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Converted Malls Could Provide Alternative Housing Solution

unboxing-houseAccording to a June 2017 report by Credit Suisse, as many as 25 percent of America’s malls will shuttered by 2022. That’s a lot of empty real estate, but also real estate that doesn’t easily lend itself to reuse. After all, no matter what you do to a mall, it’s hard to disguise the fact that it used to be a mall. One possible solution? Repurpose those empty retail spaces for residential use.

With more shoppers embracing online shopping every year—Credit Suisse predicts online shopping will account for 35 percent on consumer spending by 2030—the great American mall likely isn’t going to come back to life anytime soon. Meanwhile, communities around the country are facing inventory shortages in the housing market. According to an October RE/MAX National Housing Report, September 2017's supply of  inventory was the lowest of any September in the report's history.

A new Forbes piece poses a unique solution to the problem: why not turn that abandoned mall retail space into places for people to live?

“Residential housing is one of the several options that developers are considering in order to revitalize failing mall properties,” said Rick Rizzuto, VP at Transwestern. “In today’s landscape, some are redeveloping mall properties to include residential units, while others are considering condos and apartments.”

Converting mall properties into apartments and condos could provide outside-the-box solutions to housing shortages, as well as revitalizing some part of the mall’s original purpose—the convenience of having a variety of stores in one location. Many consumers might not want to drive to the mall to do their shopping when Amazon is only a click away, but when there are an array of stores literally right outside your door? That could be a different story.

As Steven Henenfeld, SVP and Director of Retail Leasing at CREC, explains, “One of the main benefits is that residents will have restaurants, services, and retail at their front door step. The close proximity to these uses will allow the consumer to utilize these almost as amenities.” That level of convenience would likely appeal to two crucial demographics: aging baby boomers and millennials looking for more affordable alternatives to traditional homeownership.

Malls also offer another benefit when it comes to use as housing: location, location, location. “Malls are typically located on or near an intersection of a high or a main street and are well served by public transportation,” Henenfeld said. “That puts the residential properties at the center of town, allowing residents easy access to main roads and highway systems.”

However, that conversion process wouldn’t be as simple as just remodeling the interiors. Jay Rollins, Managing Principal of JCR Capital, said, “It typically requires a partnership with local municipalities and other officials to obtain proper zoning and determine a site plan.”

Peter Muoio, Chief Economist at Ten-X adds, “Retail and housing require completely different skill sets. You are dealing with numerous individuals instead of fewer corporate clients. Leases are shorter and turnover tends to be higher for residential. However, there’s an incredible demand for housing, especially in certain markets, so owners making this shift would be entering a growth arena.”

About Author: David Wharton

David Wharton, Editor-in-Chief at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, where he received his B.A. in English and minored in Journalism. Wharton has nearly 20 years' experience in journalism and previously worked at Thomson Reuters, a multinational mass media and information firm, as Associate Content Editor, focusing on producing media content related to tax and accounting principles and government rules and regulations for accounting professionals. Wharton has an extensive and diversified portfolio of freelance material, with published contributions in both online and print media publications. He can be reached at [email protected].

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