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The low-down on first-floor/basement duplexes: Check it out

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The allure of a first-floor/basement duplex is undeniable: You can own a brownstone-like duplex at a comparatively low per-square-foot price. But the glow will fade if your palace becomes a house of ill-repute subject to noise, pests and the aroma of nearby garbage. Basement living enthusiasts (all of whom insist they've had no problems) and disparagers on StreetEasy.com agree on one thing: Try before you buy. Here is what to investigate:

  • Noise:  Not so much from the street, since you probably wouldn't consider a basement space on a busy thoroughfare, but from the entry hall into the building and from traffic to and from a laundry room, a storage room, a rec room, utility room -- any common area. (And let's remember the sound of even one machine washing late into the night.)
  • Pests: Most first-floor duplex owners said they had no pest problems. But then one of these explained that he keeps his place "extremely clean" and has "architectural barriers" between his property and attacks from the street. He probably doesn't have the communal garbage bins outside his door.  We side with the folks who counsel checking the location of the trash and the board's power to move it. Look for telltale evidence of infestation. Ask if there have been problems on other floors, and be honest about your sensitivity. 
  • Flooding: Check for signs of past deluges.  Is the carpet new, or is it tile? If it's an old wood floor, we are told, chances are it hasn't been underwater.   
  • Light: Look at the light, or lack of it. 

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