Starting to despise the hike up the stairs to your third-floor walkup? Ground-floor units starting to look appealing? Mirador Real Estate’s Andrew Rose tells you everything you need to know about life on a building’s main floor in this week’s Buy Curious.
THE WISH LIST:
I'm on a budget—and I have a dog—so I'm thinking a ground-floor apartment might be my best bet in terms of value. What do I need to know? And can you recommend some?
While it’s true that you can sometimes save a pretty penny buying a ground-floor unit—“It depends heavily on the building and the area,” says Rose, meaning that if a unit lacks light or is street-facing and loud, you can probably get more square footage for the price—there are many other things to take into account before making such a purchase.
First, realize that building maintenance will be of utmost importance to you. “How often is the superintendent taking out the trash and recycling?” asks Rose. “Is 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.” 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.
Another thing to consider is how you’ll stay warm. “Heat rises,” says Rose, “and if the building has not been well insulated… keeping warm can become a task.”
Adds Karla Saladino, Mirador Real Estate’s managing partner, “Ground-floor units can sometimes be 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.” Its level of warmth wasn’t a big concern for the builders.
In addition to temperature concerns, be sure 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”—which can make the apartment cooler, as well as a tad bit depressing.
Safety can also be an issue. “Even with crime down in the city to some of the lowest levels we’ve seen, it doesn’t change that the first-floor is the easiest access point—and basement-level apartments may be out of the eye line of passers-by, giving thieves an added layer of protection,” says Rose. 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.
Furthermore, know that 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,” says Rose.
Noise can be a factor, too. 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.
Additionally, “New York is not a city that was built with the expectancy of hurricanes, but during Sandy we saw whole neighborhoods downtown flooded,” says Rose. “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.”
Despite these potential drawbacks, “a ground-floor apartment could be seen as an attractive purchase for buyers who want to eschew larger scale 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.”
It can also be a nice perk for pet owners not to have to wait for any elevators.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if the ground-level unit you’re looking at has been dubbed a “maisonette,” it’s liable to 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. Maisonettes—French for “small house”—“tend to be found in older buildings in neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, 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 some ground-floor apartments:
East Village one-bedroom, one-bath co-op, $675,000: This loft-like one-bedroom at 625 East 6th Street between Avenues B and C has semi-private garden access, a separate entrance, exposed brick walls and a custom kitchen and bath. There’s also in-unit laundry and remote-controlled ceiling fans. A privacy wall separates the ground-floor units from the street. The building also provides basement storage.
Greenwich Village one-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom co-op, $725,000: Located at 15 Jones Street between Bleecker and West 4th Streets, this ground-level duplex offers a living room, kitchen and a half-bath on the first floor, and a bedroom and full bath on the lower floor. The apartment has oversized floor-to-ceiling windows and roomy closets with built-ins.
Clinton one-bedroom, two-bathroom co-op, $665,000: This gut-renovated duplex unit at 522 West 50th Street between 10th and 11th avenues offers 10-foot ceilings, built-in bookcases, cut-stone floors, and a stainless steel kitchen with granite countertops. The prewar pet-friendly building has a live-in super, a bike room, and a liberal sublet policy.
West Village three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath condo, $6,675,000: This three-bedroom apartment at 275 West 10th Street between Washington and Greenwich Streets has high ceilings, oversized windows, solid hardwood floors, a stainless steel kitchen with a large pantry, and is located above street-level. Building amenities include a basketball court, a gym, a golf simulator, and a paneled library that opens to a landscaped garden.