The brownstones in New York City have a long history. Not only are they beautiful buildings, but some are historical landmarks. Owning one of these charming homes is something to aspire to, but they can also come with their fair share of challenges. If you’re considering buying a brownstone house in New York City, there are things you should know and consider before making the leap.
Upkeep is your responsibility
While it may seem like a community, each brownstone is the responsibility of the person who owns it. If anything goes wrong with the property, it’s your responsibility to hire a professional – no more calling your landlord to report a problem. That goes for dealing with rodents, leaky faucets, and snow removal. If you’ve always rented, you may overlook some of the items that homeowners are used to – the boiler and the boiler room in particular. Having routine service done can save you from a cold shower or an infestation of cockroaches – both of which can be a jarring experience. And it may sound silly, but since you don’t have to pay your water bill at a condo or co-op, please remember to pay it in your brownstone. Even cold water is better than none at all.
You will need to be proactive about routine home maintenance. We already mentioned the boiler but cleaning the gutters and making any roof repairs (or replacing it as needed, typically after 20 years for asphalt shingles, longer for slate) is also on your list now. Don’t forget about insulation, too. New insulation can help you save on your energy bills, can reduce the noise from neighbors, and some can even help control pests. Older buildings like brownstones can mean older insulation. Know what you’re dealing with by having a professional inspection done and take care of it early in the process. Having old, inefficient insulation is the kind of mistake that can cost you – literally. In addition, routine pest control can come in handy. Brownstones are charmingly old, but older buildings can have more gaps and cracks than newer construction. Mice, rats, cockroaches, and flies don’t need a large crevice to squeeze through. Routine, seasonal pest control can help, and then having the same company deal with taking care of the holes and cracks will go a long way in keeping pests out.
Look outward as well. Painting or otherwise keeping the facade and stoop in good repair is important, but the city also requires you to keep your sidewalk in good condition and will hold you liable if someone slips on the ice or if a tree root comes up and lifts part of the sidewalk, creating a tripping hazard. It happens more than you think.
It may sound like a lot but remember, you live in a neighborhood now. Many times, whole blocks will come together to collaborate and hire either a super to help out or the individual trades needed at a discounted, bulk price.
You‘ll have to do without some amenities
You won’t have a doorman or concierge anymore. There are ways to remedy the main perk of having this type of amenity, though. You can install a remote doorman system to receive packages. You can also get a box lock that comes with a smart lock and a built-in scanner. It can be used with any container that can be closed and secured with a padlock. You can also do what neighbors do everywhere – rely on the one who is always home! Surely you will have a neighbor on your block that is home during the day and will help by accepting packages for you. Some New Yorkers even hire house managers who are there all the time to accept packages and let in the electrician, etc. It’s also very, very rare for a brownstone to have an elevator but it’s very, very likely your brownstone will have more than one floor. Keep that in mind when moving in or before buying furniture. Having a strategy ready will help it go smoother. These are minor inconveniences in relation to the beautiful brownstone you will be living in, though.
What landmark status does it have
If the brownstone you’re considering resides in one of the city’s coveted landmarked districts, there are limitations in what you can change – especially to the exterior. For any renovations you’re planning to the outside of your brownstone, you will have to get approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Not only are you limited in what you can and cannot do, but the process can also take some time to get through. Although rare, some brownstones are even landmarked in the interior of the building. This can limit the kinds of design changes you can make inside your brownstone. Either way, plans must be submitted and approved by the commission. It’s a minor inconvenience and can add time to a project, but it’s not at all what some make it out to be. Just know if you’re the kind of person that wants to make the outside of your home more modern looking or add a story to the existing building, maybe think twice before purchasing a brownstone.
Property taxes are the silver lining
Brownstones can be expensive, and with the added challenges outlined above, the costs can go beyond just the purchase of the home. The good news is you will get a break on property taxes. That’s because one- to three-family homes are in a different tax class than co-ops and condos. Be sure to consult a tax attorney about the details, but at least this is one of the perks that can actually save you money.
Brownstones are both beautiful and expensive. You can’t really argue either one of those. Knowing the challenges and the perks can be helpful in making the decision to buy – or not. For many, owning a brownstone is a dream come true. Just make sure you enter the dream without the rose-colored glasses.