Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pros and Cons of Brownstone Living

When I became a real estate agent in 2005, my first training was to familiarize myself with the real estate of New York. That is no easy feat and it involved climbing lots of stairs and bluffing my way into hundreds of buildings to see many more apartments than I could hope to count. My photo collection includes hundreds of apartments, and hundreds more if I hadn't lost some photos to corruption.
What I learned was that, in addition to certain neighborhoods having various charms and amenities, the housing shares certain characteristics. People who don't live in these neighborhoods are sometimes shocked, for instance, that nothing in their price range has laundry in the building, or an elevator, or everything is dark. A real estate agent can end up turning off a client by doing nothing more than showing an uneducated client exactly what they are asking for in terms of price, location and number of bedrooms.
I sometimes get a call from an interested party who declares that their last broker "only showed me garbage." When I probe a little more deeply into what they asked for, I quickly realize why.
My favorite request is a brownstone "with lots of light".
Brownstones are long, narrow townhouses that typically have a north-south orientation. This means two things: 1) the only windows are typically in the living room and the bedroom, leaving the kitchen, bathroom, and half the living room fairly dark UNLESS the apartment is on the top floor. But that of course means walking up 2-3 more flights of stairs; and 2) one of the rooms with windows will usually be very dark because it's facing north. To make things even worse, the side of the apartment that faces the back of the building may face nothing but a brick wall because in some parts of Manhattan (Upper West Side!), there isn't much of a backyard separating the buildings.
And this is only when you are lucky enough to find a floor-through apartment! If you end up with a half floor-through, then you get one set of windows out the front, and one room (usually the bedroom) with one measly window on a (poorly named) airshaft - might as well have it bricked up for all the light it brings! So, when someone calls me up and specifies a brownstone, I have to groan just a little bit.

But other types of buildings have their own issues. More on that next time....

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