A quickly growing trend in the highly competitive housing market involves converting commercial or industrial space into residential living quarters. Warehouses and mills are ideal for this kind of conversion, and there are many investors who jumped at the opportunity to convert a warehouse into a loft. We have to admit that lofts are a real estate niche and a road less traveled by house flippers.
On RealEstateAgent.com we have discussed already space conversions like finishing a basement. Warehouse conversion is the same, only at a larger scale. With huge open floor plans and high ceilings, the space can readily be split up to form separate “rooms”, a partial second floor can be built for a private sleeping area, or the entire space simply left open and remodeled to create a large loft style apartment. Hardly can your dollars buy so much space in another neighborhood. So read on to find out how to convert a warehouse into a loft and how much it would cost.
Warehouse conversion cost
If you are tempted by the idea of converting a warehouse to living space and don’t know where to start, find a real estate agent that’s specialized in commercial properties or investments.
Such properties could be either in downtown areas or very far from the city center, in former industrial areas/districts so well-intended brokers know best where to take you. Our advice would be not to purchase a warehouse to turn it into a single-family home when there are no similar dwellings around. This is a risky approach, even though the cost of that warehouse conversion could be very low.
Why? Because an appraiser will find it very hard to evaluate that building. Appraising uses a lot of comparisons. In this case, the appraisal might not be reliable and lenders might reject that property as collateral. So if there are no similar buildings nearby, lenders (banks or other financing institutions) may refuse to finance your property. Any real estate agent would find your property very challenging in this case.
Things change completely if you work as an LLC or if you incorporate yourself and transform a larger property into lofts for sale or for rent. Many success stories across the country pop up at a simple search on Google.
Amazing home transformations
News of warehouse makeovers that resulted in comfortable housing facilities have become headlines in the New York Times as early as 1981, when many mills (nail factories, textile plants and the like) throughout Northeast had undergone rehabilitation. Hundreds of new apartments had flooded the market. Essex Mill, Phoenix Mill, and Florence Mill are just a few examples from the past that still inspire young and daring entrepreneurs.
More recent projects host more upscale residential communities. For example, Caraleigh Mills in downtown Raleigh is now a selective condominium community – a city within the city that spoils its residents with a private gym and pool, game room, dog park and a generous parking lot. Homes feature very high ceilings, beautiful tall arched windows, exposed brick walls, and some condos even have a private entrance from the outside!
Raleigh was the choice of Florida tech giant Citrix, too. The state-of-the-art headquarters are located in the old Dillon Supply steel warehouse. This is another great way of turning a useless warehouse into usable office spaces that many have the pride to call their working place.
Going Northwest, Pershing Hill Lofts is leasing 62 luxurious lofts in the Warehouse Historic District of Davenport. Nonconforming buyers can live on the premises of Crescent Electric Co.’s former headquarters and pay between $800 and $2,240 per month.
More to the West, we find that lofts are a very popular type of dwelling in Denver. After the warehouses in Lower Downtown have been transformed into lofts in the early 1990s, more and more similar projects can be found in all the neighborhoods of Denver: Stadium Lofts, Rocky Mountain Warehouse, S.H. Supply (former parking lot/downtown parking garage), Hardware Block Lofts and many more.
But a lot of creative effort has been invested in one of the most amazing warehouse conversions located in Durham – The American Tobacco Historic Campus. The backbone of Durham’s economy now provides an astounding living environment with landscaped gardens and a man-made river. It spreads across one million square foot. Here was the American Tobacco Manufacturing plant, built in 1874.
LRC Properties was also attracted to Durham and now owns the entire Golden Belt campus and has big gentrification plans for this historic textile mill. Besides lofts and office spaces, the new owners want a music hall, an exhibition center, and some fancy craft beer experiment.
Other noteworthy projects would be:
- Publisher’s Print Shop in San Francisco
- 13th Avenue Loft in Portland
- The Lucky Strike Warehouse in San Francisco
- Chelsea Warehouse in New York
The Legalities of Converting a Warehouse into Living Space
Before you read on, give an honest answer to the following question: do you have what it takes to become a real estate investor?
Converting a warehouse to living space starts with homework. The space you are looking at must be zoned to allow residential use, or special zoning variances or permits must be obtained.
Then, you need money. The warehouse conversion cost may not seem high from a distance, but it’s usually more than what you’ve had in mind. It is very unlikely that you can find a mortgage for your project. You’ll probably have to provide a different property as security for the loan. If you can’t, then try to team up with a high-net-worth individual or with a larger real estate investment trust.
Show them your project and ask to be hired as a project coordinator! This will no longer be your project, but eventually, you will have a huge satisfaction. Another shot in the dark could be crowdfunding. It sounds weird, but if the building has upside potential, you could meet a few brave like-minded investors. Even a real estate broker could be interested in investing in a warehouse transformation! Be prepared to knock on many doors!
Some warehouses spaces may qualify for historical preservation grants, special tax increment funding (TIF), or urban redevelopment grants. You may even be able to form a limited liability partnership (LLC) or incorporate yourself to take advantage of such benefits – an attorney can help you find out what would be required. Using “green” materials and energy systems can provide extra tax credits and incentives.
How to convert a warehouse into a loft?
You will definitely find joy in researching your city’s industrial history and exploit the past. After identifying an industrial warehouse facility that could become habitable, check the structure, especially if it sat abandoned for a long time and the interior has been exposed to all acts of God. Visit the site with an architect or a construction engineer.
Converting the interior is not easy, that’s why it is very important to work with an architect that knows the International Residential Code (IRC) and the ANSI Standard. Request bids from a few firms first. The opinion of a fire marshal might also be important during the design phase.
Request bids from contractors, too, and ask them whether they will obtain the necessary permits or this will be your responsibility. Plumbing, electrical, and ventilation work will also require permits, and inspection after the build to ensure they all meet local codes.
Try to keep your project within your budget! You can save a lot of money by keeping the walls the way you found them. Make sure that the builder and the architects are communicating well. In the end, you will probably have to hire an interior designer to soften the rough interiors and turn them into saleable products. Keep in mind that many people will call your new lofts their home. Think as if you were to live there forever!
So how much does a warehouse conversion cost? Expect to pay between $35 and $250 per square foot. There are many factors involved so the only way to keep costs down is to explain your ideas clearly and find the best design and functionality with your architect.
The Practicalities of Warehouse to Loft Conversion
A floor plan should be created to help determine how space is used. If plumbing must be installed, having the lavatory and the kitchen on the same end of the space will be less expensive than having to install plumbing in two different sections of the area. While you will certainly want to frame out a bathroom to afford yourself privacy, the rest of the loft can be left open or partitioned as space permits to form different living areas.
A loft bedroom can turn a relatively small square footage into a luxury pad. The typical high ceilings of warehouse buildings make building up simple, and you can install an attractive spiral staircase for easy access. Stairs are unique features in warehouse conversion projects and there are so many creative ideas that also add more storage space.
A balcony railing will prevent accidental falls, and afford the occupant a clear view of the downstairs, while the big windows will let in plenty of natural light. If you have neighbors across the street, make sure that you find some nice curtains to preserve your privacy after dark.
More warehouse loft conversion tips
Warehouses may have existing wood flooring, but concrete is more likely. Install wood or tile over concrete, or clean and pane it, then cover with large area rugs to provide warmth and color. Walls can be left plain, showing the brick or concrete, or covered with drywall and painted. A drop ceiling may not be as dramatic as exposed beams or rafters but will be more energy efficient.
If you do your research and get realistic cost estimates first, a warehouse conversion could provide you with an inexpensive, long term investment!
A variety of loft designs
In terms of loft designs, here are some ideas that might present some interest to you if you plan to convert a warehouse into your dream home.
Vertical loft designs
For tall warehouses, a vertical loft is a nice project if you are planning to create a loft without walls and different levels that would form a continuous space. A vertical loft creates a modular system that integrates kitchen appliances, bookshelves, walk-in closets and anything else that you might require.
A spacious area allows for creating lofts with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms and big spaces allow for creative decor. Here you can go with bright, open spaces with beautiful interior designs that feature bold accents and vibrant colors. This idea will turn the empty cold space of a warehouse into an inviting home with contemporary and industrial influences.
Story building loft designs
Warehouses located in 10 story buildings are not uncommon and converting such a warehouse into a home, allows for some creativity. Such homes benefit from panoramic views, and the interior design creates open spaces that serve as a relaxing getaway. Large windows and an internal structure that organizes spaces as overlapping zones maintain a sense of openness. This, combined with terraces creates a strong indoor-outdoor relationship.
If you are aiming toward simplicity and minimalism, you can create a space that impresses with its abstract beauty. Topped with neutral colors or combinations of white and gray create a house with a great sense of openness and freshness. This is a beautiful balance between functionality and style and makes the place very inviting.