How to Convert an Old Building Into a Loft

Don Kress

Increasingly, cities looking to revitalize their derelict or abandoned industrial areas are turning to private purchasers who convert those old warehouse and factory buildings into apartments.

Old brick warehouses are excellent for converting to loft apartments.

Trendy and cost effective, loft apartments in abandoned industrial districts have the benefit of being near to urban centers, public transportation and frequently waterways, making them ideal locations for young professionals to call home.


Don't always go with the lowest bidder. If you have six bids and one is significantly lower than the other five, there may be a serious problem that you'll need to pay for later. Instead, choose a builder or architect who offers the lowest price among a group of the closely-priced competitors. For instance, Bob quotes you five dollars, and Jim, Eric and Daphne quote you $30, $40, and $50, respectively. You would be wise to choose Jim for your contract as opposed to Bob, who may be working outside the law to keep his prices low.

  1. Calculate a budget for the conversion that includes not only the cost of the building itself, but cost overruns, what you want to pay for architectural and construction work and the permits and variances you will need.

  2. Survey the structure yourself and with a professional building inspector prior to purchasing it to determine that it is not only structurally sound, but that it can house the number of loft apartments you would like to install. It may also be helpful to obtain the opinion of the local fire marshal to determine what will need to be done to convert the building from industrial to residential code.

  3. Request bids and plans from a number of architectural firms in the surrounding city. While it's a good idea for the plans they develop to be trendy, you'll want to avoid the kind of over-the-top styling that could quickly date the building. Keep in mind, however, that their initial plans are only rough drawings, and not the final, blueprinted product.

  4. Request bids for the job from local contractors who have the equipment to do the work on time and within budget. You can generally obtain a list of contractors from the architectural firms from whom you have requested bids. These architectural firms will provide you with a list of their preferred builders and contractors, essentially the ones with which they work best.

  5. Obtain the necessary permits and variances you will need to begin construction of the loft apartments. These can be obtained from the city's zoning commission, though there are some builders or architectural firms who will obtain these variances and permits for you when you have hired them. If you wish to do so, include this in the bid process.

  6. Purchase the building, once the necessary permits and variances have been obtained, and you have chosen your architectural firm and builder. Once everything is in place, the architect will finalize the plans for the loft apartments and pass those plans on to you for approval. When you have approved them, they will be given to the builder, who will carry out the conversion of the old building into the new loft apartments.