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By George W. Mantor

RISMEDIA, Dec. 2, 2008-Back in the day, the only people who actually lived in lofts were artists, jazz musicians and junkies. Often, these lofts were abandoned industrial buildings in the grittier parts of town. The spaces were raw and lacking the essentials of plumbing, heat, and sometimes electricity. To live full time in one, required an architect and a contractor to build in the necessary elements, and could be the equivalent of building a house inside a hangar.

But, for certain people, this type of housing compromise filled an important need; a large, flexible open space that could be used in a way best suited to the unique needs of the inhabitants.

Today, there are many varieties of housing calling themselves lofts. The construction boom of the first half of the decade found America looking back to its urban core for development opportunities. Buildings that had become functionally obsolescent, either due to age or location, were now valuable again as residences for a growing, shifting population.

Most people need turn-key housing. The demolition of any existing interior improvements and construction of new living space is an impractical undertaking for an individual. By bringing the entire building to completion at once, large developers are able to leverage sufficient economy of scale to make completion more affordable.

Today’s lofts range from large and elegant, such as broadcast legend Art Astor’s 2700 square foot space in a converted UPS building overlooking Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles, to as little as 400 square feet in an adapted reuse office building. Most of this new generation of lofts contains the basic elements for a comfortable home. These are often referred to as “Soft Lofts” because they are ready to be occupied without the need for additional tenant improvements.

Generally, the goal of any loft is space and light, but they also create a more affordable form of housing. You aren’t paying for what isn’t there. Less is more. Form follows function. It is a streamlined form of living.

However, there are compromises that must be made. There may be limited storage space and smaller closets. Fewer walls make placing furniture and displaying art challenging though not impossible. Inquire about other storage options within the building or obtain an offsite storage space to house items you do not use regularly or do not need. Living in a loft can be similar to living in an RV or on a boat. You bring aboard only what you need for the voyage.

In a basic loft, the bathroom might be walled off for privacy but everything else is in one room. If you have overnight guests, you might want to warn them that they will be sleeping in the kitchen…with you. Privacy can be hard to come by in a loft.

Fortunately, there are many options for addressing the challenges of loft living. Use of flex-walls or sliding doors, which are completely customizable and available in a wide variety of materials, can create privacy without permanently inhibiting the flow of light.

Closet organizers can maximize the usable space in closets. It’s also a pretty easy do-it-yourself project with off the shelf materials and design help available at home improvement stores. Freestanding Armoires are available new, or at thrift or antique stores. They make a great option for storing clothing.

Armoires or other furniture can be designed and built to suit the space, so don’t rule out a furniture design company. In addition, consider a space-planner or a decorator to assist you in creating the perfect space for you.

The other major concern about loft living is the location of the building itself. Some are buried deep in industrial zones with no residential services such as shops and restaurants nearby. These locations might not be well served by public transportation. In some “Concrete Jungles” there may be nowhere within walking distance for Fido to take relief.

Lofts don’t usually spring up in residential neighborhoods so you will want to check the building’s zoning. Are there permitted uses that could make your neighbor your new worst enemy? Some office buildings may still allow the conduct of low impact businesses, but a warehouse district might permit manufacturing.

Loft living isn’t for everyone, but the central idea is a large, open space, and that lack of structure provides the maximum flexibility from which the resident can configure the space to meet the individual priorities of its occupant. While there are likely to be additional costs after the acquisition of the loft, the savings associated with a loft’s lower cost should more than cover it. In the end, you are able to get what you really want.

George W. Mantor is known as “The Real Estate Professor” for his wealth building formula, Lx2+(U²)xTFP=$? and consumer education efforts. During a career that has spanned more than three decades, he has amassed experience in new home and resale residential real estate, resort marketing, and commercial and investment property. He is currently the founder and president of The Associates Financial Group, a real estate consulting firm.

Prior to launching his own firm in 1992, he had been Director of Training and Customer Service for Great Western Real Estate. In addition, he has served on virtually every real estate committee, including a term as a Director of the California Association of REALTORS. He is the creator of the Personal Best System, a business and life planning process, and the Red Zone Time Planning System for Business Professionals.

Mantor can be reached at