If you have ever gone through the process of searching for a rental unit, then there is a chance that you have heard the term “convertible” being used to describe some apartments. It is important to understand what a convertible is and which rental units fall under this category so that you know what to look out for during your next apartment hunt in case you are interested in these type of apartments.
What is a convertible or flex apartment? A convertible apartment sometimes referred to as a flex, is generally a large studio apartment that has a sleeping area separate from the main room. Convertible apartments are mainly found in cities such as New York and Chicago where the high demand for apartments requires the creative use of the limited space. The design of convertible apartments vary, but a traditional layout for these units comprises portable dividers to separate the sleeping space from the rest of the living space.
Depending on the city or state you are in, the definition of convertible apartments varies. Here is a look at the description of these units in New York and Chicago where they are popular with residents.
Convertible/flex apartments in Chicago
In Chicago, a convertible apartment has a separate sleeping area, although it does not have a conventional door and it may or may not have a partial wall that allows privacy. Some of these rental units take an L-shaped design, otherwise known as an alcove. Others have a layout that is similar to that of a small one bedroom apartment but there is no wall that separates the sleeping area from the living space.
Other than an alcove, the main room can be separated from the sleeping area using a partial wall, or you can opt to install sliding doors in some units. In some states, these apartments are referred to as junior one bedroom apartments since they often have similar layouts. As the name suggests, junior one bedrooms are smaller versions of one bedroom apartments, but without a bedroom door. However, the cost to rent junior one bedroom units is slightly higher than that of convertible apartments, while studio apartments are cheaper than the latter.
Convertible/flex apartments in New York
In New York, a convertible rental unit can be modified to contain a sleeping area. This can be done by adding a pressurized wall, a temporary structure with a spring-loaded interior that pushes against the walls and ceilings around it, to the unit. A pressurized wall does not need to be secured with nails, screws, or glue, making it easy to put up and take down without causing damage to the property. Furthermore, it blends in well with the walls of the apartment due to its “real” wall look, and it brings about an added sense of privacy
You can use a pressurized wall to divide the living space into two rooms, which allows you to have a separate bedroom, den, or home office depending on how you choose to utilize this extra space. Based on this definition, a flex 2 or a conv 2 unit is basically a one bedroom apartment that has been or could be converted into a two-bedroom space. Similarly, a flex 3/conv 3 is a 2 bedroom unit that can be flexed into a 3 bedroom.
The practice of flexing/converting apartments is very common in New York since it allows residents to live in prime neighborhoods without necessarily breaking the bank. Converted apartments are popular with young professionals who intend to live with a roommate in order to afford the rent but want a separate bedroom or couples with a young child who need a separate nursery or a small children’s room. This does not mean these units are limited to these two groups since anyone can live in a flexed apartment depending on your needs.
You can use the services of one of the many companies that install pressurized walls in convertible apartments or you can take a DIY approach and install them with your landlord’s approval. Sometimes, you will find apartments that come with installed with these walls, which landlords use as selling points. Some property owners are very specific about the companies that carry out the installation, so make sure you make inquiries first.
Most companies prefer to lease walls to customers rather than selling them, with the standard time-frame you can rent a wall being up to 3 years, after which you will have to pay a renewal fee. However, if you think you will need to use the wall for more than three years, it is more efficient to purchase one rather than renting it.
While pressurized walls are quite handy, it has become more difficult to be approved to install them within rental units in New York. In 2005, two firemen died during a fire in an apartment as a result of being disoriented by the pressurized walls which were not understandably not shown on the floor plan of the unit. This sad event prompted the Department of Buildings in the city to restrict the installation of pressurized walls.
Consequently, some buildings don’t allow tenants to install these temporary structures, while new buildings are being designed with the idea of dividing the living space in the future. If you intend to install pressurized walls in your unit, ensure that you adequately prepare plans and apply for permits. Additionally, before you move in, ask the landlord whether the building allows for installation.
Other than pressurized walls, there are other temporary wall options you can install in your convertible/flexed apartment:
- Partial walls – Since many apartment buildings are not too keen on floor-to-ceiling pressurized walls, partial walls have seen a surge in popularity among renters who are looking for innovative ways to divide their convertible rental units. Like pressurized walls, partial walls can be installed without the use of nails or screws. The differences come in where these structures stop about 12 inches from the ceiling, and instead of a door, they have a simple opening. Although the lack of a door limits the sense of privacy, you can use a curtain or any other creative ways to cover the opening.
- Bookshelf walls – Instead of a simple partial wall, why not go for a bookshelf wall? A bookshelf wall is basically any temporary structure designed with attached shelving. In addition to serving as a wall, this structure can also be used to hold all sorts of items since they offer extra storage space. Depending on the regulations put in place by your landlord and your own style and size preferences, you have a wide variety of bookshelf walls to choose from.
Considerations before you install a temporary wall
Before you install a temporary wall in your convertible apartment, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Try not to block the exit routes – During planning, make sure that the temporary walls do not block the exit routes of the unit or hinder the functioning of the ventilation and sprinkler systems. It is especially important to keep exit routes open in case of a fire or any other disastrous occurrence in the building.
- Sliding doors – If you are worried about obstruction of natural light that installing a temporary wall may cause, consider going for sliding doors or French doors instead. Although they are a more expensive option, they allow light into your space and generally make it feel more open and bright.
- Have a written agreement with the installation company – If you are using the services of an installation company, ensure that you sign an agreement that states you don’t need to pay more money in order for the company to take the wall down when you move out, and that you will be refunded the deposit you paid prior to the installation as long as you didn’t cause any damage to the structure.
- Don’t take too much of the living space – You don’t want to take up too much of the living space when installing temporary walls in your unit. This will only make your apartment feel small and cramped. Make sure that you have the measurements down so that you have enough space in both the living room and the sleeping area.
- How much does it cost to put up a partition wall? If you are hiring someone to install an L-shaped partition, be prepared to spend any amount from $400-$1,500 depending on size, labor and purchase of materials. In New York, there are companies that specialize in leasing partition walls, charging around $600-$1000 for leases that last 2-3 years. The quality of the wall also affects the price, with soundproofing materials costing as much as $1,500-$3,500 for a lease that lasts 3 years.
- What are the differences between a studio apartment and a one-bedroom apartment? A studio apartment is a unit with one central room that comes with a full-size bathroom, kitchen, living space, and sleeping area within the same area. On the other hand, a one bedroom apartment has a separate bedroom that is 70 or 80 square feet at a minimum. Studio apartments are generally more affordable, but they also tend to be smaller and may not come with in-unit amenities.