Written by Andrew Seale
Having a roommate is a bizarre concept. “When you think about it, living with a stranger is counter-intuitive behaviour,” says Gaurav Madani, co-founder of SoulRooms, a Toronto co-living property management startup he started alongside fellow Schulich MBA grad Arnab Dastidar. Even if you’re moving in with a friend, one day you’re strangers to each other’s quirks and habits, and the next moment you’re sharing the intimacy of daily life.
And yet, in a housing market like Toronto with steadily rising rent in the downtown core, finding a roommate seems to be the best way for young professionals and recent grads, especially those who are new to the city, to find an affordable place while avoiding the hour-long commute from options outside the inner city.
“In Toronto and even cities like Calgary or Vancouver, downtown cores are not accessible for most of the fresh grads even with decent salaries looking to live alone,” says Dastidar, who has experience working in both real estate investment and property management firms prior to launching SoulRooms. “They cannot afford a full apartment.”
On paper, that’s what SoulRooms looks to solve. “It’s like UberPool for real estate,” explains Dastidar. “We have a range of rooms where somebody can rent as per their requirement – en-suite, cozy and mid-size.” SoulRooms apartments are located in condos and townhouses in some of the coolest neighbourhoods across the city like The Junction, Bloordale, and Liberty Village. Rent sits at an affordable level for young professionals and applications are vetted and sent through a proprietary algorithm to match roomies.
But it’s more than that, say the co-founders, SoulRooms is trying to create a community.
“What we are trying to do through our website and all the other platforms is let you know that you are not just renting a room that offers convenience and affordability but you’re also getting into a sound ecosystem that inducts you into a new city,” says Madani. SoulRooms throws events and works with newcomers to make them feel at home.
That isolation and disorientation of finding a place in a new city is an experience both Madani and Dastidar know all too well having moved from India to Toronto to do their MBAs at Schulich. The pair met in the MBA program (SoulRooms is a part of Schulich Startups). Their idea was given an injection of confidence and support when Zahra Properties, the property manager Dastidar was working at, signed on as a strategic partner offering resources and investments.
The startup put its first tenant in June 2019 and has since grown its property options and number of “SoulRoomies.”
The startup founders are already in talks about a full-fledged purpose-built SoulRooms development in Toronto but in the meantime, they plan to focus on what they do best: helping to create great roommates. They’ve even started a campaign to get people talking about what makes a good roommate.
“We’ve all heard stories about bad roommates,” says Dastidar. “What we are trying to do is influence a segment of good roommates.”
Photo Credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)