What’s a Live Work Loft?

Posted by Stacey May on Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 at 7:00pm.

Before getting to the differences between live work and mixed use lofts or condos, first you'll want to understand what defines a loft. Like many real estate descriptive terms, they're often used creatively by the person marketing the product.

What's a Loft?

The simplest form of a loft is like a bonus room of a typical home. The bonus room is a feature within the house opposed to an old re-used industrial New York loft like most people visualize. This bonus room called a loft typically has no closet, must be on an upper level of the home and is not fully enclosed. Most common to see them placed adjacent to the staircase and often used as an office or additional entertainment space. The sexier version of a loft is a wide open floorplan, usually bedroom-less residential space. This type of housing was born out of the re-use of industrial buildings. Outdated, under used industrial buildings become rezoned for residential use and "hard lofts" styled condominiums are born. New construction lofts are known as "soft lofts" with many having their own loft bonus room space as previously described within a large, undefined loft. Loft within a loft... Very common in a "soft loft".
Common characteristics of a loft are high ceilings with exposed plumbing, HVAC ducts and electrical conduit. Usually built with brick, but due to the increasing popularity of lofts and the shrinking average household size, many new construction loft projects have sprung up. These new developments are often located within historically significant neighborhoods and require that they blend in. Developers do their best to fool passersbys with brick facades and historical architectural details.

Why are Live Work and Mixed Use Becoming Popular?

Trends you'll continue to see more and more of. Online retailers, virtual contractors, crafty start-ups, photographers and artists are growing in numbers as the process of how Americans work, shop and consume evolves. Buy one of the many of books about NewUrbanism and the end of big box stores like "Retrofitting Suburbia, Updated Edition: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbsand you'll get a good sense of where The United States of American and many other Westernized Countries are going.

What's Live Work?

Live Work real estate is made up of both residential living and commercial space. The commercial space is located on the ground floor with 1-2 floors of residential above. The commercial space can range in size from as small as about 200 Sq' to as much as several thousand Sq'. The size of the residential living space is about equal to or more commonly greater than the amount of commercial space. On Average, you'll find residential living space to be approximately 1,400 to 1,700 Sq'.

What's Mixed-Use?

Clear definition between the commercial and living space with separate entrances and more lenient business type regulations pretty much somes up mixed use. Another important element is that mixed use allows for employees whereas live work can be limited to a self-employed service like an architect. It would be rare to come across mixed use that restricts commercial and living space being leased separately.
It's important to note that in both Live Work and Mixed Use are not necessarily lofts. Here in Orange County it's very close to 50% lofts and 50% conventional condominiums with defined bedrooms and living spaces.

Benefits of Combining Living and Work Space

In my opinion the greatest benefit to living and working in a live work or mixed use community is that you're in a community of entrepreneurs. Unlike a normal office condo building where people clock out and go home, you'll live together and have a shared ownership through the governing Homeownership Association (HOA). Opportunities to support one another, network, and share resources. In a world where tested franchises reign supreme, it can be difficult for a new brand to emerge. Live/Work communities could help improve the odds of a new, less experienced business succeeding. Communities like the Santiago Street Lofts have formed their own Santiago Art District. Monthly art walks are organized and promoted as a group instead of fighting to survive on their own.
Obvious benefits include the potential for increased productivity and cost savings not having to travel to and from work. Many creative, tech-savvy professionals lust after being able to work from home instead of marching into their cubicle 5 days a week. Live work is great for someone who's self-employed and could benefit by having a legit work space and storefront with signage.

What to think about when buying or leasing?

When considering a live work or mixed use property, it's especially important to have a handle on Municipal and Homeowner Association Rules and Regulations. Will your dream business signage be permitted by the HOA? Does your business require specialized deliveries or vehicles? Learn about parking restrictions if you require ample parking for your customers and guests. Looking forward to holding late night art shows without hours of operations restrictions by the HOA? Even knowing if the residential and commercial space can be leased separately may be beneficial if you plan to rent either space on it's own in the future. If this is something you're considering then you'll probably want a separate entrance for the commercial space and the living space. Separate doors into living and retail, HOA restrictions, leasing, what types of businesses are already there. Can the residential and commercial space be leased separately?

What kind of businesses are permitted?

Reviewing what types of businesses are permitted by the local Municipalities and the HOA is very important. Will your business be permitted and are there other types of businesses that could improve or hurt your own business? Commonly Permitted; Retail Sales, Florist, News-Stands, Clothing Shops, Photography Studios, Video Stores, Book Stores, Electronics Stores, Bicycle Stores, Jewelry Shops, Design and Furniture Centers, Accountant Office, Architecture Firm.
Commonly Not permitted; Nail and Hair Salons, Medical Clinics, Churches, Schools, Martial Arts Studios, Coffee House, Smoking Clubs, Pet Shops, Tattoo Parlors, Bars, Nightclubs, Liquor Sales, Adult Entertainment, Dry Cleaning, Vehicle Repair, Machine Shop.

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