What Is a Loft?
Portland Lofts are hip, modern, industrial spaces full of character and rich in visual appeal – and that’s why the term is used so loosely by real estate agents. Not everything that’s called a Portland loft is really a loft. Generally speaking, a loft is a large, open, flexible space in an older industrial, warehouse or office building that has been converted to residential use. Over time the term has been applied to smaller spaces, and spaces in which the functional living areas are open to each other like a studio apartment. The loft trend began in Manhattan in the 1960s in Soho. Artists loved the light and used the spaces as live/work studios. Loft development in Portland began to take hold in the 1990s. Over time lofts evolved from low-budget spaces in sketchy neighborhoods to sophisticated, amenity-rich buildings and spaces. This evolution is what gentrified the Pearl District from a slummy warehouse district into one of the most sought after neighborhoods in Portland.
Most recent, loft development in Portland has been of the “soft loft“ variety, with well-demarcated living and sleeping spaces. A “soft loft” is a newly constructed building with open plans and industrial elements. Developers took notice to the loft trend and have built new buildings that exhibit many of the features of lofts and thus merit the use of the term. Balconies and other outdoor living spaces, once rare in lofts, have become almost common place in newer developments. Beginning in the early 2000’s some of the larger buildings also began to offer services once unheard of in lofts: door staff, concierges, fitness rooms and more.
Loft Building Development
Most loft buildings in Portland are between three and nine stories tall, of either timber or concrete construction, with brick exteriors. Industrial loft buildings are usually overbuilt with regard to residential use. They were designed for heavy machinery, storage of weighty materials and more intensive uses. This makes the conversions not only safe, but economical for developers. Portland Loft buildings vary widely in their configuration. More rectangular buildings lend themselves to more desirable floor plans, with more exterior walls and windows and less space devoted to traffic flows. Square buildings are often configured to maximize the number of units per floor, resulting in what some have called “bowling alley” floor plans, i.e. long and narrow.
Most true lofts share a number of features that define the loft look.
- High ceilings – Most lofts have ceilings heights of 10 feet or greater. It’s not uncommon to find spaces that soar to 20 feet or more, in which case multi level living areas can be created.
- Open, flexible space – In a loft, the floor plan can be altered at any time. You can arrange your sleeping area in one part of the space, then move it somewhere else if you have guests or if you just need the area for another use. Kitchens and bathrooms are the only permanent rooms, but temporary partitions, hanging curtains, or even changes in floor covering can alter other spaces.
- Large windows – Most portland loft buildings were built between the 1880s and 1940, a time when builders were sensitive to maximizing natural light, and often insensitive to energy costs. Timber or concrete ceilings. The exposed wood and concrete ceilings in industrial buildings add warmth and texture to loft units.
- Eclectic style – a great aspect of many lofts is the opportunity for eclectic design and decorating. For example, a loft might feature soft, delicate window treatments on reinforced factory windows, or a modern couch sitting on a hundred-year-old hardwood floor. This mixture of old with new and practicality with comfort can form a wonderful esthetic that makes the most of a loft’s mixed-use nature.
- Exposed structural elements – Timber and concrete columns and beams are exposed rather than wrapped within walls or masked by dropped ceilings.
- Exposed mechanicals – Electrical conduit, sprinkler system piping, heating and air-conditioning ducts are open to view rather than concealed. Exposed brick walls are another element that adds warmth and texture to lofts. Brick is a poor thermal insulator, but excellent for sound insulation.
- Live/Work – Easily merges living and work space, blurring the lines between workplace and residence.
All lofts don’t exhibit all of these characteristics. The fewer you find in a unit, the less likely it is that the unit deserves to be called a loft.
Loft Issues To Consider
The elements that give lofts their aesthetic appeal often also gives rise to issues that loft buyers need to consider.
- Sound – Sound transmission between units is a problem experienced by many loft residents. Sound transmission through floors tends to be more of an issue in timber than in concrete buildings. Lateral sound transmission between units can also be an irritant. Most recent developments have taken steps to minimize noise issues, but some have largely ignored them. Make a thorough investigation before purchasing.
- Utility costs / comfort levels – High ceilings, exposed brick walls and large windows can result in high heating and cooling bills. Brick and glass have little insulating value. Exposed ductwork high above the floor may translate to low comfort levels and uneven distribution of heat making the units cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Ask your agent to get the current owner’s utility bills. Ceiling fans can be very effective at increasing perceived comfort levels, especially in the winter, and are likely to reduce overall utility costs.
- Dust – The brick, timber and concrete in loft buildings are usually sandblasted or acid-washed to create a newer, cleaner look. If these surfaces haven’t been properly cleaned or sealed, dust is inevitable and can linger on for quite a while. Rubbing your fingers over the walls should give you a good idea of what to expect after you move in. If there is exposed brick walls you can almost certainly expect to be cleaning up brick dust.
- Parking – Since most of Loft buildings were built originally for warehouse use, they don’t have underground parking. The result is that parking is frequently scarce to non-existent with many loft developments. This may or may not be an issue for you, depending on your personal needs and the availability of parking in the immediate area.
- Deferred maintenance – It’s not unusual for loft buyers to find themselves saddled with large special assessments to correct conditions that a developer bypassed The most common defects have involved roofs and facades.
Portland Loft Neighborhoods
Residential loft conversions can be found mostly in the Pearl District which was previously known as the warehouse district. Some other loft buildings are popping up in neighborhoods like the NW District, Hollywood, Hawthorne, Mississippi and of course Downtown. Visit our modern portland loft page for a complete list of loft buildings and listings for sale.
Do Your Research
It’s easy to be distracted by the hype of loft living. Don’t be. Work with a real estate agent, home inspector and lending team who have experience with lofts in Portland. Portland Loft development has been an activity with low barriers to entry. That’s good for developers, but not good for buyers. Look for a developer with a lengthy track record in lofts and talk to residents at the developer’s previous projects. If your developer is a first-timer at lofts or has only a limited portfolio, pay attention to the architect and the contractor. Their experience can compensate, to some extent, for a developer’s inexperience.Focus on the basics that are important to resale value for any type of property: location, neighborhood amenities, access to public transportation, the uniqueness (non-commodity aspect) of the property, and its flow and livability. If you’re in love with it, that helps – someone else will be too. So have a strategy! If you found this article interesting, you might also like HDTV’s Condo & Loft Homebuyers Guide.