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Are DC Area Renters Ready to Live Next Door to an Office?

by Nena Perry-Brown

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An exterior rendering of e-lofts Alexandria

In response to what they have identified as a void in the market for small businesses with unorthodox schedules and professionals who want to live in an amenity-rich building without having to part with their cars, Novus Residences is introducing the concept of e-lofts, vacant office buildings repurposed into units that can be rented for either office or residential use.

Novus, a subsidiary of Cafritz Enterprises, will open the first e-loft building in Alexandria at the Park Center Association (map), a mixed-use office park four miles away from the closest Metro station and a few blocks from I-395. Because the building had been dormant for so long and was hemorrhaging tax money, Alexandria was more than willing to grant approval for the development team to retrofit the building to allow for all uses.

“It’s not illegal to work from home. It is illegal to actually run a business from your home,” says Novus Executive Vice President Melanie Domres. “Here, you don’t have that problem. All the uses are legal.”

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An e-loft layout arranged for live-in use.

The owners and investors believe that bringing their residential property management expertise to bear will make the building’s offerings equally desirable to those looking for light-filled lofts to live in as to those looking for affordable office space with minimal set-up required. And at an average of $2.50 per square foot for each of the 200 units, which range from 635 to 1,249 square feet, Novus believes they are well-positioned to give co-working concepts a run for their money.

All lease terms will be for 12 months, and any businesses who wish to rent a unit for office use are limited to no more than ten employees. As with any commercial property, the landlord has the right to approve the business before leasing a unit and Novus says there will be no uses that could impinge on others’ ability to enjoy their units (e.g. no heavy manufacturing, nothing odor-producing, etc.).

The interesting dichotomy that e-lofts presents is that the concept is meant to give small business-owners and their employees the flexibility and comfort to work according to whatever schedule suits them; however, the idea that offices and apartments being adjacent to one other will inherently be harmonious is largely predicated on the idea of business hours.

For example, when one considers the potential volume of visitors to offices in the building, the presumption is that residential tenants are unlikely to be around during business hours and therefore won’t be disturbed. Conversely, residents are also supposedly likelier to enjoy their units and the common areas in the evenings and on the weekends.

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An e-loft layout arranged for office use.

For those who may want to walk around their building in their pajamas and not feel uncomfortable sharing the elevators with strangers in business suits, this may simply not be the living concept for you. However, e-lofts are not necessarily geared solely toward the teleworker either.

“Seventy-six percent of America’s businesses have less than ten employees [and are] not addressed at all [in the office market] in terms of their space needs,” Domres explains. Novus believes that there is not only a large segment of small businesses who are not being served by the traditional office market, but also a segment of adults who may not have children but have graduated from the roommate phase and want to both keep their cars and live somewhere cutting-edge.

Work to convert the 1980s-era suburban office building that will be e-lofts Alexandria began last November. Pre-leasing began two weeks ago and the first five floors of the building will be move-in ready in mid-late September. The long-term vision is to bring the e-loft brand to metropolitan areas nationwide, building out 50-100 locations over the next decade. Novus has already looked into bringing e-lofts to the District of Columbia and Maryland suburbs and currently has another building under contract on Columbia Pike.

However, despite the increasingly blurry lines between the work day and free time and between the work space and home, the biggest hurdle facing the concept is this: are renters truly ready to live amongst workplaces rather than just live in, you know, a regular apartment building?

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/are_dc_renters_ready_to_live_among_workplaces/11570

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