Separation Anxiety

Should our home and business be in different structures?
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This story appears in the June 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Question: My wife and I own a photography business and are moving to another city and opening a studio out of our home. Do you think it's a good idea to get a home in a business-zoned area and work in a separate studio in a detached building, like a garage, or should we buy a home in a residential area and add on a room?

David Bowles

Answer: We find people who work out of a separate structure are generally more satisfied with their experience than those who have both their home and business in one structure, unless the home is laid out to easily compartmentalize business and personal life-with a separate entrance for customers, sound insulation, etc. The families of business owners are usually happier, too, when the business is in a separate structure. Also, if you plan to use chemicals, say, in a photo lab, you'll probably feel more comfortable if the chemicals are in a separate building.

The principal disadvantage of having a separate structure: It generally requires business insurance, as the homeowner's policy usually won't cover a separate building on the property being used for business.

As for zoning, if you expect to have customer visits or regular deliveries, it's safer to move to an area zoned for business. Otherwise, an angry neighbor or competitor could create zoning problems, resulting in a cease and desist order. Ultimately, this could require expensive litigation, a quick relocation of your business or both.

We suggest making a list of all the criteria you seek in your ideal home office, including zoning considerations and homeowner-association restrictions. Then enlist the help of a quality real estate agent to help you find a home that comes as close as possible to your ideal. While you can take virtual tours of homes on numerous real estate Web sites, there's still nothing like a competent real estate agent to save you time and effort.

Small-business experts Paul and Sarah Edwards recently released their second edition of The Best Home Businesses For The 21st Century (Putnam Publishing Group). If you have a question regarding a start-up business issue, contact them at or send it in care of Entrepreneur.

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