It’s not just the fact that you can skip the stairs: Ground-floor apartments have many advantages over apartments on higher floors in New York City—and are finding new fans in the Covid era. But there are some disadvantages buyers need to be aware of as well.
On the plus side, these apartments are sometimes less expensive than units on higher floors, can come with private outdoor spaces, and make more sense for New Yorkers with babies in strollers, dogs, or mobility issues.
They’ve also become more appealing these days 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. A backyard or deck provides fresh air and an opportunity to expand your living space, which is very welcome if you're still spending more 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 wanted to know about life on a building’s ground floor, including how much you can save, whether staying warm in the winter will be harder than you think, and what you need to watch out for in terms of creepy crawlies and other unwanted guests.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post was previously published in November 2020. We are presenting it with updated information for November 2021.]
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.
Still, a ground-floor apartment can offer buyers, especially in high-end buildings, a big discount. For example, Rose previously represented a luxury condo that was on the market at 58 Strong Pl. in Cobble Hill—which was converted from a church in 2010.
The apartment was asking almost $100 less per square foot than the second-floor unit in the building, and almost $200 less than the last closed sale.
Rose says that some potential buyers were concerned because there is only one window on the ground floor—but that didn’t deter the new owner: The apartment eventually sold for $1,610,000 this year, a small discount off its last asking price of $1,695,000, according to StreetEasy.
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How well kept is the building?
Building maintenance will be even more important 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 is 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.
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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,” Rose says. “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?
“Yes,” says Saladino. There have already been two storms this year that have caused major flooding in ground-level homes across the boroughs, as well as in amenity spaces which are often put sub-level where apartments aren't zoned to occupy, she says.
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.
Here’s the city’s flood hazard map if you want to check if the area you are considering a ground-level apartment is at high or low risk.
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 eschewing 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.”
Sound like a fit? Check out these five ground-floor apartments on the market.
52 Third Ave., #1A, Boerum Hill
This one bedroom, one bath is listed for $690,000. Apartment #1A has hardwood floors, oversized windows, high ceilings, central air, a breakfast bar, stainless steel appliances, quartz countertops, and built-in storage. Amenities include a bike room, laundry room, and storage.
148 West 94th St., #1, Upper West Side
This one bedroom, one bath is listed for $845,000. The co-op has a terrace, exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, built-ins, stainless steel appliances, recessed lighting, basement storage space, and an in-unit washer and dryer. The building has a bike room, laundry room, and courtyard.
676 Halsey St., #1, Stuyvesant Heights
This one bedroom, one and a half bath is listed for $995,000. The duplex has high ceilings, heated floors, central air, recessed lighting, floor-to-ceiling windows, stainless steel appliances, a patio, and storage room. The building has bike storage.
788 9th Ave., #1B, Hell’s Kitchen
This two bedroom, two bath is listed for $1,000,000. The duplex has a patio, high ceilings, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, French doors, split air conditioning, and a walk-in closet. Photos are virtually staged.
383 Manhattan Ave., #1, Williamsburg
This two bedroom, two bath is listed for $1,429,000. The apartment has a backyard, oversized windows, high ceilings, stainless steel LG appliances, quartz countertops, recessed lighting, large closets, central air, a breakfast nook, and an in-unit washer and dryer.
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