Loft property

By Stella Bingham
Loft living is the success story of the design-conscious Nineties. The concept is simple. Take an old warehouse, industrial or commercial building, do up the common parts and divide the rest up into big empty spaces. Buyers start with a blank canvas to paint their fantasies on.

"A lot of architectural lessons have been learnt as a result of lofts. Wooden floors, glass block walls, stainless steel units, big airy rooms - all typical of lofts - are now going into modern buildings," says David Salvi of agents Hurford Salvi Carr in loft-rich Clerkenwell, central London.

Lofts currently on his books include nine large shells priced from pounds 189,500 in the Art Deco Beauchamp Building behind High Holborn. "There will never be a problem selling lofts but of course when you come to sell, you are not selling a shell, you are selling a flat. That market still has to be tested."

But Sarah Shelley of Knight Frank's Wapping office in London's Docklands has plenty of experience reselling lofts. She first sold empty shells in 1981 when they were called warehouse conversions, and laughs at the idea that they are a Nineties phenomenon. "Everyone thought we were completely mad to try to sell space with no kitchen or bathroom. Now people are buying what I first sold then and demand is good."

The golden rules for loft or warehouse buyers who hope to sell at a profit is not to spend too much on fitting out and not to be too eccentric. "If space allows a second bedroom, have it," advises David Salvi.

Some developers are so confident of the continuing appeal of lofts that they are not only selling them ready-fitted but are building brand new ones.

The Manhattan Loft Corporation sold shells in Clerkenwell and in the heart of Soho but Bankside Lofts is a mixture of old and new, shell and fitted flats. "Our in-house design team produce the product so that you can buy and live in a loft without having to become a part-time property developer," says marketing director Harry Downes. Prices for the fourth phase, to be launched in January, start at pounds 180,000.

There have been few resales on earlier sites, "But two people who sold recently did very well indeed. The flats tend to be beautifully done up."

Urban Splash launched the lofts concept in the North West with fitted flats in Manchester and Liverpool. "We take an inner city building and create open plan flats highlighting such features as exposed brick and beams. Our input is modern and contrasting," says project coordinator Fiona Woodward.

"We pitch to first-time buyers who want a modern home and lifestyle in the city centre. It's a different product and its 20 per cent cheaper because we do everything in house and its often grant aided to help people to move back to the city centre. The few that have resold have gone very well."

Lofts in Smithfield Buildings, a former department store in Oldham Street, Manchester start at pounds 40,000.