At 300 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive SE in downtown Atlanta, a "For Rent" sign is more than meets the eye. Home to the Mattress Factory Lofts, this mixed-use development boasts roughly 125,000 square feet of creative commercial space and 218 loft residences, entirely comprised of buildings dating back as far as 1864. Once home of the Southern Spring Bedding Company, where Martin Luther King Jr. himself is said to have worked during his summers as a boy, these lofts are equal parts home and history.
"A property's story can definitely help you rent it–especially if it's a good one," says Preston Synder, president of Braden Fellman Group, which develops, owns and manages historic rental properties in Atlanta, including the Mattress Factory Lofts. "The Mattress Factory Lofts is a great example. Some of that project's old buildings date back to 1865 on the fire maps, which say that the Union soldiers stabled their horses there when they were in Atlanta. In the 1970s, the same buildings became home to a happening underground arts scene, and we continue to trade on that history by attracting a lot of working artists."
Like the Braden Fellman Group, which has been rehabbing and renting historic properties since 1981, property managers nationwide can tap into their buildings' history in order to attract tenants.Profit from the past
According to Snyder, when a historic building has great architecture to match its great back-story people may be willing to pay a premium. Michael Bolla agrees. Director of sales for Luxury Lofts & Homes, a boutique brokerage firm in New York that specializes in historic properties, he caters to high-end clients who are looking to live in high-end historic homes, such as the Forward Building on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Built in 1912 as the headquarters for The Jewish Daily Forward–one of the country's first Jewish newspapers–it was converted into condominiums in 2006.
"When we put that building on the market, we got national press coverage," Bolla says. "People from all over the country purchased apartments in that building because it was that building."Know what features to market
The market for rentals in historically significant buildings is a small niche but a strong one, according to Synder, who says property managers with historic rentals can take one of several approaches to market their buildings. For instance, they can market its:
Whether you focus on your building's architecture, location or story, you'll need to do some research in order to unearth its past, says architectural historian Paul Williams, principal of Kelsey & Associates Inc. based in Washington. He recommends the following resources:
However you spend your marketing dollars, the market's on your side, according to Snyder. "Historically, our properties have always bounced back more quickly," he says. "We tend to come back stronger and faster from economic downturns because we have a very limited product and attractive design; historic properties are tough products to replicate, and there's not a lot of them left."Successful storytelling strategies
If you want to turn research into results, your great story will need a great storyteller. To weave the kind of tale that ends with a sale, consider the following marketing strategies: