Definition of "Vanilla Shell"

Mike Canary real estate agent
Mike Canary, Real Estate Agent REMAX Space Center

A Vanilla Shell - also known as a Vanilla box, white box or whiteboxing – is something very common in commercial real estate and growingly common in residential real estate. In many ways, it’s the opposite of Home Staging, where home sellers “stage” their homes in a way that home sellers can envision a nice, clean room where they would enjoy spending the rest of their lives. A vanilla shell is more of a blank canvas; it’s the habit of leaving the house with the bare minimum so the home buyer can envision anything they want (and can), rather than confining their imagination to one or two different trends.

So, a Vanilla shell apartment has that “naked feel”: no furniture, no appliances, and big finishes. Just the walls, plumbing, ceiling, floor, power outlets, lighting, and HVAC.

If you’re thinking that would push away home buyers; think again. Vanilla shells are very trendy especially in big markets among Millenials. They want to envision their future the way they want, with no interference and will have an even higher sense of ownership and feeling of novelty if the house or apartment is a vanilla shell. That’s why real estate agents are more and more advising their home sellers to consider going vanilla shell, even if the property is already “staged” with objects and furniture they use to have in the home.

Now, in commercial real estate vanilla shell has been popular – if not the norm! – for some time now. In fact, most retail stores are bounded by contract to return the property (once the lease is up) in full vanilla shell glory. The reason is pretty simple: each retail store has their own pre-designed visual communication and logistics, so the Landlord would need to deal with destroying all construction every time he/she changed the Tenant, so the new one could see if the place was good enough for their business. It’s a bit different for, say, McDonald’s to see if a place is good for their burgers when it’s “disguised” as an Advanced Auto Parts; it’s just too different of a business. So, the Landlord bounds by contract that the Tenant has to white box-it before they leave, turning the place back to its bare minimum.

Not to be confused with a Cold Shell (also known as Grey Shell)


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Want to learn more about the subject? Read our blog about Vanilla Box: The real estate trend that’s taking residential by force!

And don’t go vanilla shell when it comes to knowledge. Don’t settle for the minimum: treat yourself with our real estate glossary terms and enlist the help of a local real estate agent when looking to buy a home or sell a home!

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