Homebuilders Catering to Hotel-Hesitant Biz Travelers

Without access to an office, most workers would welcome an office-grade home with hi-speed internet, video conferencing, and accessories like printers and scanners.

Now one real estate investment company is building exactly this type of house, which it will rent out to business travelers who aren’t quite ready to check back into hotels.

Atlanta, Georgia-based United Community Asset has set up a subsidiary called SHOC Holdings (standing for “shared home office cluster”), which has developed a proprietary architect design for these properties: five-bedroom houses with each bedroom designed as an individual business lodge equipped with office capabilities.

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UC Asset has invested an initial $1 million into SHOC Holdings, and will build or acquire distressed properties in underdeveloped communities initially in Atlanta, renovating them into home-offices.

“We see a $60 billion market with this new trend, and we have created a new business model to claim our share on this market,” said Larry Wu, UC Asset’s founding partner.

The House That the Pandemic Built

The developer has just broken ground on its first prototype near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — the U.S.’ busiest airport.

“We know that airport has business travelers that come from across the country. This property is 10 minutes away,” said Christal Jordan, executive director, business development and investor relations at UC Asset.

The company predicts business travelers will switch from conventional business hotels to shared accommodation, and its new homes will be rented out on platforms such as Airnbnb, or through corporate partnerships. UC Asset will also work with the City of Atlanta.

“It could be rented out to business travelers traveling in a group, or individual business travelers that are looking for just that one room, but need that office set-up. It’s a unique idea,” Jordan said.

Coronavirus is already changing how places, spaces and experiences are designed for the future, with safety front of mind, and the corporate travel sector is no exception.

Some hotels are removing the traditional business desk from their rooms, while other suppliers are experimenting with subscription models for their short-term rental offerings.

Hotels will also begin thinking about adding more shared spaces to allow guests to interact, according to one architect.

“You come out of your room and go straight into another room straight opposite,” said Jonathan Clarke, director at AFK. “How can we think about widening corridors and creating more public spaces? People will look for a little bit more space in the corridor, or a bigger lift, or more lifts. Or better quality stairs, rather than just fire escapes.”

The Big Squeeze

Clarke said the work-from-anywhere trend will have a knock-on effect on the way homes are designed — but don’t expect sweeping changes anytime soon.

“People have been screaming to work from home for years. Lots of employers said it’s not possible, but we’ve proved over the past year it is absolutely possible, from a technical point of view. Going forward, in terms of the creation of homes, it’s going to be vital to drive the technology. But also the space as well,” he said.

AFK is exploring how it can incorporate spaces to help people work more efficiently from home. “Whether it’s that unloved niche in the corner, or the understairs cupboard, how do you make that happen?” he said.

However, space comes at a cost and developers have squeezed out “every saleable pound per square foot,” Clarke said. That mindset will take time to change.

“There will be lots of tiny shifts that will be really impactful. Some of these shifts are things we should have been doing anyway,” he added.

SHOC Holdings’ five-bedroom home office is the first design of its kind, according to Greg Bankston, its CEO: “We are pleased that our architect has been able to turn our vision into a viable blueprint.”

And it has ambitious plans for Atlanta, eventually building a $10 million portfolio before expanding the concept elsewhere once it proves the business model works.

However, UC Asset’s Wu remains pragmatic. “We’re trying to build something for the future. I’m not 100 percent sure we have the best idea. Everybody can try their own model, some of them will work, some may not. We believe we have found the right solution to it,” he said.

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Photo Credit: Real estate developer UC Asset aims to rent out new five-bed houses designed specifically for business travelers. Yasmina H / Unsplash

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