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Tim Dwelly's live/work blog

Live/work is different to residential housing. Say so loudly and reap the rewards...

Following the publication of Tomorrow's property today and our spring conference, it has become clear to me that those who want to create genuine live/work schemes need to be bold.

Again and again when interviewing live/workers - as well as sales agents like Cityscope - we have found that it is unique and special live/work properties that appeal to people. Having an unusual kind of property - especially if it is somewhere like a reclaimed factory (eg Bristol Paintworks) - is a selling point, not a drawback. The lesson here is that developers who assume they need to cover up or play down the live/work aspects of their site may be undermining their market. Some developers do this by designing units that look frankly residential. Others do it by marketing the property as if it were residential. Many do both. Even those who don't often makek the mistake of developing live/work, selling and leaving the site to magically manage itself.

These approaches risk actually reducing sales and profits. Backing this up, the properties that we find at are not selling so well are those that don't look like anything other than residential houses or flats.

Think of it this way: if you can buy/rent a very similar looking property to the live/work unit you have found, why on earth would you buy the live/work unit, which comes with conditions of use and business rates and can only be sold to those who want to run a home based business?

The answer is you wouldn't. Hence the need for live/work schemes to have postive selling points to attract buyers. For example, design that makes the workspace professional, hub facilities and networking of neighbouring businesses (that reduce the isolation felt by home workers), unusual settings, heritage buildings reclaimed, wow factor architecture, special broadband facilities and so on.

Because many live/work units here and in the USA do offer some of these attractions, we have found that the live/work market has - so far - been quite reilient in the face of the credit crunch. Agents such as Cityscope and mortgage brokers Charcol (who have special live/work funds at their disposal) report continuing strong markets. I don't suppose the price of petrol is doing any harm here. That is the view in the USA too. Live/work developers are reporting strong demand as more people resist high fuel costs and the time wasted commuting.

The other factor is the relationship between the weakening jobs marlet and people's skills. If large companies are becoming less stable places to work, why not set up on your own? And if that appeals, why not save money by doing so from a live/work unit instead of paying for home and a separate office?

I will return to this factor on other blogs, but I do strngly recommend anyone interested in the trend towards self-reliant micro business to read the 2000 classic Free Agent Nation by Daniel Pink (a former speech write to vice president Al Gore). This book is life-changing. It explains clearly why the new economy is so different to the world of work in the 20th century when people's skills were sold by large employers who expect people to work for them for their whole careers. And guess what - home based business is at the heart of the revolution that has seen 25% of the US labour force working for themselves. The UK mirrors all this. Free Agent Nation is available very cheaply from Aamazon - and I don't even get a commission...

So let's celebrate what is unique about live/work. Llet's recognise how much more exciting a live/work property can be in the modern age than a bog standard residential property you have to leave every morning on the way to work...

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