It not just the fact that you can skip the stairs: Ground floor apartments have lots of advantages over apartments on higher floors in New York City—and are getting a new look in the pandemic. But there are some disadvantages to be aware of as well.
Ground-floor apartments are sometimes less expensive than units on higher floors, can come with private outdoor spaces, and simply make more sense for folks with babies in strollers, dogs to walk, or mobility issues.
They’ve also become more appealing in the pandemic because of the privacy they offer. You don’t need to share an elevator with your neighbors, and private outdoor space is a major selling point these days, when shared building amenities feel unsafe. A backyard or deck provides fresh air and an opportunity to expand your living space, which is very welcome when you're spending so much time at home.
Still, the drawbacks can be deal breakers for some: Ground floor apartments are more likely to have problems with insects and rodents. Depending on the location and configuration of your apartment, you may have to worry about passersby peering in when the shades are up. Street noise is an issue. And break-ins are a very real concern.
In this week’s Buy Curious, Andrew Rose of Compass and Karla Saladino of Mirador Real Estate tell you everything you ever wanted to know about life on a building’s lobby level, including how much you can save, whether staying warm in the winter will be harder than you might think, and what makes a maisonette so special.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post was previously published in August 2019. We are presenting it with updated information for November 2020.]
I’m thinking a ground-floor apartment might be my best bet in terms of value. What do I need to know?
It’s true that you can sometimes save money when buying a ground-floor unit, but “it depends heavily on the building and the area,” Rose says. "I have a space at 58 Strong Pl. in Cobble Hill—a condominium converted from a church in 2010 that has somewhat of a following. It is asking almost $100 less per square foot than the second-floor unit in the building, and almost $200 less than the last closed sale. It’s an incredible duplex, but gives potential buyers pause because there is only one window on the ground floor."
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How well kept is the building?
Building maintenance will be of the utmost importance to you in a first-floor apartment.
Buying a ground floor unit in a mid-size building (at least 20 units) gives you a better chance of having active management and maintenance on a daily basis tending to the trash and keeping the entryway and common areas clean.
Be sure to ask a few questions about how frequently the superintendent takes out the trash and recycling, Rose suggests. In addition, find out if the building taking preventative measures against bugs and mice.
“If the building isn’t being maintained well, then your home becomes the entry point for nature, he says.
In other words, your place will be the first stop for cockroaches, ants, other assorted creepy-crawlies, and any rodents that make their way into your building.
“I’ve seen water bugs almost as big as my hand in true ground-floor and rec room-inclusive units,” Saladino says, explaining that a “rec room” is an underground space that can’t legally be considered a bedroom because it lacks either a proper egress or windows.
So if you aren’t prepared to deal with pests, you should probably steer clear of a first-floor apartment.
Will heat be a problem?
Another thing to consider is how you’ll stay warm when the weather turns cold.
“Heat rises,” Rose says. “And if the building has not been well insulated, keeping warm can become a task.”
Saladino adds that ground-floor units were often an after-thought in buildings. “When a brownstone was built 80 years ago as a single-family home, the ground floor was often for the service staff, storage, a kitchen, etc.,” she says. Warmth wasn’t a big concern.
That said, she’s finding that developers today are building new “intentional” ground-level units into new development condo buildings that are “a lot more functional and have great flow, as well as multiple levels.”
Should you be worried about people looking in the windows?
Yes, you’ll definitely need to watch out for looky-loos.
“In areas that are tourist-heavy, you can expect people to peek into your windows out of curiosity,” says Rose. “I’ve caught myself doing it before, so unless you want to share your interior decorating and TV choices with the world, heavy curtains are necessary. And if you’re keeping your curtains drawn all day, then you won’t receive much in the way of natural sunlight. That can make the apartment cooler, as well as a tad bit depressing.”
In some cases, a good trade off is to buy a unit at the back of the building. What you might sacrifice in natural light can be worth the privacy and quiet.
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Will you need to be more concerned about break-ins?
Sadly, safety can indeed be an issue with first-floor units.
“The first floor is the easiest access point—and basement-level apartments may be out of the eye line of passersby, giving thieves an added layer of protection,” Rose says.
While there aren’t any real numbers that speak to a higher rate of crime for ground-floor homes, it’s something to take into consideration.
Will people ring your bell doorbell more often?
Probably. In many buildings, “the ground-floor or basement-level apartments are often home to the superintendent, so it’s possible that delivery people and new tenants might ring your bell under the assumption that you’re there to let them in or help them in case of emergency,” Rose says. This can be mitigated by clearly labeling your buzzer and mailbox.
Will a ground-floor unit be louder than other apartments?
Unfortunately, noise will definitely be a factor, say our experts.
Will you hear the building’s front door open and close each time someone enters or exits? If the unit is close to the elevator, will you hear it ding every time it opens? Will you be privy to people’s conversations as they wait around for the elevator to arrive?
Of course, this is more of a concern in a building where the ground-floor unit opens into the lobby, rather than the street.
Units toward the back of the building will be more insulated from street noise and, depending on the layout, you may be less likely to hear neighbors opening and shutting the lobby door.
“Some people do have a need to be as close to the front door as possible, but if there is not a specific requirement, I would never suggest being the first door inside unless you’re interested in being privy to all of the comings and goings,” Rose says.
Should you be worried about flooding?
“New York is not a city that was built with the expectancy of hurricanes, but during Hurricane Sandy we saw whole neighborhoods Downtown flooded,” Rose says. “Many people in ground-floor apartments lost everything, and may not have been insured for it.” That's something to keep in mind, especially if you're looking for apartments in areas labeled “Zone 1.”
Many new construction condo buildings now have plans to mitigate potential flooding, but not all developers put enough thought into worst-case scenarios during the building process. “If you’re buying a property that is partially under grade, you should inquire as to whether there’s a plan in place for torrential downpours,” Rose says.
Besides price, are there any other pros?
Yes, especially if you’re getting on in years, have mobility issues, or have small children and/or pets.
“A ground-floor apartment could be seen as an attractive purchase for buyers eschew larger buildings with doormen and elevators, but are no longer in a place in their life where bounding up three flights of stairs is an attractive proposition for them,” says Rose.
“To be able to walk directly into their building and be in their apartment within moments can be quite a benefit for people with children and strollers, as well,” he adds.
Dog-owners will also probably love not having to wait for an elevator when their canine companion is desperate to go out.
Outdoor space is another huge potential perk. Not every ground-floor unit will have any, of course, but many will. “In a city mostly composed of concrete, a private outdoor space can make almost any apartment feel like a garden oasis,” Rose says.
What’s the deal with maisonettes?
If the ground-level unit you’re looking at has been dubbed a “maisonette,” it will come with a heftier price tag. Such units typically have their own private street entrances (affording you more peace and privacy than most ground-floor units) and usually have more than one floor.
You’re most likely to find a maisonette—French for “small house”—in older buildings in neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, Washington Heights, the West Village, and Brownstone Brooklyn.
Says Rose: “While a simple ground-floor apartment with only one level in a standard building might not be attractive to everyone, the idea of having a duplex or triplex that feels more like a home than an apartment in the city is something that touches people on a more personal level. Especially those of us raising families in Manhattan.”
Check out these ground-floor apartments currently on the market:
215 Degraw St., 1F, Cobble Hill
This two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath duplex condo had a flexible living space downstairs with an open gourmet kitchen. Windows face a courtyard away from the street. The bedrooms are upstairs, along with a home office space. The building is a former Gothic Revival church that has private storage, parking, a fitness center, virtual doorman, and bike room. It is asking $1,695,000.
145 Huntington St., #1L, Carroll Gardens
This three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath condo is part of a new townhouse development. Features include a chef’s kitchen with high-end appliances, tiled baths with radiant heat, ductless air conditioners, remote-controlled fireplace, and an in-unit washer/dryer. It is asking $2,750,000.
425 East 63rd St., #E1K, Lenox Hill
This condop is a ground floor apartment that has been recently renovated. It overlooks a shared garden. Building amenities include a concierge, 24-hour doorman, garage, gym, bike room, storage and garden. It is asking $575,000.
130 West 12th St., #1C/2C, Greenwich Village
This three-bedroom, three-bath ground-floor duplex has a private garden that’s over 1,100 square feet. Other features include zoned central air and heat, French limestone floors, cerused oak paneling, custom bronze doors, marble baths, and a chef’s kitchen. The building has a 24-hour doorman and staff, private gym, and roof deck. It is asking $7,500,000.
327 20th St., #1., Greenwood
This ground-floor, three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath condo is on the ground floor of a brand new building and has a private backyard. It has an open living/dining space on the ground floor and a family room below with heated floors. The building has a virtual doorman, storage, and 24/7 video monitoring. It is asking $2,162,000.
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