So You Think You Want a Brownstone…

For many New Yorkers, owning a brownstone house on a shady block in Brooklyn is a dream — just not one for the faint of heart. It requires long-term commitment, care, patience, and a good deal of financial success.  

But if you’re ready to turn that vision into reality, we’ll gladly celebrate with you and guide you through every step of the process. To begin, read the notes below to determine if this home style is actually right for you.

#1: Financing & Taxes 

With asking prices upwards of $2M, financing a brownstone is no small task, but they do come with a couple of benefits: 

  • Property taxes for brownstones are also usually lower than comparably-priced real estate (6% compared to the multi-unit apartments’ 45%).
  • You don’t have to pay monthly maintenance fees or common charges, saving up to $20,000 every year!

#2: Privacy and Autonomy

With no wall-sharing neighbors and no co-op boards, you’ll be the true boss of your home. Unfortunately, that comes with some hefty responsibilities. When the cable cuts or you’re locked out… you’re on your own. There is no super to come to your rescue, no neighbor to buzz you in — you’ll have to learn to handle all of the repairs and maintenance issues that come your way.

#3: Roof 

The roof over your head is all yours, which means repairs and maintenance fall on your shoulders. Roofs are expensive, so be sure to get recent repair information and disclosures from the previous owner before you make your purchase. Your home inspector should be able to uncover potential issues as well.  

The two most common roof issues are:

  • Leaks
  • Separation

Check for potential problems on a semi-annual basis — especially after hard,  snow-heavy winters. It’s also important to keep in mind that renovations and repairs are  highly susceptible to the seasons. You can’t bank on re-roofing your brownstone in the dead of winter so be sure to address the issue in the spring or summer.  

#4: Façade 

Compared to other building materials like limestone, marble, and granite, brownstone is a relatively soft and porous material susceptible to erosion and decay. Given the  crumbly nature of brownstone, you might need to undertake extensive facade renovations to maintain the appearance and structural integrity of your home. 

  • Prices vary depending on the size of your brownstone and the scale of your repair. 
  • Full facade renovation can cost anywhere from $70K for a 3 to 4-story brownstone to well over $100K for larger or more technical jobs. 
  • On top of the price, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has stringent guidelines on how brownstone facades must be repaired in order to  preserve the historical accuracy and structural integrity of the building’s original design.

When finding a contractor for your facade repairs, it is incredibly important to find a  specialist who is familiar with the LPC’s regulations as well as brownstone masonry.  Word of mouth is a great way to find reliable brownstone facade specialists.

#5: Windows 

Windows in historic brownstones differ from windows in other old houses and  apartments due to chain-operated sashes and stained glass. Both of these features enhance the historic value of the house but require skill and finesse to preserve and maintain. 

If you want to replace windows in your brownstone:

  • Hire a contractor who specializes in historic brownstones and 19th-century windows. 
  • While costly, this will maintain the integrity of  the building, which will help in value and resale. 
  • If you’re in a historic Landmark  district, you will also be subject to the LPC’s regulation on window repairs

#6: Fireplaces 

Fireplaces and the dark, scrolling wooden mantels are a quintessential feature of NYC  brownstones. Buyers go nuts over these original details, but they also come with their  drawbacks:

  • The typical four-story brownstone can have as many as six fireplaces (they were once the main heat source!). 
  • The woodwork on mantles tends to be very intricate and delicate, susceptible to damage, and requires frequent polishing and dusting to maintain that deep  mahogany luster.
  • Fireplaces in many NYC brownstones are only decorative. 
  • Fireplaces that are no longer functioning may still have an open flue, which can let interior heat escape.

#7: Air Conditioning 

Unless you’re buying a renovated brownstone, chances are you will not have air conditioning. You have three options for cooling your house: window units, central  air-conditioning, and split A/C units.  

If you are paying all that money for a beautiful, historic brownstone, do you really want  to mar the aesthetic with window units?

  • While window units are easy to install and relatively cheap, they are not very energy efficient and will only cool pockets of your home. 
  • Given the irregular size of many brownstone window frames, you may have difficulty fitting them.  

Central air-conditioning is another option. Unlike window units, which go for about $200  a pop, installing central air-conditioning is an expensive and invasive project. But, it’s a  consolidated system and is relatively invisible and quiet.

  • You’ll have to hire an HVAC company to install ducts.
  • Walls and ceilings will need to be opened.
  • This could damage crown moldings and other historic details.  

An increasingly common alternative to central-air is the split A/C system, which is easier to install and slightly less expensive. Split A/C units require no ductwork and instead cool through mounted wall units in individual rooms.

All in all, brownstones make incredible, luxurious homes. They’re also expensive and come with a number of maintenance tasks. If you’ve read through the points above and you’re still interested in getting one for yourself, feel free to reach out to our team today. We’d be thrilled to make your brownstone dream come true!

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