Buy Curious

What makes a true loft, and where to find one

Classic lofts are known for their spaciousness. This Flatiron loft has a 1,450-square-foot living/dining area and 11-foot ceilings.


Share this Article

Owning a big, classic loft is every New Yorker’s dream. These former commercial spaces—which typically have high ceilings, large windows, exposed brick, columns, and sometimes even exposed mechanical systems and plumbing risers—have an authentic, industrial NYC feel that’s anything but cookie cutter.

But is living in one as glamorous as it seems? Some owners adore these sweeping spaces and the blank canvases that they present, while others hate the fact that they don’t offer the privacy that most typical apartments—those with rooms and doors, that is—offer.

Still, if you like lofts, you may have trouble finding one: True lofts account for only about 10 percent of the Manhattan co-op and condo market—and like anything that's rare and in demand, are usually pricey.

In this week’s Buy Curious, Corcoran's Sandy Mattingly—​the self-described Manhattan Loft Guy—​tells you what to expect from this singular type of apartment, including where to find them and how much you’ll spend.

[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post was previously published in September 2014. We are presenting it with updated information for September 2019.]

The question:

I want to buy a loft in Manhattan, but I want to make sure I’m getting my money’s worth. What makes an apartment a real “loft”? What are the pros and cons of loft living? What kinds of neighborhoods should I look in to get one? What can I expect to spend?

The reality:

“To a Manhattan loft snob like me, a ‘loft’ is not truly a loft unless it’s had a prior life as a commercial space—manufacturing, warehouse or office—before being converted to an apartment,” Mattingly says.

The hallmarks of classic lofts are big spaces (think 2,000 to 3,000 square feet and up) with high ceilings, big windows, open kitchens, and “great rooms” (or rooms that combine the roles of several other rooms—such as a living room, dining room, and study—into one space).

“There are few, if any, walls because the weight of the interior structure is supported by columns or exterior walls,” Mattingly says. And there are often exposed mechanical systems like visible air conditioning ductwork and plumbing risers.

Originally, lofts were manufacturing spaces, and when manufacturers left, they were (then) cheap spaces taken over by artists, who lived (sometimes illegally) in these vast spaces Downtown. 

They were often sold as is, so the industrial details like exposed brick, rough columns, distressed flooring, industrial-sized freight elevators survived, Mattingly says.

Now developers build brand-new structures with some of these hallmarks, like open layouts, high ceilings, big windows, open kitchens, even distressed finishes.

Do all lofts have each of these features?

“Not all ‘true’ lofts have each of these elements,” Mattingly says. “For example, lofts in former office buildings may not have very high ceilings or very large windows.

He points to Nolita’s 262 Mott St., a loft building that was built as a munitions factory almost 200 years ago. “Lofts there feature magnificent beams and columns and very thick stone walls,” he says. “But the ceilings are not very tall and the windows are not very large. Nonetheless, these are classic lofts.”

What do people like about lofts?

“Some like the feeling of ‘volume’ that a high ceiling plus a large room plus big windows can bring—a place will seem bigger than the square footage alone,” Mattingly says.

Others like the flexibility of an interior that’s a blank canvas, “where a buyer could put walls anywhere or nowhere, or install a master bathroom or closet bigger than most bedrooms,” he says. Lofts are also a good fit for those who entertain, and some like the sense of history that comes from living in a space that used to be something else.  

Another pro, Mattingly adds, is that more recent high-end loft conversions, as well as newly built ground-up “lofts,” typically feature high-end amenities.

Pro Tip:

If you're not seeing enough homes for sale in your price range or target neighborhood -- and/or you'd like to avoid a bidding war -- consider expanding your search to "off-market" listings. NYC real estate brokerage Triplemint, a Brick Underground partner, uses technology to mine public records and identify owners who may be ready to sell, meaning you can meet and deal with owners before their homes hit the market. Click here to learn more.

What don’t they like?

“Some tire of living in the open, with a kitchen mess that remains visible,” Mattingly says. Ín other cases, they prefer the privacy that lots of rooms (and doors) afford.

“It can also be difficult to decorate such a huge space,” he says. “A decorating scheme has to apply across multiple rooms and areas at once if you’re interested in keeping it coordinated,” he says.

Also, many loft buildings lack the features you’d expect in new condos, such as doormen or gyms, and quite a few are located in mixed-use neighborhoods, where your building might share the block with light manufacturing.

“And since there is so much diversity in how people configure lofts—with different bedroom and bathroom counts and renovation results even within the same building—it can be difficult to measure how much a place is worth,” he says. “A recent sale upstairs does not automatically mean that the loft downstairs is worth the same amount."

In addition, some classic loft footprints only have windows on one or two sides of the apartment. As a result, sometimes you see sleep areas that lack a bedroom, which means they are not legal bedrooms.

Another negative: Tastes change and these days fewer people find things like exposed mechanicals appealing, Mattingly says.

Where should you look?

Traditionally, you find lofts in the former manufacturing neighborhoods of Tribeca and Soho, though these are now the most expensive areas in the city, and don’t have a lot of smaller units available—which means you’ll wind up spending even more. 

Chelsea and the Flatiron District have a better mix of prices and sizes. You'll find units with no-expense-spared renovations and others that have barely been touched. 

You can also find (relative) bargains on the West Side in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, as well as the Seaport area in Lower Manhattan, on the Lower East Side, and in Central Harlem. In many cases, lofts are located on blocks that are (or were recently) mixed use, so the neighborhood will have a commercial feel.

How much will you spend?

The range is wide. “There are hundreds of residential lofts for sale in Manhattan right now with asking prices ranging from just over a half million to 10 times that,” Mattingly says.

If you're in the market, check out these lofts:

7 East 20th St., #11R, Flatiron

Listed for $4,099,000, this 2,300-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath condo loft has 19 windows, a 1,450-square-foot living/dining area, 11-foot ceilings, blonde pine floors, recessed lighting, in-unit laundry, and a keyed elevator that opens onto a semi-private landing with a shared storage room. It’s in the Holtz House, a mixed-use prewar condo building. Common charges are $1,550 a month. Taxes are $2,333 a month.

458 West 146th St., #2S, Hamilton Heights

Priced at $1,380,000, this 1,613-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath condo loft has 12-foot ceilings, nine large windows, red oak flooring, in-unit laundry, maple cabinetry and stainless steel appliances in the kitchen, and a wood-burning fireplace. It’s located in a historic carriage house, which was recently transformed into modern lofts. Amenities include a key-locked elevator that opens directly into the apartment and a common roof garden with a barbecue and a lounge. Common charges are $918 a month. Taxes are $619 a month.

84 Forsyth St., #2R, Lower East Side

Listed for $1,295,000, this 1,334-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath prewar condo has 10-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, a large entry foyer, enclosed kitchen with tin ceilings and Silestone countertops, in-unit laundry, separate living and dining areas, a home office, two bedrooms, and another windowed space that can be used as a third sleeping area. It is one flight up, and has a video intercom system and tons of storage space. Common charges are $779 a month. Taxes are $1,553 a month.

454 West 46th St., #1BN, Hell’s Kitchen

This two-bedroom, two-bath co-op loft was renovated in 2014. It has an open-plan living room, original features such as columns, wood ceiling beams and posts, and wide-plank wood flooring. Newer elements include stainless steel kitchen appliances, LED lighting and fixtures, new baseboard heating, and a new A/C unit. It’s located in the Piano Factory, a former piano mechanism manufacturer that went out of business during the Great Depression. It has a landscaped courtyard, a live-in super, new intercom system, and allows pets. It’s listed for $1,495,000. Maintenance is $1,386 a month.

1200 Broadway, #PH8G, Flatiron

This 1,938-square-foot co-op loft is currently configured as a one bedroom, but can converted into a legal two bedroom, two bath apartment, according to the listing (something you should always independently verify). It has a foyer with a glass solarium that offers a view of the Empire State Building, a great room with a wood-burning fireplace, renovated kitchen with stainless steel appliances, walk-through closet and dressing area in the master bedroom, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the library, and a circular staircase that leads to an artist’s nook which in turn leads to a private roof terrace. Off the foyer is a separate space large enough for a home office. There’s also a washer/dryer in the unit. It’s in Gilsey House, which has common storage and a bike and laundry room, as well an on-site staff. It’s listed for $2,999,999. Maintenance is $3,557 a month. 


If these nonexistent walls could talk: The drawbacks of moving into a loft

Orlando Bloom gets lofty in Tribeca

How to buy a NYC apartment

Buying, renovating or refinancing next year? 5 mortgage trends to watch in 2014 (sponsored)

What 8 first-time buyers wish they had known

Here are the 7 most likely reasons you'll get turned by a co-op board

7 questions to ask about the building before you buy an apartment there (sponsored)