JonLuca's Blog

31 Oct 2020

Habitat 2020 - Coliving during COVID

2020 started off fairly challenging for a lot of us. Our normal routines and lifestyles were thrown completely out of whack.

Those of us in tech were incredibly fortunate - we were able to continue working, and didn’t face any issues around job safety or having our jobs put us in danger, health wise.

However, after a bit of working remote from home, it got fairly lonely and quiet. Cities that used to be alive and fun for early 20 year olds became traps, with expensive, small apartments, and no nature. For a lot of us, it didn’t make sense to keep our expensive San Francisco or Los Angeles leases, or keep living with family - we were paying a lot to stay in small apartments, without friends.

A few of us had the idea to take advantage of low rent on high end, large houses - we noticed that mansions that would normally have been booked months in advance were now vacant, with incredible deals. Simply put, no one was doing long term stays in $30k/month properties. There was an awesome 7 bedroom property for $8000 a month, less than a fourth of its normal monthly cost. We figured that if we could find 7 or 8 people, we could get a (comparatively) cheap stay, and live with friends in a safe, healthy manner.

This was at the start of the US response to the pandemic - no one knew what was happening, cases were increasing, and everyone was scared. We had all been quarantining by ourselves for a couple months, though, and wanted a change from our isolated lifestyles.

A few of us started reaching out to different people within our network. We wanted to group together the most interesting, impressive people possible, and set up a sort of Junto; we’d all work remotely during the day, and just have great discussions and make close friendships with other people from similar backgrounds and lifestyles. We found out fairly quickly that there was an enormous appetite for something like this, so we got together 8 people and booked the property.

For context, the first house had:

  • Two Waymo engineers
  • A Jane Street quant
  • A PM at Disney Plus
  • A YC founder
  • A PM at Microsoft
  • A Goldman Sachs analyst (who also happened to be a Division 1 athlete on the US Olympic team)
  • A growth engineer at Pinterest (👋)

We agreed to limit all social contact for two weeks, and then all drive to San Diego, and set up a fully closed household. We’d go to Costco once and load up with enough food to last us the majority of the trip, and then just bunker down in our house. Some of the people in the house had done a “Habitat” coliving situation during Summer 2019 in Atherton, so we adopted that same moniker for the house, and started everything off in San Diego.

San Diego - Frida

We started everything off with Frida - the affectionately named seven bedroom Spanish-style villa in the Point Loma hills, in San Diego. We started off with just 8 of us, for a little under a month.


We’d stay on the property all day, but it was fairly easy given that we had a 7 bedroom, multiple outside areas, and a tennis court.


Our group set up a dinner schedule, where we’d cook for the rest of the group. We called these “family dinners”.


At night, we’d host discussions and have long, European style dinners. It was an amazing way to keep up some semblance of a social life while being under quarantine.

We also set up a large workspace in the main hall, where we’d all work during the day.


Frida ended up being a total shift in the covid experience - we all went from living alone or with our families, to being surrounded by people our age, who were motivated, interesting, and hungry for excitement. Frida kicked off what would be an incredible 7 month journey.

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At this time I realized that this was going to be feasible for as long as quarantine was around, and my job was WFH. I moved back to San Francisco for a week just to move out and pack up my apartment, and gave up my lease, which by now had become month by month.


After the success of Frida, we took a month-long respite and picked right back up in Los Angeles. Around this time, cases had been decreasing, and we felt like we could handle a more central location like Venice. We booked out one of the outsite houses. We picked up a few more people, and a couple people had to drop out - this was sort of how the habitat was meant to be, a set of different houses, and you could come and go as you’d like.


We booked the house while still at Frida, and we were set to move in on July 1st. We moved in without a hitch, but by the time early July came around, covid cases in LA had started to skyrocket.

We only spent two weeks in Venice, before deciding that our risk tolerance couldn’t allow us to live there anymore, and we decided to move to somewhere more remote. Fortunately one of the members of the house offered up their house in Vail, so we packed up and went on the 14 hour road trip to Colorado.


Vail was a complete shift from Los Angeles - we migrated from the beach to Beaver Creek, and stayed in a wonderful house courtesy of one of the people living in Habitat. She graciously offered up her house, and we were able to stay there for around a month, until we felt comfortable with going back to Los Angeles.


It was in Vail that I got my first call from a Citadel recruiter. I normally ignore these sorts of messages - I was very happy with my job at Pinterest. I had a stimulating job where I enjoyed my coworkers, felt like I was making a difference, and was paid well. However, one of the recurring themes of the house was self improvement and always trying to improve, so I started to reply and just see what my options were.


We continued our tradition of family dinners, and celebrated a 21st birthday in Vail.

Colorado was beautiful - we went ATVing, on plenty of hikes, and even went to an archery court.


Bel Air

By the start of August we left Vail for the next house in Bel Air. We were up in the hills of LA, right by UCLA. The house was great, but unfortunately around this time some of the members caught COVID, which put a limit on our social interactions and what we could do.


In Bel Air I had the first set of interviews with Citadel, purely exploratory. Taking these were easy due to WFH - the overhead for interviewing for a different company is so much lower during Covid, since everything can be done from your living room.

San Diego - Round 2

Our next housing situation was fraught with drama - we had originally booked a two and a half month long stay in Temecula. Covid cases were rising (again) and we wanted to be a bit further from LA. However, the day before our next lease was supposed to start (literally 24 hours), we got a call from the booking company that our reservation had been canceled due to city ordinances on short term rentals.

After a lot of haggling and calls with the company, we agreed to switch houses and go to San Diego instead. We got a gorgeous, 9 bedroom, three story apartment right by Balboa Park.

While we were pretty disappointed at the time, it ended up being a great change. We were right downtown in San Diego, and our covid risk tolerance was a bit higher since some members of the house had already had it.


The house itself was gorgeous - very modern, right by the park, and had a lot of different food options within walking distance.


This was our longest Habitat yet; we spent 2 and a half months here, so we were able to actually get a little more settled in than the other houses. We also had some people do half-stays, where someone took over for the other person halfway through.

While in Balboa I also did my last set of interviews for Citadel, and properly kicked off the negotiations. It was because of the heavy finance interest in the house that I originally even considered them, so I relied on them again for help in navigating my career decisions.

One of the most valuable aspects of the house was relying on the analytical skills of the group as a whole - everyone was extremely successful in their own right, and provided the right amount of perspective to make balanced decisions for problems that everyone knew would define our lives going forward. They were the ones that eventually convinced me to take Citadel, and quit my job in San Francisco.

I ended up leaving the San Diego house a full three weeks early to move to New York, at 6 am on the day after Halloween, for my new job at Citadel.

Habitat 2021?

This was a pretty interesting experiment. It started as a way to take advantage of a cheaper subsection of the market and get some social time, and ended up growing into a quasi-official group of friends that supported each other, made career decisions together, and expanded their respective networks.

As I’m writing this, I’m on a plane leaving San Diego heading to my new job in New York. I can directly attribute me quitting my job and joining Citadel to the conversations and people that were a part of the house. I’m not sure what the future of Habitat looks like, at least for me.

For now I’ve got a one bedroom apartment in NoMad in New York. I loved the coliving experience, though, and found it instrumental in both my professional and personal life. Hopefully I’ll be a member of some other Habitat at some point in the future, but for now I’ll be taking a brief respite and starting up a new life in New York.


JonLuca at 17:06

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