Is it time to turn shops and offices into homes?

The changing world of work brings a chance to convert the use of shops and offices
This shop set over five floors in Ilkley is 400,000 with and has potential for conversion.This shop set over five floors in Ilkley is 400,000 with and has potential for conversion.
This shop set over five floors in Ilkley is 400,000 with and has potential for conversion.

Our shopping habits and the way we work have slowly altered over the past few years but the pace of change looks set to speed up in the wake of the pandemic.

Working from home, which has proved successful for many during lockdown, is predicted to become more prevalent. Forecasters also believe that there will be fewer retailers on our high streets as the coronavirus outbreak has accelerated the trend for shopping online.

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The result is that there will be more redundant offices and shops up for sale in the coming months and some of them could be suitable for conversion from commercial to residential property.

Developers have already embraced this concept thanks to a relaxation in planning rules in 2013, which gave permitted development rights for office to residential conversions. This was aimed at tackling the UK’s housing shortage.

Converting retail premises into a home or homes does require planning permission from the local authority but if there is no obvious commercial use, the chances of approval may be greater. Few home hunters have taken up the chance to convert premises and rarely look at commercial property for sale but they could be missing a trick.

“I don’t think it has crossed many people’s mind before but there is definitely opportunity there for those who are a little bit brave and are happy to seek planning permission and do the building works required when converting an office or shop.

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“There may be financial hurdles, such as mortgage availability, but they are not unsurmountable,” says Matthew Brear, senior associate in Dacre, Son and Hartley’s commercial property team, who adds that he is already seeing more premises coming to the market.

Hunters in Ilkley is marketing a shop in Ilkley that looks set to attract interest from those looking to convert the space. The property, which is £400,000, is on Cowpasture Road and is a mid-terrace building set over five floors. A similar building was bought recently and the ground floor retained as a shop, while the upper floors were turned into two apartments and the basement converted into a third flat.

While changes to town and city centres may be unsettling for some, estate agent Simon Blyth believes that more homes will bring a positive transformation. He has a holiday property in Edinburgh where residential and commercial buildings have sat together for centuries and where gated, pocket parks for residents are common.

“That mix of offices, shops and homes, often on the same street, is what makes Edinburgh so pleasant and so vibrant,” says Simon. “In many other town and city centres, the streets are dead after 5pm. I believe the only way to make them work in the future is by having a mix of residential and commercial properties.”

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This should lead to a symbiotic relationship between the two, where residents would provide a ready-made market for the cafes, restaurants, bars, cinemas and attractive, boutique shops.

Simon believes this approach would work in all Yorkshire towns and cities that have barely any residential element.

“Commercial property prices in many areas now make conversions financially viable for individuals and I think those who embrace the idea will be creative,” he says. “You can also look at keeping the ground floor as a shop and converting the upper floors into living space, which gives you a home with income.”

Excellent examples of where the retail/homes split works well in a town include Harrogate, Ripon and Wetherby. Leeds, York and Sheffield centres are also thriving thanks to city living.

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Jonathan Morgan of Linley & Simpson with Morgans property agency helped pioneer city living in Leeds and says there is untapped potential to create more homes.

“Even before the pandemic, we were seeing more retail to residential conversions, though not so much with offices as there is still a demand for office space in Leeds and I think this will remain the case after the pandemic. There is an acceptance that the proportion of space taken by retail will reduce but I think this will now speed up and there will be a lot more repurposing of shops.”

He adds that the greatest opportunity is in the upper floors of commercial buildings. “At the moment, many of them are empty and unsightly but they could be converted into homes, student lets or even hotels. A lot of them are perfect for it with big windows and great locations.”

Living over the Shop was an initiative orignally pioneered in 1989 by Ann Petherick, a freelance planner, now owner of the Kentmere House gallery in York.

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She reasoned that it makes sense to use vacant space above shops as this invigorates towns and cities and relieves development pressure on greenfield sites.

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