Creative ways to change lay-outs of Worcester triple-deckers.

10 Replies | Worcester, Massachusetts

Does anyone have any experience in changing Worcester triple-decker lay-outs? Was it worth the investment?

Many of us know because these triple-deckers were built 100-150 year ago, the original layouts are horrible (lack of counter space, kitchen in a narrow area near the bathroom, wash & dryer out in the open kitchen, minimal counter spaces, lack of dishwasher, parlor heating/stove, etc.). I do love the pocket doors in the living though. When I first enter this market 8 years ago, it was not worth the investment to optimize the layout because rents were low. But as rent rose, I am contemplating that decision again. I am seeing some creative things at open houses recently--movements of kitchens to allow an island or peninsula, 2nd bathroom additions in where the old kitchen was, replacement of parlor heating with central forced heating & cooling or electric mini-splits, putting refrigerator in where the build-in cabinets was. I know it may depend on the situations--I am a long-term holder and I would consider it first for the larger 3-bedroom units, as opposed to the 2-bedroom units, where there is a higher rent potential. 

I have seen many layouts changes over the past years. A common thing is removing the wall between the living room and kitchen. Another common method is putting the back left bedroom door in the hallway and removing it from the kitchen area. Another method I’ve seen is doing an L shaped kitchen where the parlor heater/stove normally is. I have questioned if the middle wall is load bearing and what is involved with removing that wall. I personally have not been involved in such a project just seen the completed layouts.

I have considered converting my pantries into bathrooms and removing the wall dividing the kitchen and living room. I have successfully divided the living room / parlor into two separate rooms to add a room. Funny, I could see my properties in my mind while you were describing the issues above, and have seen many others that fit the description! 

@Jeffrey St.Laurent I can't see removing the wall between the kitchen and living room being possible. I am pretty sure that is load bearing and that is normally where the gas pipes (one side is the parlor heater and the other side is the stove). But maybe we are talking about different types. And yes I seen rear bedroom extend to the stair case for additional square footage. I am under agreement to purchase one that is like that.  I am going back to the subject property with my contractor's plumber and electrician to get some rough estimates of the some of these conversions and changes. One of the things my contractor has done in other properties and suggested to me is doing that L-Shape peninsula you described.

@Michael H. I knew someone in this forum could relate when I describe those items.

Attached is a diagram. I hope I am not revealing too many trade secrets by posting it. The subject project currently has 1st floor (owner-occupied's unit) an extra half bath that was converted from the old kitchen/pantry (I wish they had done a full bath instead) and I am considering replicating this to the 2nd and 3rd floor. I drew the red rectangle island in the mid of the kitchen and asked if my contractor can run the pipes from the kitchen & bath (in the right) from the floor (I am pretty sure the joists run this way). My contractor drew the darker blue suggested L-shape and lighter blue refrigerator location. I also wonder if I can do a full bath instead of half, but we need to move the laundry location, which I have seen sometimes in the hallway instead. 

@Charles Situ and @Michael H. - converting the pantry to a second half bathroom with washer and dryer is also very common and it’s a nice touch. Who doesn’t love two bathrooms?

@Charles Situ I am with you on the load bearing wall. I am sure it’s doable like anything but how much engineering and work is involved to make that happen. At that point your likely opening most walls so moving a gas line to an exterior wall likely isn’t a big deal. I don’t think your truly need two showers. Probably not worth the additional cost as it really wouldn’t get you much more rent if any compared to a half bath. More plumbing more headaches. A full bath and a Half bath is enough in my opinion. Also looking at more work and cost moving the washer and dryer into the back hallish area. A coat rack and shoe area would probably be more appealing to most tenants. I think the L shape is a better look and usage of the space then an island. The islands in those properties always feel and look more out of space as they end up awkwardly placed in the middle of the room. In my opinion I just haven’t seen one done right that looks like it fits and just wasn’t thrown in there. I am sure it happens but I am yet to see it.

It seems rarer and rarer to see the dining room actually used as a dining room and most use it as an extending living area or playroom/spare room office etc even though it’s open.

@Jeffrey St.Laurent I am going to walk through the place with a plumber tomorrow. But I think you are probably right about the half bath vs full bath and the L-Shape vs Island. My contractor works on many of these types of homes and there is a reason why the project manager suggested the L-Shape to me. 

@Jeffrey St.Laurent Got it. I actually own a unit that has this similar type of layout, but did realized that is you were talking about. Only difference is that the stove is on the opposite of the wall where the parlor is. I was talking about a peninsula. I attached both pictures--one of them is the one I own and the other is the one I am trying to do in the new purchase I am under agreement for. It all comes down to plumbing. I have to see if the plumbers can move the old kitchen sink (in the pantry area) to the new peninsula, so I can convert the old kitchen into a bathroom.

One of the easiest moves is this.  You have the Pantry kitchen and bathroom back to back on one side of the house.  In most 3 deckers this is the only "wet wall" in the place, that is it has the Waste stack and the hot and cold water.  Many times you will see someone put a washing machine in the kitchen on that wall since it is so easy to do on the plumbing side.  I think the cheapest and easiest way to add value is to put the kitchen sink on that wall facing the kitchen.  Now you have taken the sink out of the pantry and you can make that into a 1/2 bath with laundry or a 3/4 bath.  Since most places have the storage shed on the back porch you can either cut into that to make the back bedroom or closet in that room bigger, or you can run a new plumbing stack and put washers (and dryers) out there.   I have been in 1500 multis in worcester in the last 4 years and sadly the "modern kitchen" or the multiple bathroom situation is in only about 150 of them that had hit the market.  People either are keeping these or they don't exist.  I think your rent goes up and you have lower vacancy so people are more inclined to keep these, once they get them to that point.

@Brian J Allen it is good to get some feedback from someone who has seen so many units. I am thinking you are right that if I modernize the kitchen and create an additional bathroom, I get higher rents, lower vacancy. I would also add that I would probably get fewer maintenance calls. These are the qualitative items you don't see on a spreadsheet. I am waiting for some estimates from my PM, who also owns a construction company. I do have the the back-to-back pantry-kitchen on one side and the bath on the other side. I am looking to move the kitchen like you described. Not sure where you mean by the wall facing the kitchen. But I am considering updating heating and therefore run up the plumbing for the new kitchen sink (& dishwasher) from that parlor wall between the kitchen and living room to form a peninsula coming out from that wall. I would install the new full bath from the old kitchen and also have the entry to that new bath coming in from the bedroom (to have a master suite) rather than the kitchen. My GC's plumber said its best replacing all the old plumbing while we are at and we will have to the ceilings on the floors to drop by a bid to fit the new plumbing. I do own another building where the washer is in the back hall closet. For this new one I am considering I seem to have plenty of room in the basement to do two sets of coin-ops. While the in-unit washer & dryer is a great seller to tenants when they see it, I reduced damage potential from a leak significantly. Also the first floor has the back bedroom already cut into the hall closet and the back stair for a supersized bedroom (the whole square footage of this apartment is now almost 1600 sq ft, which is unheard of in triple-deckers) and I didn't want to undo it. My PM is currently listings a few units like this for rent at $1900 to 1950. I am thinking I can get $2,000 with a slightly better location--3 bedrooms, 2 full baths, central cooling & heating, 1350 sq ft (or 1585 for 1st floor), and parking in a large driveway.