Buy Curious

Considering a ground-floor apartment? Here's what you need to know

A ground-floor condo in Greenpoint has a private backyard with a heated saltwater pool. It is listed for $1,550,000.

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2019
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Do you live in a walkup and dread hiking up the stairs when you come home at the end of the day? If so, you're probably fantasized about what it would be like to move to a ground-floor apartment, and while there are plenty of pluses, there are some disadvantages to be aware of as well.

First-floor apartments are sometimes less expensive than units on higher floors, can come with private outdoor spaces, and simply make more sense for folks with babies in strollers, dogs to walk, or mobility issues.  

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 ever wanted to know about life on a building’s lobby level, including how much you can save, whether staying warm in the winter will be harder than you might think, and what makes a maisonette so special.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post was previously published in February 2016. We are presenting it with updated information for August 2019.]

The question:

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?

The reality:

It’s true that you can sometimes save buying a ground-floor unit, but “it depends heavily on the building and the area,” says Rose, explaining that if a unit lacks light or is street-facing and loud, you can probably get more square footage for the price.

An example of these savings can be seen at 96 Schermerhorn St., a 13-story, 105-unit co-op building in Downtown Brooklyn. There, a 1,306-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath triplex, #1F, which is on the ground-floor, is being offered for $799,000 (or $611 per square foot), while a 920-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-and-half-bath unit on the eighth floor, #8D, is asking $940,000 (or $1,021 per square foot). “That’s a 40 percent discount,” Rose says.

Pro Tip:

Did you know you can receive a buyer’s rebate from your broker? Buying with Prevu you’ll pocket a rebate of two-thirds of the commission paid to the buyer’s broker at closing.  On a $1.5 million condo, you’d receive up to $30,000. Click here to learn about Prevu’s Smart Buyer Rebate.

But there are many things other than price to take into account before purchasing a ground-floor unit.

How well kept is the building?

Building maintenance will be of the utmost importance to you in a first-floor apartment.

“How often is the superintendent taking out the trash and recycling?” Rose asks. “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.

“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.

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,” 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. That can make the apartment cooler, as well as a tad bit depressing.

Pro Tip:

If you're not seeing enough homes for sale in your price range or target neighborhood—and/or you'd like to avoid a bidding war—consider expanding your search to "off-market" listings. NYC real estate brokerage Triplemint, a Brick Underground partner, uses technology to mine public records and identify owners who may be ready to sell, meaning you can meet and deal with owners before their homes hit the market. Click here to learn more.

Will you need to be more concerned about break-ins?

Sadly, safety can indeed be an issue with first-floor units.

“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 passersby, 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.

Will people ring your bell doorball 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,” says Rose. 

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. 

Should you be worried about flooding?

“New York is not a city that was built with the expectancy of hurricanes, but during Sandy we saw whole neighborhoods Downtown flooded,” Rose says. “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.”

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.

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 eschew 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.”

Check out these ground-floor apartments currently on the market:

78 Freeman St., #1, Greenpoint

Listed for $1,550,000, this 998-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath condo on the ground-floor comes with a private backyard with a heated saltwater pool. The unit has an open-plan design, and has white oak flooring, large closets, an in-unit washer and dryer, and stainless steel appliances. One bedroom is adjacent to the living room, and has direct access to the outdoor space. The other is on the opposite side of the apartment. It’s located in a four-unit building close to the Greenpoint ferry terminal. Common charges are $451 a month. Taxes are $862 a month.

215 West 122nd St., #Garden, Harlem

This 1,570-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath sponsor unit is listed for $1,649,000. The duplex apartment has pickled oak and herringbone hardwood floors, coffered ceilings, recessed lighting, central air, and 615 square feet of private outdoor space, including a large private garden. The main level has both bedrooms, a full bath with a soaking tub, and an open living room connected to the kitchen, which has stainless steel appliances, and marble countertops. The lower level has a large recreation room, a powder room, in-unit laundry, and a private outdoor patio. The building also has a virtual doorman and a common roof deck. Common charges are $777 a month. Taxes are $1,511 a month. The sponsor will pay one year of taxes as a closing credit for contracts signed in August.

425 East 13th St., #D, East Village

Listed for $1,900,000, this 1,623-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bath condo has floor to ceiling windows, wide-plank oak floors, high ceilings, in-unit laundry, and a 600-square-foot private garden. It’s located in the A Building, an eight-story building with a common roof with a pool and cabanas, a fitness center, and a courtyard garden. Common charges are $3,022 a month. Taxes are $1,696 a month. There’s also an assessment of $402 a month.

321 East 43rd St., #101, Midtown East

The price of this two-bedroom, two-bath co-op was recently reduced by $120,000. The asking price is now $775,000. The unit has newly remodeled marble bathrooms, an updated eat-in kitchen, CitiQuiet windows in the bedrooms, and seven closets—all with California Closet shelving and storage. It’s in The Cloister, a 10-story building with a live-in super, a concierge, a bike room, and available storage. Maintenance is $1,863 a month.

522 West 50th St., #A2, Hell’s Kitchen

Priced at $430,000, this renovated one-bedroom, one-bath co-op has high ceilings, cherry floors, an open kitchen with granite countertops, and through-the-window air conditioning. It’s in a 40-unit, five-story collection of two co-op buildings. Pets are welcome. Maintenance is $947 a month. Financing of up to 80 percent of the purchase price is permitted.