The Market

Is it a good idea to buy a co-op in a brownstone?

By Lucy Cohen Blatter  | February 27, 2012 - 10:24AM

In theory, brownstone living is just about the most romantic, quaint, cozy and Old New York-style way to live. But in practice ... it may not be all it's cracked up to be.

Over on StreetEasy a prospective buyer, just back from viewing a parlor and garden floor co-op in a Brooklyn brownstone, asked about potential problems that might arise with this type of set-up (where the building had just one other shareholder).

In an effort to adopt a glass-half-full mentality, we'll start with the pros. Brownstone apartments are unique, have old-fashioned charm, outdoor space and, adds one StreetEasy commenter, unlike large buildings, you're "not paying for services [you] don't use/'lean' maintenance charges."

Plus, adds another, "ordinary expenses in a two-unit brownstone can be fairly minimal."

Now on to some of the warnings/potential pitfalls:

1. Noise. "Brownstones were never intended to be multi-family residences, and the floors are paper-thin. You hear EVERYTHING above and below you," says one commenter. 

Another observes: "Whoever lives on the ground floor loses. You hear every tenant coming in and out constantly, especially if the door slams loudly."  

(An additional annoyance for ground-floor residents: "All visitors think you're the super and buzz you if they can't remember their friends' apartment numbers.")

2. Chimney/fireplace problems/overall problems with old structures. "Including, but not limited to, improper capping which causes you to be visited by critters and improper cleaning which leads to risk of fire; leaky walls; difficulty of finding contractors to repair work to standards of 100 years ago; stair trouble; slanted floors which cause your washer/dryer to be imbalanced and need constant adjusting; need to update all electrical systems for comfort, climate control, and reduced risk of fire; failure of pipes that have hit the end of their usable lives," said one commenter.

And, wait, there's more: "Window leaks and failure of windows. Leak incursions from upstairs units. Landscaping issues, including lawn care, tree maintenance, and soil settling."

3. Financial responsibility. "If the other shareholder defaults/stops paying maintenance YOU will be 100% on the hook for all expenses." Also, several commenters said warned prospective buyers to make sure that the reserve fund is in good shape--old structures may need a lot of repairs.

4. There's always work to be done. "You will almost certainly have to devote some time to building operations (figure on 1 hour per month, minimum)," one commenter said.

Related posts:

Soundproofing to save your sanity

Prewar vs. new: Which is better?

Is it safe to live in a brownstone? Is it lonely?

Is it ghetto to live in a brownstone apartment?

How to buy a NYC apartment

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