After a winter like we’ve had, any sane person would want to spend as much time as possible in the spring air. If you're shopping in brownstone Brooklyn, guest broker Andrew Westphal of Ideal Properties Group outlines your al fresco options in this week’s Buy Curious.
THE WISH LIST:
I’m counting down the minutes to warm weather, and would love to buy a brownstone apartment in Brooklyn with outdoor space. What kind of space can I get, and what kind of premium should I expect to pay?
Outdoor space is one of the rarest and most coveted of amenities in NYC. Brooklyn can offer a bit of an advantage over Manhattan since much of the housing inventory consists of small three- to four-family townhouses, and some have yards. But that still doesn’t make purchasing an apartment with a slice of skyline easy… or cheap.
How much more you'll pay
Doing an apples-to-apples comparison on units with and without outdoor space in townhouses is extremely difficult, but the best example I can find is in a newly converted condo project at 371 Sixth Ave. in Park Slope. One unit whose owners get private use of the roof recently sold for just under $1.35 million. Another unit that seems to be virtually identical except for the roof access went for $1.23 million, or $120,000 less.
That would mean that the roof deck added about 11% to the price of this specific apartment--but it’s probably a good indicator of the premium overall.
Four outdoor options
If you want access to private outdoor space in a brownstone, your choices will mostly be limited to a garden, balcony, terrace or roof deck--each of which have pros and cons.
In brownstone Brooklyn, the gardens are a big draw for ground-floor apartment dwellers. In Prospect Heights, for example, gardens can be 70 feet long and over 20 feet wide. In a garden, you'll have the freedom to build a patio, install a koi pond or plant flowers and trees. Some buyers find the lack of stairs appealing, and converting the garden apartment for handicapped access is easier.
Often, however, these units are partly below the level of the sidewalk and can have a distinct subterranean feel. While the lack of light sometimes turns people off, just remember that only one floor gets that coveted garden access. This means that only between one-third and one-quarter of all brownstone apartments have gardens. And the fact that there’s never really a plentiful supply means that those apartments that are lucky enough to have gardens will have higher property values than those without.
Sometimes owners on the top level of brownstones share the roof, dividing it into two areas. But when a single owner has full use of the roof, it can really be something special--a single vision, rather than a mishmash of different people's styles. I’ve seen everything from fire pits to picnic areas with hammocks to greenhouses.
That said, residences with exclusive roof decks can be the most expensive units in the building because the square footage is almost doubled. You also have to walk up multiple flights to get to your home.
In addition, historic districts abound in brownstone Brooklyn—and whatever you put up on a roof in such an area cannot interrupt the historic look and feel of the street. Brooklyn Heights has a large swathe of blocks that are required to maintain their Victorian or turn-of-the-century aesthetic. Other areas with substantial landmarked districts are Cobble Hill, Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, Park Slope and Bed-Stuy.
In these districts, roof decks are generally allowed by the Department of Buildings, but approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission must be sought for substantial work that can be seen from the street, such as a greenhouse. Find out what you have the right to build up there before you buy.
Terraces are rare in brownstone Brooklyn, but when they are present, they’re usually attached to parlor floors. It's fine to build on terraces in historic districts because they are not usually visible from the street.
Balconies are even rarer than gardens in brownstone Brooklyn as the only ones available were built on custom houses and are typically quite old--so if you find a place with one, you should grab it quickly. You won't have as much space compared to some of the other options, but you also won’t have to live underground or climb up four flights with your groceries.
Balconies are built onto the sides of buildings and are usually smaller than terraces—think Juliet gazing toward her Romeo. And as long as they're on the rear of a property, they won't violate any landmarks rules.
Since you don’t specify how many bedrooms you’ll need or what your budget is, I’ve included listings that run the gamut price-wise and size-wise.
Want a studio with outdoor space?
- South Park Slope studio/1-bathroom condo, $528,000: This pet-friendly studio at 180 19th St. between Fourth and Fifth Aves. has maple flooring, new kitchen appliances and washer/dryer hook-ups. There’s also a terrace that overlooks a large backyard—although from the photos it looks as though it was cemented over at some point. It’ll be a great place for a table and some chairs—but no real greenery.
Here’s a 1-bedroom that might work:
- Park Slope 1-bedroom/1-bathroom co-op, $549,000: This pet-friendly 1-bedroom co-op at 488 3rd St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. in Park Slope offers exposed brick walls, hardwood parquet floors, an open-layout kitchen with stainless steel appliances, a walk-in closet, and an attractive, private south-facing garden.
Here are some 2-bedrooms you ought to consider:
- Brooklyn Heights 2-bedroom/2-bathroom co-op, $1.35 million: This spacious co-op at 119 State St. between Clinton St. and Sidney Pl. is located on the garden floor of a Brooklyn Heights brownstone and has a private backyard. The kitchen has stainless steel appliances, the bathrooms have been renovated, and the living room has a wood-burning fireplace and space for a sitting area and a formal dining table. There’s also a washer/dryer tucked away in a hall closet, storage space and exposed ceiling beams.
- Brooklyn Heights 2-bedroom/1.5-bathroom co-op, $1.2 million: This duplex apartment in a 6-unit brownstone at 53 Remsen St. between Hicks St. and Montague Terrace offers a windowed kitchen, a wood-burning fireplace, high ceilings, a half-bath and exposed brick on the lower floor of this brownstone co-op. The upper floor has two large bedrooms, a walk-in closet and a full bathroom. An interior staircase leads to a 468-square-foot roof deck with views of the harbor.
Need a 3-bedroom?
- Brooklyn Heights 3-bedroom/2.5-bathroom condo, $2.1 million: This condo at 183 Columbia Hts. between Pierrepont and Clark Sts. is a floor-through 3-bedroom with a private garden in a building dating back to 1899. The apartment features marble bathrooms and in-unit laundry. Building amenities include a virtual doorman and secure storage.
- Park Slope 3-bedroom/2.5-bathroom condo, $2 million: Renovated in 2007, this 1,859-square-foot duplex at 357 4th St. between Fifth and Sixth Aves. offers a living room, a dining area, a 500-square-foot recreation room, a separate storage unit, and a landscaped private garden. The kitchen has dark-slate countertops, and the bathrooms have soaking tubs and rain showerheads (with a walk-in shower in the master bath).
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Buy Curious is a weekly column in which NYC real estate brokers help buyers develop a realistic search strategy. Want some advice on your search? Send us your wish list.