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A Guide for Creating and Preserving Affordable Artist Spaces

Real Estate Development Tips

Building Design

Use as much of the existing building as possible – You can negotiate reuse of elements such as stairs, firewalls, and structural elements that are safe but do not comply with current regulations by utilizing Chapter 34, the existing building section of the Massachusetts building code. This is also green practice; it's expensive in a lot of ways to throw good stuff into dumpsters.

Simplify the plan – Minimize non-productive common hallways, and make parts of the circulation space double as socializing or display areas.

Don't overbuild for your artists market – In work-space projects, design with unisex bathrooms when you are allowed by code (for professional adults they work well).

Leave things out – Residents and studio users can add final light fixtures and appliances. If possible, give larger units access to a second plumbing shaft so that occupants may install additional plumbing if they desire.

Buy ready-mades when possible – Discount furniture stores like Ikea offer inexpensive ready-made kitchens and closets.

Use appropriate studio flooring – A finished layer of urethane plywood, common pine planking, or plain concrete all work well. Rough existing wood flooring is popular for studio floors (It hides spills!).

Bedrooms can be carpeted – Wall-to-wall carpet in bedrooms is an inexpensive way to reduce noise, costing much less than finished wood or concrete toppings.

Avoid in-unit laundry equipment – Each washer/dryer requires expensive utilities and takes up valuable space. Due to equipment inefficiency and use patterns, in-unit laundry wastes energy when compared to group laundry facilities.

Leave out central AC in small projects – Design for cross-ventilation while also designing for through-the-wall or window air conditioners (this will also save the occupant money).

Plan ahead for exhaust fans – Design window assemblies to allow insertion of exhaust fans without extensive retrofitting, or consider building in sleeves up front for exhaust equipment in studios.

Let the engineering elements be the decoration –Take the time to coordinate the appearance of pipes, ducts, conduits, and structural elements. This gives those elements dignity and reduces the need for expensive drywall soffits, hung ceilings, and chases. The installers typically do not charge additional money to run mechanicals where you want as long as your input arrives at the right time.

Don't paint the walls – In certain markets, at certain times, unpainted veneer plaster is equal to, or less expensive than, painted drywall. Unit occupants can paint the plaster if/when they choose.

Hire a professional elevator consultant – He/she can advise you on how to upgrade an existing elevator as efficiently as possible, at the least cost to you, while still meeting code. A professional can review elevator shop drawings and specifications for technical quality, and advise you based on your budget when installers and local inspectors will likely not.

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Site Work

Minimize exterior lighting – Take background light into account when designing site lighting, avoiding unnecessary fixtures and electricity use.

Minimize parking requirements – Work with the planning department to reduce parking to the minimum necessary. Investigate the potential for off-site parking, reductions for transit availability, zip-cars, etc.

Avoid asphalt paving – Use gravel for driveways and parking. This reduces run-off, eliminates the need for striping, and can look great.

See what the municipality will do for you – Perhaps they will build the sidewalks or place the street trees. It never hurts to ask.

Let the occupants do part of the landscaping – Confine the project budget to big plants, sidewalks, drainage, paving, lighting, etc. It is a rare live/work building that does not include eager gardeners.

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Contractors and Design Professionals

Bid the construction trades whenever possible – Negotiating with one supplier or subcontractor seldom yields the best price.

Investigate prices that are too good to be true – They can lead to unacceptable workmanship or delays; desperate bidders may be one step from insolvency.

Avoid being the "learning experience" – Remember that few people get it right the first time. Use a team member's past experience to develop the most efficient project.

Match the players to the budget – Don't hire architects or contractors who consider your project beneath their standards. It is easier to get a rough-and-ready firm to move up, than to get a luxury firm to move down.

Consider design/build systems – A good schematic and an intelligent outline spec are all that is typically needed for HVAC, plumbing, and electrical work on smaller projects. The sub-contractor does the final design according to your specification. This can save engineering costs and lead to tighter bids and fewer change-orders.

Insist on speedy construction – Delays increase general conditions, costs you more bank/loan interest, and can lose pre-sales. That said, make sure your timeline is realistic and can accommodate what needs to be done.

Minimize winter heating costs – Temporary heat at a construction site is expensive for the owner, who nearly always covers this cost. If you have to deal with winter heating, personally inspect the premises to make sure windows are closed, the biggest air leaks are stopped, and the heat is used only when absolutely necessary.

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Shorten the borrowing time – Aim to close a construction loan the day before you start the construction, and finish all the design, permitting, and bidding before you close on the property.

Get the building into productive use as quickly as possible - This means selling or renting spaces BEFORE the project is finished, whenever possible.

Negotiate a cap on the construction lender's legal fees – Arts projects, being somewhat unique, require focus and concentration on the part of the lender's lawyers. Nothing improves focus like a cap on the fee.

Simplify the financing team – When doing a project that will have permanent financing, try to find a lender that will roll the construction loan into the permanent loan. Every new lender brings another appraisal, another lender's attorney (and more fees from your own attorney), and another loan origination fee.

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