Real Estate Alchemy at Work

Richmond Real Estate AlchemyWhat does alchemy have to do with real estate?

Alchemy has it’s origin in the concept of turning ordinary materials into the extraordinary. The most easily called to mind is the medieval attempts at converting base materials like lead into gold (which as we know didn’t work out so well for them). A not so different kind of transmutation is taking place in our modern Richmond real estate market, but with a vastly different outcome.

This week, Tom Rosman and I had the opportunity to show a 7,000+ sq. ft empty warehouse/apartment building in historic Jackson Ward to some potential real estate alchemists or investors. The property has most recently been used by a local theater and a catering company as storage space. Lack of maintenance has taken its toll on the building and it is in need of a complete renovation. In it’s present state it is the epitome of a base material.

Jackson Ward Historic Warehouse Property


While showing the property though, I couldn’t help but imagine the building in it’s prime. The 14 foot tall ceilings in the lower level still have most of the original stamped tin panels in place. An upstairs bathroom proudly displays remnants of the original black and white tile. The bedroom fireplace mantel is in remarkably good shape. As you look out the large upstairs windows across the street to the Gallery 5 Firehouse, you can picture horse drawn buggies cruising down a cobblestone street. Famous Richmonders like Maggie Walker and John Mitchell Jr. called this neighborhood home and strolled on these brick sidewalks. This building has certainly seen better days, but this property has golden potential even in this 21st century and I will tell you why.


Right on the corner of Marshall and Brook, the epicenter of First Fridays Art Walk and the burgeoning arts district which includes over 40 creative art venues. It’s also located between both VCU and MCV, giving it appeal to both students and employees of each campus. This includes over 31,000 students and over 18,000 faculty.

Highest Use

On all sides it is surrounded by renovated warehouse spaces and single family historic rowhouses; over 50 condos and close to 200 apartments to be more exact.

Neighborhood Amenities

Some of Richmond’s most loved and acclaimed restaurants are a short walk, restaurants like Comfort, Tarrant’s, and Bistro 27. The hip new gastropub Saison is only a few steps from the front door.

Investment Perks

This property qualifies for both federal and state tax credits.

It might be converted to apartments, condos, studios, mixed use, or even a great single family space. A large 1,600 sq ft sundeck over the 12 car rear garage is a tempting possibility. Skylights and atria could be added to bring in extra light. The high ceilings even allow for the option of loft spaces. The trained eye envisions the realities to come.

I found myself snapping mental pictures of the current state of the property, looking forward to the finished product. No doubt this property will be renovated and converted to a higher use and most likely sooner than later.

It may not be financially viable to convert ordinary lead into gold, but real estate alchemy can reap rich rewards when properly performed.

Shrewd developers and investors have capitalized on a recent gravitation back to the city. 2011 census data shows that central cities are now growing faster than their suburbs for the first time in over a century! This means that historic and unfinished base properties such as this one are quickly disappearing from the Richmond market. Even this property was under contract, but due to delays on the buyers side, it has now temporarily reappeared on the market.

Hindsight is always 20/20 but foresight rarely is, just ask an alchemist.

Update: The property mentioned above is now under contract once again.

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