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What Is a Loft, and Is It the Right Investment for You?

Once preferred by artists and other creatives, lofts are now ideal living spaces for anyone who craves flexible floor plans with an industrial look.

[Updated: Mar 04, 2021 ] May 05, 2020 by Barbara Zito
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Lofts are the cool kids of the real estate world. Long associated with artists, musicians, and other creative types, many of these large spaces have been converted into unique and beautiful apartments.

The main attraction of a loft apartment is the open floor plan. With no interior walls to divide the living space, lofts are blank canvases for their inhabitants. While open floor plans are ideal for some, others prefer traditional spaces with separate bedrooms and living areas.

Let's take a look at loft living, as well as some pros and cons renters and homebuyers will want to consider when searching for a new place to live.

What exactly is a loft?

A loft is a large, single room with few, if any, walls separating the space. Historically artists have especially loved lofts, using the open floor plan to house their living area and workspace. This might have been an economical move decades ago, but today, lofts are among the priciest style of apartment you can rent or purchase.

Lofts have an inherent cool factor in that they are often converted from factory or warehouse spaces. The default decor is industrial chic, with features that include exposed brick walls and ductwork, high ceilings, and large windows that let in an incredible amount of natural light.

New construction may offer "loft-style" living spaces, but true lofts come from those former industrial spaces often found in urban centers.

The differences between a studio and a loft

Like a loft, a studio is a one-room apartment with an open floor plan. But studios are often tiny spaces -- real estate listings will often bill them as "cozy" -- that require creative furniture arrangements and storage to make it work.

The national average studio size is 530 square feet, while the average studio rent is $1,065. (Note that studios in New York City often go for twice as much and look more like walk-in closets than apartments.)

Yes, there are studios with larger square footage, but don't be in a rush to call them lofts. Studio apartments don't have the ceiling height like their big sisters do -- and that is what makes all the difference. Even with interior design wizardry, studio apartments will always seem...small.

A true loft is around 1,000 square feet or more. The beauty of a loft is that between the high ceilings and large windows, the place seems even more spacious than it is. Of course, you will have the rent or mortgage that goes along with that space. A loft might be a single room, but you are still paying for the total square footage.

The pros and cons of a loft apartment

Loft living has its perks, but it's not the right move for everyone. Consider some of the pros and cons of loft apartments:

Pro: A loft is a decorator's dream

For interior designers or budding DIYers, a loft apartment can be a dream come true. Without interior walls, the space can literally become anything you want it to be. With the obvious exceptions of kitchen space and the bathroom(s), you can flip your living space any which way you want.

Con: It's also a messy person's nightmare

In an apartment with a traditional room layout, you have the luxury of closing doors on dirty laundry and untidy bedrooms. Not so in a loft, and less so in a studio. Many people who live in lofts will make creative use of walls for storage space (think of those tall shelves), and it's not uncommon for people to build out more closets.

Aside from aesthetics and organization, there are other upsides and downsides to living in lofts.

Pro: There is less noise from neighbors

Don't want to hear every single step your upstairs neighbors make? You have two options as an apartment dweller -- move to the top floor or move to a loft. While the acoustics inside may be tricky because of all that space, the higher ceilings can keep outside sounds farther away from your ears. Remember, a true loft is the site of a converted warehouse or factory building, so those original concrete floors work wonders in muffling sound.

Con: There is more noise from within

If you share the loft space with someone, it may be hard to find a quiet space in your own home. If someone's listening to music or watching TV, everyone is listening to music or watching TV. You'll need to set up some rules -- or else invest in noise-canceling headphones -- to catch a break if silence is what you need.

Pro: They're often in a cool part of town

With their industrial roots, lofts are most often found in busy city centers. Expect to find lofts near some of the trendiest restaurants, cafes, entertainment venues, and more.

Con: They're expensive to heat/cool

Unless you live in a region that has temperate weather year-round, you're going to have to deal with monster energy bills for your loft. Those high ceilings mean more space for heat and air conditioning to escape to. If you're thinking of renting or buying a loft, be sure to leave extra room in the budget for utilities.

Which brings us to another point about money…

Con: They're more expensive in general

Don't expect a bargain just because there are no interior walls. It's all about square footage, and lofts certainly have it. Plus, real estate is all about location, and lofts are often found in the hippest, priciest parts of town, where residences are always at a premium. Even if there are affordable downtown areas in your city, steel yourself for sticker shock when you shop around to buy or rent a loft.

Pro: There's loads of natural light

Those big, factory-size windows let in all the sunlight -- not to mention all the views. More light is a good thing, as taller ceilings likely mean you'll need a step ladder to swap out light bulbs.

Con: There's no privacy

Rule this con out if you're living alone, of course. But if you've got a roommate, you'll need to figure out how to divide the space. Before you start building walls or buying yet another partition, you might ask yourself whether a loft is really right for your needs.

The Pros and Cons of Loft Apartments: In Summary

Pros Cons

• It's a decorator's dream.

• There's less noise from neighbors.

• They're often in a cool part of town.

• There's loads of natural light.

• It's a messy person's nightmare.

• There's more noise from within.

• They're expensive to heat and cool.

• They're more expensive in general.

• There's no privacy.

How to find a loft apartment in your area

If you are thinking of buying or renting a loft in your area, look toward the bustling business districts for vacancies. Waterfront properties are also prime locations, as warehouses and factories were often built near waterways for transportation.

You can always start your search online, but know that web listings might oversell larger studios as lofts. Look for key features like ceiling height, square footage, and window size.

A real estate agent might be your best bet in finding true loft spaces, especially if you are moving to a new area and don't yet know the lay of the land. An experienced real estate agent will not only have the edge on upcoming vacancies but can also give you more information about the history of the building.

As with all real estate, you'll want to inquire about a loft's renovation history and what original elements still exist. This will be helpful in maintaining and preserving the space, as well as making any renovations to it if you become an owner instead of a renter.

Lofts are not the ideal living space for everyone. But if you've got the budget and are looking for a flexible space for both work, play, and rest, then a loft could be your dream home.

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