Since moving to London last September, I rediscovered the joys of house-sharing. In Britain, people tend to keep co-living for a long time so they can live in a bigger house, be nearer the city center and enjoy a more convivial atmosphere. They only leave the house or flat share when they decide to get married and/or have children.
It’s an intermediary step between the parental home and married life without any of the loneliness. It’s an ideal solution for long-term or momentary singleness.
The main website for renting a room in the UK is Spareroom.com, created by Rupert Hunt in 2004 in Manchester after discovering house-sharing when he moved to London to play with a band.
Today, the site receives more than 2 million visitors every month (11 times more than the Guardian newspaper) and has become one of the UK’s leading real-estate rental site.
House-sharing as a way to facilitate access to affordable accommodation?
In Britain, house-sharing makes life easier for people with limited income or who want to stay for a short period of time. While in France, it is impossible to find a rental without a permanent job contract and guarantor earning 3 times your rent.
Unless you have a very low income or children to look after so you can benefit from council housing (after years of waiting), this situation is an open door to slum landlords who offer insalubrious housing at extortionate prices, and also all kinds of unofficial sublet.
Shouldn’t we promote flat and house-sharing as a way to give people access to more affordable accommodation?
In environmental terms, cities would also benefit from increased density per square meter – less polluting transport to go to work and more taxes for infrastructure. It would also increase solidarity, creating new solutions for children care and looking after elderly or dependent people, or even just cat-sitting!
So, I decided to investigate why there are less flat or house shares in France than in Britain. Is there less demand or less supply? Is it a cultural difference or a question of money? Are French players doing as much as Spareroom.com to leverage organic traffic and provide French people with affordable housing?
Analyzing current demand in France and Great Britain
When you look at the popularity of generic keywords in relation to house or flat shares, the first big difference is the overall volume of searches – there are far more in Great Britain than France.
In Great Britain, the term “room for rent” is often used, whereas the French refer to “colocation” (house or apartment sharing)
The data for France provided by Google Keyword planner (GKP) for “colocation Paris” seems to be incorrect. In Google Trends, we can clearly see that searches containing “Paris” are below “colocation” although Google considers them to be similar . If we remove “colocation Paris”, there are around 30K visits for the generic keywords, far fewer than in Great Britain.
Google Trends shows that the expression “flat share” is becoming less popular, while terms “room for rent” are flourishing and the market is on the up. In France, the market seems to be regressing despite the fact that everyone is talking about the “sharing economy”. I find it hard to believe that the keyword “colocation” is less popular than in 2004 given that the concept is so recent. Google might be confusing it with server colocation! Whatever the reason, it seems that French players haven’t yet busted their budgets on Google Ads.
Here’s a quick summary of the possible reasons for this difference based on two articles from La Tribune and Nouvel Obs :
Economic reasons: rental prices are lower in Paris and in other large French cities than in Great Britain. London encompasses a third of all flat or house shares in Europe! In Berlin, although bohemian living may idealize the idea of communal living, the low rents mean that house shares aren’t really necessary.
Cultural reasons: British landlords have understood that flat or house sharing is in their economic interest – the sum of the rent paid in a flat share far exceeds the income of a single person or couple. In France, property owners are reluctant to establish flat shares. Are they afraid of the damage caused by students or young workers? Are tenants unwilling to live together? Instead, many large apartments are separated into 2 or 3 smaller apartments that are more affordable for tenants and the average surface area rented in Paris continues to decrease.
Other reasons: we’d need to delve deeper to find out why the French are lagging so far behind – more student support in France, number of student residences, number of apartments versus houses in each city, number of students and temporary workers?
Is the dominant religion another factor? Is it easier for Anglicans to live in a flat or house share than Catholics?
The legal situation also undoubtedly has an impact on the development of house-sharing. In France, we had to wait for the Loi Alur in 2014 to get some kind of regulation on flat share . Maybe this is why the French are so far behind.
High-performing sites for keywords
British sites scoring for the main keywords
The British pure players arriving at the top of the Google results pages for the keywords “room for rent”, “room for rent London”, “house share” and “flat share” are Spareroom, Roombuddies and Spotahome.
Let’s take a look at their organic traffic and keywords (SEMRush data):
We can see that Spareroom rules the roost over its competitors in terms of organic traffic (800K per month) and keywords (115K).
House and flat share players in the French market
For the French market, the players topping the results for “colocation”, “colocation paris”, “chambre a louer” and “location de chambres” are Cartedescolocs, Roomlala and Appartager. Appartager is the French branch of the British company easyRoommate now rebaptized roomgo.net. However, all the French companies are way behind the Brits with at most 70K visits for carte des colocs.
Carte des colocs is the site that gets most visits according to SEMRush, but Roomlala gets more keywords. Roomlala is the new brand of the website chambrealouer, launched in 2009, and benefits from all the keywords relating to “chambre à louer”, as well as “chambre chez l’habitant”, and is present across France and internationally.
There are many players in France as this article from Les Echos highlights, but they haven’t yet made an impact on the results pages with hard-hitting keywords. A word of advice to any French players hoping to stay for the long haul: take a burst of inspiration from Spareroom!
Spareroom marketing and SEO strategy
Existing since 2004, Spareroom benefits from more than 14 years of presence, experience and links, as well as 14 years of SEO, PR and branding efforts. This means that the company takes the top spot for high-volume keywords (lots of combinations of “room” and “rent”) and generic keywords + city.
- 200 – 300k traffic via generic keywords + city
- 5K for the section providing landlords and tenants with information
- Let’s not forget the brand which gets 400- 500K visits per month
SpareRoom actively advertises using traditional ad and poster campaigns. This photo comes from an outdoor campaign in the London underground in January 2019:
The first Spareroom speed-flatmating event in Clapham really boosted the brand’s notoriety.
“After a feature in a local paper, the Times picked the story up. By the time they ran the third event, they were joined by two TV channels, three radios stations and five newspapers. Things spiraled from there.”
Spareroom actively tries to increase the number of rooms to rent and enable landlords to be better paid with “raisetheroof” campaign, which was a resounding success.
Thoughts? A personal experience you’d like to share? Get involved in the discussion below.
Also if you are a house sharing company based in Britain and would like to take over Europe – talk to me. I would love to get involved in providing cheaper and better accommodation to everyone !