Church Conversion Heavenly for Live-Work

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You could say that God’s work continued in the classic brick church on Church St., Edwardsburg, MI, even after the congregation moved out.

Kerry Jones designs and hand-crafts specialized wheelchairs in the basement – in what was once the fellowship hall. Cathy Bazata takes on the toughest occupational therapy clients, often working with them in what was once the sanctuary, under soaring beams edged with gingerbread woodwork.

“We needed a lot of space and didn’t have a lot of money,” says Jones of the couple’s decision to buy the church in 1998. (That’s him in the photo below, showing off one of the original pocket doors.) They paid $76,000 for the church and have poured “three times that” in improvements, from insulation to a new garage.

The couple adapted the space, adding a main floor bathroom (with an interior skylight to bring in natural light); closets; a master bedroom; and a loft. Bookcases rise 10 feet, accessed by rolling library ladders. Jones’ office, in the former entryway, is occupied by the computers he uses to engineer the wheelchairs.

Now, it’s time to move closer to their grandchildren, and the the couple have put the church on the market by owner.
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The real estate market in south-central Michigan – just a short drive north of South Bend and Notre Dame – is placid, to say the least. A converted church needs all the prayers it can get to find the right buyers, even in a lively market. So Jones and Bazata are marketing the church as a unique live-work space.
Their challenge is to show how the space is being used for their two home-based businesses, and how adaptable it is for other types of businesses.
Ideas abound: a dance studio, given the capacity of the sanctuary. A catering or culinary operation, given the 10-burner commercial stoves and acres of counterspace in the basement. A woodshop or artists’ studio, given the abundance of natural light on the main floor and of industrial electrical outlets in the basement.

Selling a live-work space is a double-duty task. You’re positioning the residential appeal of the space to homeowners, and the commercial elements to business owners – current or wannabe. If you are selling the business housed in the space (which Jones and Bazata are not), that opens up a third avenue for customers.

An expanded pool of potential buyers means that you’ll be marketing the property several ways simultaneously. Only a few buyers will be consciously looking for the exact kind of live-work space you offer. But many buyers are interested in homes with sufficient space for home-based work, even if that means plenty of office space. And many small businesses are interested in flexible space.

More ideas for marketing a live-work property

  • Selling by owner equips you to tell that story to influencers – a marketing technique unlikely to be tapped by a real estate agent.
  • Influencers are those who know who’s looking for live/work, home office, or small business space. They include:
  • Accountants and lawyers with small business clientele
  • Chambers of commerce and local economic development organizations, both on a mission to start and grow local businesses
  • Small business and women’s business development centers, which coach new and fast-growth entrepreneurs through startup and expansion
  • Business incubators, often attached to universities or non profits, that are on the lookout for space for businesses that have outgrown their hothouse space
  • Industry associations that include members who might be hunting for space for current or next ventures

Tapping into these networks takes time and moxie. Assembling the paperwork takes time and patience. But paving the way for a live/work buyer also removes speed bumps that can slow or derail a sale.

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