It’s easy to see the appeal of living in a beautiful brownstone on a picturesque tree-lined Brooklyn block. These iconic buildings can be found not just in Brooklyn but also scattered throughout Manhattan from the Lower East Side to Harlem. Owning one means you’ll be able to enjoy a beautiful wide stoop for flower pots, a fully furnished kitchen, and the privacy of your backyard enclosure for entertaining guests. But once you’ve looked into the costs involved, you’ll see it calls for a long-term commitment and far more responsibility than your average apartment.
If you’ve got your heart set on becoming a brownstone owner, read on to see what considerations you need to make. A purchase like this requires a lot of patience and care. Don’t jump in without understanding what’s in store.
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Think longterm when buying a Brownstone
Owning a brownstone requires not just a sizeable capital investment but also a significant time. For that investment to be worth it, you should feel ready to stay settled for at least seven to ten years. The purchase price alone can run into the millions, and that’s before you factor in harder to predict costs such as insurance, maintenance, and renovations.
You’ll want to have a sizable reserve fund in-store after you’ve completed the purchase. None of this prevents a first-time buyer from investing in a brownstone, but they need to feel confident they’re going to stay put for ten-plus years. Otherwise, the costs don’t make it viable.
You’ll pay more in financing but less in taxes
With asking prices in the millions, financing a brownstone won’t be easy. You’ll need a high credit score and good credit history to get the funds required. But once you’ve completed the purchase, you can look forward to lower property taxes. Compared to similarly-sized apartments, brownstones usually have much lower property taxes.
Properties in large multi-unit apartments are assessed at 45% of their value. By contrast, single-family buildings such as brownstones and townhouses are only assessed at 6% of their value. The savings don’t just stop there. You’ll no longer have to pay maintenance fees and common charges, which can cost you as much $20,000 in annual expenses.
You’ll need to pay for façade maintenance regularly
Compared with other building materials, brownstone is very susceptible to decay and erosion. As such, they require regular and costly maintenance to maintain their outward appearance. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has some stringent guidelines. On how repairs must be made.
Prices for this can vary greatly depending on the size of your brownstone and the scale of the repair. Some simple patching won’t cost much, but a full façade renovation on a 3-4-story brownstone will cost anywhere from $70,000 to $100,000. Depending on your income, you may be eligible for a grant from the LPC.
Be ready for stairs
Owning a brownstone means you’ll get something very few New Yorkers have, space and lots of it. All that space and multiple levels will mean numerous stairs to climb each day. While this can be a great perk when it comes to style, it won’t take long to realize the downside of no elevator.
Those who are able-bodied and in their prime will have little trouble with this, but if you plan to grow old in your brownstone, then you need to consider what this will mean. Four flights of stairs can present quite a challenge for older folks and potential danger. Make sure your banister is sturdy, and the stairways are kept well lit.
You may have issues with insurance
All that privacy you get with a brownstone means you are also fully responsible for repairs and insurance. In the event of extensive damage (e.g., From a storm), most insurance policies won’t cover damage on a brownstone’s original features such as crown moldings, the façade, and mahogany.
If you can find an insurance policy that can cover extensive repairs, be ready to pay a lot more then you’re used to. Insurance costs can be as much as 40% higher than standard insurance policies.