Buck The Trend: Could Commercial Be The New Residential?

Buck The Trend: Could Commercial Be The New Residential?
TORONTO - SEPTEMBER 2018: Toronto has many streets with well preserved Victorian commercial buildings that house unique shops.

We are experiencing a transitional time not just in real estate and the workplace but in a broader cultural paradigm. A metamorphosis of sorts. It’s hard to predict what our landscape will look like at the end of all this as it is unlikely to go back to what we perceived as normal. As we look to the future, we can only speculate what the new normal will be.

In light of this, we have a look at previously repurposed and revitalised buildings in Toronto that took on new life. Robert Watson Lofts is an example of industrial space being converted successfully into residential lofts. A former candy factory, Robert Watson Lofts was revitalised and renewed, letting its industrial grit and facade transition into chic and desirable residential loft spaces. Another example is the Chocolate Company Lofts on Queen St. Formerly a chocolate factory, this space was transformed into apartments while keeping its rustic brick exterior and industrial vibe. 

We turn our sights to the next space waiting to be transformed: the workplace. What will the new workplace look like? What will the buildings where these workplaces reside look like given the transition we are experiencing? For the time being, many of our workplaces will have to remain sterile and socially distanced. It’s tough on all of us and many of us will struggle to satisfy the desire to socialise. There has already been a considerable shift in workplace culture based on the new paradigms set by covid safety. A need for a better quality of life and balance has surged in popularity. 

Long ago, in the 18th and 19th centuries, stores were primarily mom-and-pop family-owned independent businesses. Before all the department stores and big company giants dominated the market, stores often offered general goods or catered specific items to service their locale. While these still exist now, their market share is minimal and many of them have found themselves falling behind the times.

Let us go back a couple of decades and surmise about what the future holds while looking at the past. Once upon a time, many commercial businesses, be they retail stores or restaurants, were owned by the same family that lived in the residential unit above the business. It was normal to live in the same building that you worked in. Perhaps this trend will make a resurgence? It’s not for us to say. But imagine what it would be like to live in this other world. Having the convenience of working in the same building you live in eliminates your commute and transit times, opening you up to new possibilities and opportunities for work-life balance. 

What does this look like for real estate? Toronto’s future is uncertain as we continue to battle the current global situation. With rental listings increasing, Q3 this year showed a 113.9% increase over the previous year, and average rents declining for all size of apartments, things are changing. However, there’s too many factors to make a certain prediction. What we do know is that the real estate market in Toronto has always favoured a creative solution. It’s not always easy but it can be rewarding. Perhaps it is time to look at commercial mortgages in response to a change in the workplace. 

Is there a mortgage product available and accessible for people interested in combining their workplace and residence? Unfortunately there isn’t a product that’s widely accessible. That’s something that needs to change as the cultural norm shifts. We can’t say when that will happen or what that something will look like. Stay tuned as more news comes available. Who knows? You could be a pioneer that bucks the trend.

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