We’ve heard that Long Island’s North Fork is très Brooklyn these days.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that coliving, the residential trend that’s gotten a foothold in Brooklyn’s tech scene, has made its way over to the summering crowd. Or, at least, that’s the goal for Janera Soerel, the founder of SecondHouse, which offers its members shared access to a vacation house in Laurel, N.Y., on the Peconic Bay. She’s at least succeeding on the buzz front: since its launch in July, it’s been featured in the New York Times and Brick Underground.
The company’s approach is distinct from that of a timeshare, Soerel noted. Instead of paying for an assigned week of solo access, as in a typical timeshare arrangement, SecondHouse’s members can reserve a room in the house anytime, but they expect to share the space with other members — whom they may have never met. In a sense, it’s like the concept of WeLive or Common, transplanted onto the beach.
Here’s how SecondHouse works: members pay an annual fee according to how many cumulative days per year they’d like to have access to the house. SecondHouse offers 12-, 24- and 30-day memberships, which range in price from $1,200 to $2,500 a year for a twin bed in a shared room. For an additional fee, members can reserve a private room with a queen bed. The house in Laurel has five bedrooms and can host up to 10 people at a time.
The idea has attracted many of the same types interested in coliving in Brooklyn, according to Soerel: entrepreneurial people who are looking for flexibility both in their home and work lives.
“We have a lot of people from Brooklyn,” she said. “They’re maybe more open-minded, curious. They want to be in nature.”
That includes Soerel, who lives with her husband and three-year-old son in Brooklyn Heights. In addition to SecondHouse, she runs Departure, a creative agency in Dumbo, with her husband.
Soerel, who is from Curaçao, came up with the idea for SecondHouse through her own travels. Having stayed in hostels throughout Europe, she was used to the experience of sharing living quarters with fellow travelers and quickly forming bonds with people she’d just met. Upon moving to the U.S., though, Soerel found that sense of community lacking as a solo traveler.
With SecondHouse, she said, she hopes to foster a little of that European traveling experience. Members are encouraged to have breakfast and dinner together, and the house includes five common spaces for work or relaxation. Soerel also plans to appoint certain members as hosts, who would be in charge of house activities for a given period and, potentially, in exchange earn a percentage of the revenue the company takes in.
“The point is to be there with likeminded people,” she said. “That’s why WeWork is so important. The community aspect is very important to us.”
Of course, the key to this setup is that everyone enjoys each other’s company — or at least that the occupants get along well enough not to turn their stay into an episode from The Real World. So those interested in becoming SecondHouse members first have to apply. Then Soerel interviews them. From there, if applicants would like to proceed, they can set up a trial stay at the house, for two or three nights. So far, SecondHouse has just 10 members, though 50 more have gone through the interview process and are in line to become members, Soerel said. The company’s newsletter has 3,200 subscribers, she said.
Soerel plans to add other properties to SecondHouse’s portfolio. She’s looking to expand further upstate, to either the Catskills or the Hudson Valley, by March, she said. Eventually, she added, she’d like to add more properties close by New York City, as well as near Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco. She’s also interested in international properties: Italy and England, in particular. Right now, SecondHouse is renting its initial house in Laurel, but Soerel said she plans to experiment with other models, such as buying and remodeling distressed homes or acting as a property manager for other locations.
To spread the word, SecondHouse periodically hosts events, which it calls LivingRooms, at Soho House. The events cover topics such as health, sustainability and the future of food — in other words, those “smart cities” categories that have lately been top of mind in the Brooklyn startup scene. Next Thursday, Nov. 3, the company is holding a panel on natural skin care. Tickets are $25 before November 2. And for those interested in getting a preview of the house itself, SecondHouse is hosting a Halloween weekend dinner party on Saturday. Tickets cost $80.
On one hand, SecondHouse may sound a little hippie-ish (or hipster, if you factor in the price). Soerel is aware of this.
“We care about the world, and we care about each other,” Soerel said, describing the ideal SecondHouse member. “It’s a self-selecting group. I don’t know if it appeals to everyone.”
But there’s also an economic factor that makes sense, even if it falls short of mass-market appeal. Startup founders and freelancers don’t get paid vacation days, and for many of us grinding it out, taking time off makes us feel guilty. SecondHouse, Soerel said, could offer a respite for harried workers. It’s structured as a spot for the ideal workcation: do some work across from a gorgeous waterfront view, then spend some time exploring, say, the North Fork’s wineries. According to Soerel, several of SecondHouse’s members reserve rooms during the week, rather than the weekend, just for that purpose.
“If you have to work, why not work from a beautiful place?” she said.