A place to call home

The Katil of­fers a great so­lu­tion for young peo­ple look­ing for af­ford­able, con­ve­nient and long-term ac­com­mo­da­tion, Airbnb-style, writes Oon Yeoh

New Straits Times - - PULSE - We have about 350 ten­ants across 200 rooms.

EVERY year, thou­sands of young peo­ple move to Kuala Lumpur, whether it’s to find work or to pur­sue their ter­tiary education. One of the big­gest chal­lenges they face is find­ing suit­able ac­com­mo­da­tions. Hos­tels may be an op­tion for stu­dents although hos­tel life isn’t the most com­fort­able. And it’s not even an op­tion for a young worker. Rent­ing a room is what many young peo­ple do but there’s very lit­tle qual­ity con­trol and all you usu­ally get is use of the room, but not the crea­ture com­forts of a whole house.

Airbnb is a great al­ter­na­tive to a ho­tel but it’s not meant for long-term rental. How great it would be if there were an Airbn­blike op­tion but for the long term.

For­mer real es­tate agent Al­win Aw thought so too and has cre­ated some­thing just like that. Dubbed The Katil, it’s an on­line ser­vice that al­lows young peo­ple to find af­ford­able, com­fort­able, long-term ac­com­mo­da­tion, Airbnb-style.

HOW DID THE IDEA OF A LONG-TERM AIRBNB-LIKE BUSI­NESS COME TO YOU?

I guess the gen­e­sis goes all the way back to my time as an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent in Aus­tralia. Rent­ing just a room was ex­pen­sive so what I did was rent a whole house and sub-let the other rooms to stu­dents. The rent I col­lected from the other stu­dents was enough to cover my own rent, so I ba­si­cally got to stay for free. That gave me the first taste of what it meant to be a land­lord.

DID YOU START THE KATIL STRAIGHT AWAY AF­TER GRAD­U­AT­ING?

No, I’d planned to stay in Aus­tralia and ac­tu­ally got per­ma­nent res­i­dency but when my fa­ther’s health de­te­ri­o­rated, I de­cided to come home. I worked as a prop­erty agent in KL for about three years be­fore I started The Katil with two other friends.

HOW WOULD YOU DE­SCRIBE THE KATIL?

The eas­i­est way to de­scribe it is that it’s Airbnb for the long term. You’ll get your own room but you’ll also have ac­cess to the kitchen, the liv­ing room and so on. There’s free WiFi. Util­i­ties like elec­tric­ity and water are cov­ered and there’s even clean­ing ser­vice for the com­mon ar­eas.

ARE THESE ROOMS IN HOUSES OR APART­MENTS?

No, all our rooms are in ren­o­vated shoplots. There are two key rea­sons for this. Firstly, we want all our units to be lo­cated near the LRT or MRT lines so that it’s easy for our ten­ants to get to work or their uni­ver­si­ties.

Most of these young peo­ple don’t have their own cars yet so pub­lic trans­porta­tion is im­por­tant. In Malaysia, most LRT and MRT lines are lo­cated near com­mer­cial ar­eas, not res­i­den­tial ar­eas.

Se­condly, it’s much cheaper to renovate shoplots which are very sim­plis­tic in de­sign. You’re deal­ing ba­si­cally with an empty rec­tan­gu­lar shape. Bun­ga­lows and apart­ments have rooms and bath­rooms and other liv­ing ar­eas al­ready built in so it’s much harder to renovate.

HOW MANY ROOMS ARE USU­ALLY CON­TAINED IN A SIN­GLE SHOPLOT SIZE UNIT?

We typ­i­cally have 10 rooms — four bath­rooms, a liv­ing room and a kitchen. It’s all fully fur­nished.

HAV­ING SO MANY PEO­PLE STAY IN ONE UNIT IS QUITE CRAMPED, ISN’T IT?

Well, ev­ery­one has their own rooms and there are com­mon ar­eas too, so it’s quite okay. Bear in mind that most of our ten­ants are young work­ing adults just start­ing out in their ca­reers. They’re at work most of the time and many of them work over­time. They usu­ally eat out­side and come home only to sleep. They don’t spend a lot of time in the unit it­self other than to rest and sleep.

WHAT’S THE COST FOR RENT­ING SUCH A ROOM AND FOR HOW LONG CAN THEY RENT IT?

Each room is RM800 per month and they can rent it for as long as they like.

WHAT’S THE LONG­EST TEN­ANT YOU’VE HAD?

We have one ten­ant who has been with us from the start — about three years and count­ing.

CAN TEN­ANTS RENT FOR SHORT TERM TOO?

Sure. If there’s a va­cancy in one of our units, they can rent short term.

HOW SHORT IS SHORT?

Even for just a day is pos­si­ble. But since many are work­ing or study­ing here, they tend to rent for the long term.

WAS IT EASY TO GET SHOPLOT OWN­ERS TO AGREE TO THIS CON­CEPT?

Yes, be­cause we looked for shoplots in the mid­dle floors which are usu­ally more dif­fi­cult to rent. The top floor is usu­ally the cheap­est so those get rented out and the ground floor of­fers the most ex­po­sure so those get rented out too.

Shoplots in the mid­dle level tend to be harder to rent. We know of some land­lords who weren’t able to rent out their mid­dlelevel units some­times for as long as two years. So they were glad for us to lease those units from them. We usu­ally take a long-term lease for 10 years in or­der to get a very good price.

HOW MANY TEN­ANTS DO YOU CUR­RENTLY HAVE IN THE KLANG VAL­LEY? THAT MEANS SOME PEO­PLE SHARE ROOMS?

Yes, usu­ally cou­ples. There are some young cou­ples who moved to­gether to KL and wanted an af­ford­able place to stay.

DO YOU PLAN TO SCALE THE BUSI­NESS?

Yes, we’re look­ing at be­com­ing prop­erty man­agers rather than be­ing the land­lord. When you’re the land­lord, you have to do ev­ery­thing your­self. You have to lease the prop­erty, you have to spend time and money ren­o­vat­ing it, you have to go out and find the ten­ants. It’s a very slow process and doesn’t lend it­self well for scal­ing up. But now that we’ve proven that we know how to make it work, we’re able to con­vince prop­erty own­ers to do the same thing. They en­gage us to help them with best prac­tices and man­ag­ing their prop­er­ties. Since we no longer have to do the ren­o­va­tion, we can ex­pand our reach much faster and wider and spread to other states as well.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO FOR THE PROP­ERTY OWN­ERS IF THEY EN­GAGE THE KATIL TO HELP MAN­AGE THE PLACE FOR THEM?

We’ll help source for ten­ants for them. So that takes a big has­sle off their hands. At the same time, hav­ing them un­der­take the renovation­s takes a big has­sle off our hands. So it’s a win-win so­lu­tion. It’s re­ally a part­ner­ship we are look­ing at.

HOW DO YOU STAY AHEAD OF THE COM­PE­TI­TION?

I don’t think any­body’s do­ing ex­actly what we’re do­ing but for sure there are peo­ple of­fer­ing af­ford­able ac­com­mo­da­tions for rent. What we need to do is to keep on adding value.

For ex­am­ple, we cur­rently have units in Jo­hor Baru as well. If a ten­ant has to make a work­ing trip to Jo­hor or Singapore, they can stay at one of our rooms at no charge be­cause they’re one of our ten­ants. As long as there’s a va­cancy, they can stay for free. It is things like this that al­lows us to stay one step ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion.

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