for $175,000 in August of last year. Hunter describes himself as a “former monk with interests in mysticism, effective altruism, minimalism and entrepreneurship,” according to his website, and said he is based in Chicago and St. Petersburg.

While there may have been other co-living communities in St. Petersburg prior to the Harbordale house’s opening, Berlin said this co-living space offers something different: structure.

“When we established this, it was a little more like, ‘How do we turn it into a successful business model?’ We were also looking around in the industry and saying, ‘What are other people doing?’ in terms of California and New York,” Berlin said. “It’s a little bit more of an elevated experience, a little more structured, a little less informal.”

For some residents, like Aleks Miller, the property seemed almost made for him when he walked in. Miller moved from Orlando, but his family lives in Russia. The wallpaper in his room is covered in thin, white Birch trees, one of the iconic natural elements of his home country.

“I was looking into different buildings, and when I found this place, I did a tour and I cancelled all of my tours after,” Miller said. “I knew this was where I wanted to be. It checked off all the marks for me.”

One of the eight rooms completely furnished including a wet bath that has the toilet, sink and shower all in the same space at a home in St. Petersburg fully converted for co-living on Friday, May 3, 2019 in St. Petersburg. LUIS SANTANA | Times

He moved in May 1 and, since then, it’s been a bit of an adjustment period. He admits that waking up in the morning, going to get breakfast and seeing multiple people in the kitchen was a little jolting at first.

Coming into a fully furnished space meant giving up furniture he had accumulated, something that took him a few days to do. But his room still bears personal touches, like the changeable sign that currently reads, “I love IHOP.” (Yet Miller says he’s only been once.)

What makes the experience valuable is the positive ways it compares to dorm living. On one night, Miller and his fellow housemates went out for ice cream and discussed their business ideas. Miller creates websites for a living and works for a local nonprofit.

There’s a certain shared mindset in the house, Miller says. Many of the housemates have a dream to one day start their own businesses.

So last week, they brainstormed how to get started. ‘How do we create websites?’ ‘How do we reach out to people?’ ‘How do we market ourselves on social media?’

That’s how this experience differs from simply living with friends from college, Berlin said.

“If you’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re all friends, let’s move into a house together,’ you might end up leaving the house not being friends,” she said. “But here, you’re actually leaving with long-lasting relationships.”