Help me find a belltower to live in.
February 1, 2010 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Investigating a New York City (Brooklyn) real estate fantasy: I sometimes dream of finding an odd space -- a small garage, a storefront, a storage building -- and fixing it up into livable space. I see examples around town of people who have done this. I've heard friend-of-friend stories. But I have no idea how one finds non-apartment real estate sale listings in Brooklyn (or non-new-obnoxious-condo listings, for that matter). Putting aside zoning issues and the like -- where could I start investigating? Craigslist/Streeteasy/Trulia don't seem to help.
posted by the jam to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Call numbers you see on sides of buildings. Talk to people. Check out neighborhoods -- are you looking to live in commercial warehouse space? Unused industrial? Where are you willing to live, location-wise? East Williamsburg Industrial Zone is not the same as deep Bushwick is not the same as the ins and outs of Red Hook. Call more numbers. Describe what you are looking for to people you talk to.

It is simply not something that can be done over the internet. Simply put: there are no "listings," since, like you hint at, non-residential living is not exactly legal. Craigslist is less than worthless in these situations.

Upside: it is not that hard. It requires a little digging, but it is totally doable. MeMail me if you want to talk more nuts and bolts.
posted by Damn That Television at 1:32 PM on February 1, 2010

I've lived in some interesting buildings before. Tell people you are looking for "live/work" space. If you have any friends who are artists, ask them, because they are usually always on the look out for places like that.
posted by bradbane at 1:44 PM on February 1, 2010

What you want, basically, is commercial real estate, for which there are brokers large and small. You can find them, for example, by scouring the NYT listings.

That said, if this is your first purchase, you're in way over your head- the residential buying process here is hard enough to deal with. I'd also think it would be impossible to get a mortgage for a place that's not zoned residential.
posted by mkultra at 1:49 PM on February 1, 2010

Oh yeah -- are you looking to rent or buy? I assumed rent.

Other bullet points:

-a lot of landlords don't want to know you're going to be living there. They want to keep their building quiet and unnoticed. They'll know you're going to be living there, trust me, but they don't want to talk about it.

-there is always the chance you will get kicked out, especially for the weirder living-type arrangements (water tower, garage, etc.), but if you are in a commercial or light-industrial building with a lot of other arty-types who are also breaking the law, it is very unlikely that the city will evict the lot of you.

-Fun Factoid: soho used to be all illegal artists lofts, who lobbied to change the zoning in the area once there were enough people. I know! Soho actually once had real artists.

-It is always important to trust your landlord, but never more important than when you are in a semi-legal setup. You will not have a leg to stand on, legally (I AM NOT A LAWYER!!!! WOW) so try to find someone you're not going to have to fight in court.

-A lot of lofts in commercial buildings look/function identically to residential lofts. Fun way to spot the difference between a commercial space that just so happens to look like you could live there and a legally zoned residential space that looks office-y: the commercial space will frequently have handicap handrails in the bathroom, as is required by commercial property bathrooms. Funny but true.
posted by Damn That Television at 2:09 PM on February 1, 2010

I've never lived on my own in any place other than what you describe. The best way to find these places is to physically look for them. Maybe there is an old bar with a second floor and you can see old boxes being stored in there. Approach the landlord and say you'll take it as is. The space needs at minimum three things: a method of access that does not entail going through another business, a cold water pipe, and a toilet. Sink, shower, hot water heater, and room heating are all things you should be prepared install.

Do not ask to rent as a residence, but state your need for 24 hour access, and that you have irregular hours. Say you might take naps, and you will have a hotplate and microwave for snacks. The landlord has two separate issues: 1 ) that you live there, and 2) that he has officially acknowledged that you live there. In the second case he has to, for instance, provide childproof window guards. Offering to do so acknowledges you as a resident, and can create problems for him, giving you a legal advantage.

Registering a child at that address for the residency requirement of a public school can mean trouble. It's usually best if, man or woman, your things and their arrangement looks kind of masculine. Lacey curtains blowing out the windows and visible from the street is a no-no.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:13 PM on February 1, 2010

Walk around neighborhoods you want to live in and look for for rent signs. Call the number! There's a place next door to me that's a storefront that someone just put up paper in the windows and now clearly lives there (or uses it as a "studio"). I called to see about renting it for an event, and was shocked at how cheap it was. No kitchen small space, possibly no bathroom, but you can get away with it if you're careful.
posted by CharlesV42 at 4:55 PM on February 1, 2010

+1 physically look for them.

These things aren't listed in the paper. As a kid, I used to see plenty of "garage for rent" signs. Though I suspect the landlord would look at you strangely if you didn't want to use it to park your car.
posted by MesoFilter at 8:00 AM on February 2, 2010

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