Buy Your Dream Townhouse
If you’re looking to purchase a new home in NYC, then you’ll struggle to find anything better than a townhouse. These multi-story homes are built close to the street and scaled similarly to the other buildings surrounding it. Some are multi-unit homes that can house several families or individuals, making them an excellent investment opportunity. If you think you’d be interested in buying an NYC townhouse, then Elika Associates can help.
For most people, purchasing a Manhattan or Brooklyn townhouse can be a complicated process. But with Elika Real Estate representing you, that needn’t be the case. We specialize in helping discerning home buyers, and investors find the perfect NYC townhouse for their needs. Our primary focus is on assisting buyers in navigating the NYC real estate market. For those seeking a townhouse, we provide unbiased expert advice to guide clients through the purchasing process. Whether it is a single or multi-family townhouse you’re looking for, you can be sure of finding only the best when you work with us.
At Elika, we take immense pride in our reputation for diligence, integrity, and in-depth knowledge of the townhouse market. Our goal is to help our clients make informed and financially sound decisions that benefit them for the future. As a dedicated buyer’s broker, Elika saves our clients time and money. From financing to negotiations, to contracts, inspections, and closing costs, we handle all of the details.
We know that no two transactions are ever the same, which is why we tailor our services for each client. In addition to providing tailored services, our goal is to work hard for you to secure the best NYC townhouse, at the best price, and best terms just for you.
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New York City Townhouse Guide
This complete guide takes you through every step of the process of buying a townhouse in NYC.
Table of Contents
Should I Buy an NYC Townhouse?
Townhouse living offers something unique that you won’t find anywhere else in the city — notably, complete privacy in a self-contained building. Townhouses started going up in the late 19th century and, over time, developed a reputation for their ornate details and classical designs. Due to this, you can find them all across Manhattan and Brooklyn and see how they feature some of the unique architectural designs you’ll find in New York. At first, they were primarily owned by New York’s upper social class, which goes some way to explaining their ornate details. You can see some of the best by taking a stroll along Cranberry Street in Brooklyn Heights, especially along 10th Street between 5th and 6th.
Advantages of a Townhouse
With your very own luxury NYC townhouse, you’ll have the freedom to live as you want in your own space with no co-op board or landlord telling you what you can and can’t do. You’ll be able to enjoy the seclusion of your own space along with multiple levels for any use you see fit. Also, there’s the backyard garden or alcove area to dine in or build a garden. Do you dream of hosting lavish dinner parties? A townhouse will give you the space to do it, along with the style that a fancy dinner party calls for. Do you want a quiet place to escape from the city’s hustle and bustle? A townhouse will provide that oasis, along with charming tree-lined streets to go with it. You were indeed in your world when you chose townhouse living.
Disadvantages of a Townhouse
Like anything, they do come with their downsides as well. Having your own home also means taking on the responsibility of caring for it and paying for maintenance and repairs from time to time. In other words, you’ll be responsible for taking the garbage to the curb, salting your icy stoop, and maintaining your boiler and HVAC. Their hefty price tags may also present a challenge to some. But considering their advantages, like not needing board approval for any renovations, the privacy of your own space, and not having to worry about keeping your noise levels down, the right person will have little trouble overcoming these challenges. If you’re looking for a personal nest that still feels like a country home, then you’re sure to enjoy townhouse living.
How to Buy a Townhouse
Most properties in Manhattan or Brooklyn, you will have noticed, are co-ops and condos for sale. While these types of properties may have many benefits, they also have downsides such as needing board approval for renovations and restrictions on noise levels. For those who want the ultimate privacy and own their piece of New York City land, consider buying a townhouse.
Gardens, historical details, privacy, and many bedrooms and bathrooms are just some of the benefits of townhouse living. Space and flexibility they offer truly make them dream homes for many buyers. However, they also come with a whole new set of responsibilities. You’ll be responsible for salting your icy stoop, taking the garbage to the curb, and maintaining your boiler and HVAC. But if it’s privacy and independent living that you’re after, they’re probably the best choice in the whole city.
What are the Benefits of Buying a Townhouse?
One of the most attractive benefits of townhouse living is that there is no co-op or condo board approval process to go through in the purchase or sale. Not only does this mean less hassle and delays in closing, but it also means no house rules. Coupled with most luxury townhouses have backyards, decks or terraces, and beautiful tree-lined streets.
I do not forget the original and historical details as well that you can find in each one — most, but not all, date to the 19th and early 20th centuries. Stained glass, original woodwork, and decorative fireplaces are just some of the unique details that buyers love.
There’s also the low carrying costs. By owning a townhouse, you can save big by avoiding monthly co-op maintenance and condo standard common charges to use the amenities found in many New York buildings. Along with that, real estate taxes are typically lower in townhouses.
The Pros and Cons of Buying a Townhouse
Like everything, though, there are a few downsides to consider. The cost of maintaining the townhouse falls entirely on your shoulders. Unlike in a co-op, there’s no way to share costs with other owners.
The townhouse and all its utilities are entirely your responsibility. If you’re planning to sublet by splitting it into multiple units, you may require a change in the Certificate of Occupancy — something which you should consult with a real estate attorney before doing so.
Townhouse Pros and Cons
In a crowded city like New York, privacy is always a luxury. But if that’s a high priority on your home wish list, then there’s no reason you can’t have it assuming you have the means. Owning a townhouse not only gives you greater privacy. You also get greater flexibility to make renovations without having to go through a pesky co-op board for approval. Nor will you have to deal with a downstairs neighbor making noise complaints. But it’s not all smooth sailing. Townhouse living also comes with maintenance responsibilities, which can be both a pro and a con depending on how you look at it. Here are the pros and cons to consider when buying a townhouse in NYC.
Lots of living space
Townhouses mean lots of living space. The average width of an NYC townhouse is 18-20 feet. Anything less is, considered narrow, while anything above 25 feet would be called a trophy property. It makes them perfect for a growing family as you won’t need to rent out storage over time.
It could have excess FAR
If the building has any extra, FAR this can be used to add extensions or additions onto the back of the building. When done right, you can reap profits if you choose to sell in the future.
Compared to an apartment building, you have total privacy within a townhouse as you own the entire unit. You won’t need to worry about neighbors above or below you, causing a nuisance with renovations or late-night cocktail parties. Or if that’s what you plan on doing, then you won’t need to worry about much noise complaints.
Unlike detached houses, which aren’t found in the suburbs, most townhouses located in the city. It means you get the benefits of your own private space, along with all the amenities and conveniences of living in the city.
You own the land
Owning a townhouse doesn’t just mean you own the structure; you also own the ground it’s on. It is great as an investment because if there’s one thing that only goes up in value over the years, it’s land. Perfectly captured in a quote by John Jacob Astor, America’s first multimillionaire. On his deathbed in 1848 Mr. Astor is said to have exclaimed:
“Could I begin life again, knowing what I now know, and had money to invest, I would buy every foot of land on the island of Manhattan.” – John Jacob Astor
Depending on the NYC Department of Buildings and when applicable to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, there may be strict restrictions on what improvements you can make both inside and outside the home. If you envision yourself making major renovations, this could severely limit your options and stifle your creativity. Before you buy, check first to see which laws and rules you’ll be bound.
While a townhouse can be very spacious, the same can’t often be, said for the backyard. Don’t expect to have a lot of space for landscaping. However, this does depend on the design of the townhouse.
Searching for a Townhouse
Before you can begin the search, there are a few things you need to organize. The first thing to start with is deciding which part of town you want to live in. Begin by seeing as many open houses as you can to familiarize yourself with what’s out there. Secondly, find a suitable buyer’s agent that specializes in townhouses. Once you have a good understanding of your needs, they can provide recommendations and start making phone calls.
Also, educate yourself about buying a townhouse and think about the costs of possible renovations. Learn the details about rent-stabilized and rent-controlled tenancies. Multi-Family townhouses are cheaper but come with less privacy. You’ll also need to have your finances in order. The closing costs on a townhouse are typically 20-40% of the purchase price.
Home Inspection is a must
Once you’ve found a townhouse, you may tempt to move straight to making a purchase offer. Instead, hold out until you’ve had the property inspected by a licensed home inspector. It is usually not an issue with co-ops or condos, but with townhouses, it should be mandatory. Have them check for any structural issues, plumbing, or electrical issues. That way, you can avoid any nasty surprises that could be lurking after you’ve bought the property. If you find any problems, you might be able to negotiate a reduced price or ask that repairs be, done before you sign a purchase contract.
Negotiating a Townhouse
Your buyer’s agent runs a comparative market analysis then will conduct negotiations on your behalf and work to get the best offer in your favor. If you’re happy with everything, your buyer’s agent will help you draft a purchase offer. T
There may be a bit of back and forth as counteroffers made, but once you’ve reached an agreement, you can move on to the next step. Once an offer is accepted, your broker will introduce you to a real estate attorney, who will then iron out the final details and compose a purchase contract. Remember that nothing is binding until both parties have signed on the dotted line.
Reviewing the Contract
Once an agreement has been, reached. The seller’s attorney will draw up the deal sheet. The deal sheet then sent to the seller’s attorney, who will, in turn, draft the contract for the buyer’s attorney to review. Upon signing the contract, your required to write a check for 10% of the purchase price. The cash from this will be kept in an escrow account of the seller’s attorney until the sale has closed. At this point, you are now “in-contract” with neither side able to walk away without legal consequences.
If you’re having the purchase financed, now is the time to begin applying to banks for the mortgage loan. You’ll also need to arrange for homeowner’s insurance. If you’re taking out a loan, you won’t be able to close without it. If you’re an all-cash buyer, you will still need to clear title. You can usually close within a couple of weeks if you’re paying all cash.
Once the lender is ready, the buyer’s attorney will schedule a closing. Be sure to do a final walk-through of the property to ensure it is still in the same condition you first saw it in.
At closing, buyers, sellers, lender, and both attorneys will gather in an office to sign the various documents that transfer ownership. The buyer will also write checks for such things as a first mortgage payment, escrow payments, and closing costs.
Congratulations!, you are now the owner of your very own New York City townhouse.
If you’re considering buying a townhouse, then your budget will be the main factor. Prices can vary widely depending on the neighborhood. On the Upper West Side, the highest sales prices are in the 70s on the block between Central Park West and Columbus. For the Upper East Side, it’s between Fifth Avenue and Madison. In Chelsea, it’s on 21st and 22nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenue. The West Village also has some of the most prestigious properties.
Townhouse buyers should do their research on average prices and consult a buyer’s agent for advice and guidance. Buying a townhouse in New York City is the best investment one can make. That said, buying the right townhouse for the right price in the right location is even better.
Many things will influence the value of a townhouse. Often some of which have nothing to do with the building itself. For a start, the most valuable townhouses will be on streets that have townhouses on both sides. Other factors that can bring down the price are whether there is a police department, firehouse, or school on the block. That because these will mean more noise and traffic. Another factor that affects the price is the width. The more full the townhouse, the more valuable. In general, the average diameter of an NYC townhouse is 18-20 feet, with anything below that being considered narrow and harder to resell. Anything above 25 feet regarded as a trophy property.
If you need financing, then consider these three points.
Buyers may have to qualify for a loan, but lenders will look favorably on townhouses as an investment. That’s because they know that townhouses are a significant investment. The tenant’s rent will be income, and banks will extend credit for 75% of the present rental income. As a result, homeowners who buy townhouses as investments won’t be disappointed. The monthly mortgage payments can seem a burden, but buyers can take heart in knowing that their rental income can offset those monthly payments.
Low Mortgage Rates
Just as important, mortgage rates for NYC townhouses are as low as any residential property. Homebuyers can get up to 95% financing without Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). Since interest-only products are available for townhouses, homebuyers can get more affordable mortgages. However, if a townhouse has more than four units, it will be classified as commercial property, which may cause lending guidelines to change. Homebuyers would have to put down 25%, and the mortgage rates could be higher (approximately .375%). Due to this, bank underwriters will emphasize the income more than the buyer’s qualifications when it comes to property evaluation
Closing costs for a Manhattan townhouse will come in at 3-4% of the loan amount. This amount originates mostly from the 1.75% New York State Mortgage Tax, which is a requirement. As a result, people have sometimes tried to avoid the mortgage tax by having the seller’s bank do a mortgage assignment. However, that process would require the services of an exceptional lawyer and the agreement of the seller’s bank.
IMPORTANT: Different states have different tax procedures for loans, interest, and investments. The Federal government has standard procedures, but those procedures often change. With the ever-changing laws, there is too much room to make an innocent error. In consequence, it is strongly advised always to consult a tax and investment professional and have all situations handled adequately.
Below is a helpful guide to understanding the tax liabilities associated with NYC townhouses. If you need more information, our advice is to seek the assistance of a certified New York state accountant.
What are the Yearly Taxes for Manhattan Townhouses?
The annual taxes for luxury Manhattan townhouses can vary between $5000 and $6000. Every year, the NYC Council sets the tax rate for different classes of property.
For 2009-2010, the tax rate was 17.088% for Class 1, 13.241% for Class 2, 12.743% for Class 3, and 10.426% for Class 4. Homeowners can determine their real estate taxes by applying the assigned percentage to their property’s taxable assessed value.
The property tax assessment is a specific percentage of the market value. The taxable assessed value is the assessed value minus any exemptions.
How does the Department of Finance estimate your property value?
The Department of Finance bases property value on three factors – cost, sales comparison, and income capitalization. Through this, the department must estimate all property values by January 5 of each year. This constant reevaluation meant to reflect the ever-evolving NYC real estate market.
They use this method for specialty properties, which includes utility properties. They estimate the value of the land and figure out how much it would cost to replace (or reproduce) the existing building on that land.
The Department of Finance must check the recent sales of similar properties. Using this method, their officials can determine the ‘probable’ selling price of the property. The value of smaller, residential properties (such as 1-3 family homes) is, defined in this manner.
This method used for properties that produce income, such as multi-family buildings and office spaces. The value is, based on the income possibilities. The department looks into income and expenses as well as the capitalization rate (rate of return for an investor). State law requires that the Department of Finance value condos and co-ops as rental apartment buildings. As a result, the value based on the estimate of income (rent from residents) received by the owners.
How does Finance determine tax assessments
- Tax Class 1 Most residential property – up to 3 units – 1-3 family homes – office with 1-2 apartments – vacant land – condos not three stories.
- Class 2 All other residential property (or primarily residential such as condominiums)
- Class 3 Property with utility company-owned property
- The Class 4 Any commercial or private property that does not fall into other three classes
State law requires that Finance assess the property in each property class at the assessment ratio.
The Department of Finance is required to assess properties in each class at the same percentage value. The DOF must multiply its estimated market value by the assessment ratio for your property according to its proper class. If the assessment ratio is 9% in Class 1, a $100,000 property will receive an assessment of $9,000. If a $100,000 property fell into Class 2 and the assessment ratio was 45%, the assessment would be $45,000.
The Department of Finance must follow specific assessment rules.
The DOF is obliged by state law to follow specific assessment rules. That is unless the change is due to a substantial increase (renovation, construction, demolition).
- Class 1 Assessments on a property cannot be, increased by more than 6% each year (or more than 20% in five years).
- Class 2 Assessments on properties with less than 11 units cannot be, increased by more than 8% per year (or more than 30% in five years). Assessment can change on properties with more than ten units, but the changes must be phased-in over five years.
- Class 3 There are no assessment limitations in Class 3.
- Class 4 There can be assessment changes, but they must be phased-in over five years.
Are There Any Exemptions or Abatements?
The DOF offers several exemption programs. To encourage construction and renovations, they implemented 421-a-c and J-51. Also, non-profit organizations receive an exemption (420-a). As well as all that, specific individuals can accept a waiver (disabled, seniors, veterans, and others).
Condos and co-ops receive an exemption in the form of tax relief. Through this, their taxable assessed value is, reduced, and this initiative reduces their taxes. The exemption reduces the base rate used to calculate their real estate taxes. Abatements are computed in June after the new tax rate is set for the year.
When on the hunt for an NYC townhouse, you’ll need to consider how difficult or easy a move might be to a particular place. Moving furniture up three flights of stairs or more will be difficult. To do that, you’re going to need help, either from friends or a professional moving company. Additionally, if the stairways are narrow, this will make it difficult to bring up large furniture without damaging the railings or scratching the walls. Keep this in mind when viewing potential townhouses to buy. If you do have any large furniture that will have to be, brought up, then inform your buyer’s agent of this and give them the dimensions of the furniture pieces. It can help them eliminate listings that wouldn’t suit your needs.
Brownstones vs. Townhouses – What’s the Difference?
Anyone new to NYC, or just the townhouse market in general, might be confused by these two terms. They’re, used interchangeably quite a lot, but there is a difference. A townhouse is, defined as a multi-story urban house, usually detached, which is built on the street and scaled similarly to surrounding homes. A brownstone is the same thing but distinguished by the reddish-brown colored sandstone façade. Said another way, all brownstones are townhouses, but not all townhouses are brownstones. Generally speaking, a brownstone will have a higher price tag because of its uniqueness. It’s worthwhile taking some time to decide on which you might prefer.
NYC townhouses come in two different varieties, single-family and multi-family. Which one you’ll choose depends on whether you’re looking for a primary residence or an investment property. Here’s a rundown on the two townhouse types.
A single-family townhouse meant to house ‘one’ family. The advantage of a single-family home is that it will be ‘your’ home. The reality (compared to apartments) is that ‘you’ are responsible for everything about this home – including structural repairs and renovations. Single-family townhouses can be an expensive choice. If you can handle the purchase and you value freedom and privacy, a single-family home may be the right choice for you.
A multiple-family townhouse comes with a high up-front cost (more than a single-family home). Since multiple-family townhouses include rental units, they can be a wise investment. Even if a buyer has to borrow the purchase price, these homes can work out to be an affordable choice in the long term. Homeowners will be able to collect rental income from tenants. The collected rent can go towards mortgage payments.
Lenders look more favorably on multiple-family home buyers. Often lenders are willing to give jumbo mortgages to on multi-family townhouses. The lender will even accept a lower household income. They understand that rent will supplement their income. If a home has six or more rental units, homeowners must charge within the guidelines of citywide rent controls.