Davis is purchasing one of about 100 ''workshop condominiums," being built by Boston-based Abraham Properties Inc. The company's idea, well-established in other states, but fairly new to Massachusetts, is to build a complex of high-ceilinged workshop-storage spaces, each with a small attached office and bathroom. It seemed like the right next step for Abraham Properties, a family business that owns both a Back Bay office building and the Stor/Gard self-storage chain.
''We learned that many of our self-storage customers were contractors and distributors, and that they really needed a larger space for warehousing and workshopping, and they needed an office where they could work," explained Nicholas Abraham , the company president and CEO. ''In a sense, we are creating a mini industrial park."
Abraham plans to put half the workshop condos on a property in Northborough, where one of three buildings was completed this month.
In the spring, construction will begin on another three-building complex in Franklin. Marketed to small businesses such as plumbers and landscapers, along with professionals such as lawyers who need additional space for documents, or retailers seeking extra room for inventory, the units will be between about 1,200 and 2,200 square feet, with garage door access to the storage/workshop bay and offices equipped with telephone, fax and high-speed Internet hookups.
Sale prices are between $150,000 to $180,000 which translates to a monthly cost per square foot that's comparable the rent of Stor/Gard's self-storage units.
''We had been searching for something to own," said Andrew Walsh who owns Rabbit Hill Furniture in Medway and who purchased a workshop condo in Franklin.
Walsh hopes the hybrid space be more useful to his business than the larger storage space he now rents to store an inventory of wood furniture.
Indeed, according to David Begelfer, chief executive of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, the relatively affordable opportunity to own rather than rent is a big reason why offering small workshop-office spaces in a multiunit, condominium arrangement, ''makes an awful lot of sense."
Continued low interest rates, noted Begelfer, make real estate attractive to business owners, ''not just to occupy, but also as an investment."
Added to the ownership opportunity is condominium convenience, where things like maintenance and landscaping are covered by $200 per month condo fees.
''For a small business owner to go out and come up with the money to buy a piece of property to build an ideal building and go through the permitting, that's just too much time, hassle and cash," said Davis. ''But here, once they're done with it, all you have to do is paint it and you're all set."
Over the last ten years, the number of self-storage facilities in Massachusetts has doubled, to approximately 400.
Between 15 and 20 percent of those are used by commercial customers, according to the Massachusetts Self-Storage Association And uses for self-storage units have been proliferating, as well: A facility in Somerville, for instance, was converted into artists' studios.As for the workshop condos, about 20 have already been sold, according to Nicholas Abraham's son, Nicko, the company vice president. One went to a glass blower, another to an irrigation company.
''It's basically a wide-open room with a 20-foot-high ceiling," said Nicko. ''You can stack anything you want, or put your workshop there. It could be put to a myriad of uses."