Brownstone House: Why Are NYC Homes Called Brownhouses?

Brownstone House
Brownstone House

When you’re looking for your first home, you’re bound to hear about various sorts of houses to consider. A brownstone house is one of those types of houses if you live in New York City. But what exactly is a brownstone, and why are they so popular in New York City? Here’s all you need to know about a brownstone house, including its price.

What Is a Brownstone House

A brownstone is a type of townhouse or row house. Brownstones are often brick structures with noticeable stone windowsills, lintels, and front stoops. To be named a brownstone house, the structure must have at least two levels. The majority of brownstones are three or four stories tall.

The front stoop is one of the key features that separates an NYC brownstone house from others. These stoops were created for use, not fashion; they were intended to raise the parlor, or entry, a floor above street level, which was laden with horse excrement at the time. Creating these stoops aided in keeping the parlor floor clean.

Where Did Brownstones Come From?

First and foremost, we must identify and correct the widespread misperception that brownstone residences are always constructed with brownstones. In actuality, only a small portion of the building may have brown bricks.

The term “brownstone” comes from a townhouse composed of bricks with a layer of a brownstone on the façade. Brownstone is sandstone, which is too soft for building construction.

The Portland Brownstone Quarry, which was historically located in Portland, Connecticut, is the primary source of the material that gives a brownstone house its distinct appearance. The construction materials were brought to New York City via the Connecticut and Hudson Rivers and stored in yards along the Hudson and East Rivers.

Although it is named brownstone, it was originally pink when it was cut. It eventually turns brown.

Why is Brownstone House Popular in NYC?

The infatuation with brownstone houses in New York City originated in the mid-nineteenth century. The American love of brownstone houses was sparked by Romantic classicism, which was followed by aesthetic groups that highlighted the importance of nature.

Furthermore, throughout the Industrial Revolution, structures were constructed at a breakneck pace in the city, owing largely to romantic classicism. The movement served as a reminder that nature is not only necessary but also desirable in our daily lives. Improved machinery enabled laborers to work safely, faster, and more cheaply, which enhanced the city’s brownstone development.

In short, the brownstone house in New York City was the ideal blend of urbanism and environment at an accessible price.

Brownstone House Price

Brownstones were created for medium and lower-class immigrants in New York. They were a solution for the city to build a significant number of homes for small business entrepreneurs and their families.

They have, however, become FAR more expensive over time. The average price for a Brooklyn brownstone house now is around $2 million. And the price of a brownstone house is just going up. A brownstone house price is around $1.5 million in 2013.

Are Brownstones Expensive?

Yes, brownstones are pricey now, partly because they are difficult to obtain since the brownstone house is no longer being manufactured. Another reason for the greater price of a brownstone house is that many of them are designated as historic sites, which increases their value.

A Brownstone house in New York City starts at around $1.5 million and only becomes more pricey from there. However, because the structure is divided into numerous rental units, renters will find brownstone flats to be very reasonable.

The 5 Hidden Costs of Owning a New York Brownstone House

It may be your dream to own a New York City brownstone, but in addition to paying a record price when you buy, you are likely to face a slew of unforeseen charges. That’s because when you acquire a brownstone, you are fully responsible for the building’s maintenance, including the roof, facade, and sidewalk, as well as all taxes and utilities—there are no exceptions.

You’ll also be responsible for maintaining your walkway clear, taking out your trash, and shoveling snow as the owner of a brownstone—or hiring someone to do all of that for you.
Here are some of the hidden costs of brownstone ownership.

#1. You will be responsible for maintenance and repairs.

When you move into a brownstone, you give up the ease of phoning the super when the faucet leaks. You are responsible for building maintenance and repairs as the owner. Roof repair, plumbing, and electrical services, pest management, and landscaping will all fall under your purview in the future. Proactive maintenance is always the best option.

#2. Renovations can accumulate.

If you plan on restoring a brownstone, keep in mind that most projects go over budget and take longer than expected. This isn’t unique to brownstones, but structures over a century old, in particular, maybe a minefield of unanticipated costs and many, overlapping projects.

#3. Living in a historic district attracts more scrutiny.

There are several brownstones in historic districts. This means that any alterations to the building’s façade must be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. If you want to make improvements to the house, your architect must submit all drawings for approval by Landmarks.

#4. Your duties extend beyond your front yard.

If you do to remove snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of your house during the winter, you may be fined. You can always hire someone to do this for you, but if you contact snow removal services when there is snow on the ground or in the forecast, you will spend more than if you plan and have someone lined up when it is still warm.

#5. Insurance fees might add up.

Insurance will be more expensive than for a co-op or condo since insurance companies normally want you to insure for the entire cost of rebuilding.

Pros and Cons of a Brownstone House

Many individuals fantasize about living in the classic New York City brownstones seen in films and television shows, but there are certain drawbacks to consider.

Pros

Here’s a list of some of the benefits of living in a brownstone.

#1. Neighborhood

Brownstone communities are typically well-known places to live. You’ll uncover specific neighborhoods with the most brownstones in the city, such as New York City’s Upper West Side, Brooklyn Heights, and Park Slope. There are also urban facilities, pubs, restaurants, good schools, and even commercial establishments functioning within brownstones nearby.

#2. More space

It’s unusual to find a complete brownstone available for rent that’s even relatively reasonable, but the units still have lots of space. Rather than small, choppy flats, most brownstone apartments take up the full first, second, or third level. Smaller apartments are typically found on the ground floor or street level and may be less expensive than larger flats on upper floors with views.

#3. Outdoor space

Brownstones were originally designed as single-family dwellings with modest yards. The yards are significantly smaller than those in suburbia, yet they are still large enough to enjoy the outside or add patio furniture. A landlord may restrict renters’ outdoor access and only provide a designated space for private usage.

#4. Charm and personality

Brownstones are known for their exquisite detail both inside and out. Inside a brownstone, it’s not uncommon to discover carved wooden mantels, antique wooden flooring, and stained glass windows. Brownstones are stunning in comparison to templated apartments with the same plan again and over.

#5. Iconic city living

Brownstones are very uncommon in the rest of the country and are an iconic symbol of city living. Many individuals relocate “back east” with visions of brownstone life, where they may sit on their stoops and watch the sunset while chatting with neighbors.

Cons

Here are some of the disadvantages of living in a brownstone house.

#1. They have slanted steps

Some people prefer the look of brownstone stoops, but they are very steep and can become slippery in the rain and ice. The term derives from the Dutch word “stoep,” which means “step.” To raise the main parlor floor above flooding, stoops were constructed to structures including brownstones. Some say that the original stops were also constructed to keep the main level above a “sea of horse dung.”

Yes, your brownstone stoop can help you avoid all sorts of unwanted behavior. They can, however, be difficult to climb, especially with large baggage and food.

#2. The rent is exorbitant.

Rents are already exorbitant in places like New York City and Boston, but brownstones are in a league of their own. Due to a scarcity of inventory and high demand, prices rise, scaring away potential renters on a budget. Brownstones are sometimes found in less desirable neighborhoods, making single-apartment apartments more inexpensive. Even in New York City, it is possible to find a good price on a brownstone house.

#3. Slightly narrow staircases

Brownstone inhabitants understand the need of measuring furniture before purchasing and putting it indoors. Brownstone staircases are tiny, ancient, and unsuitable for large couches and bed frames. You’ll need furniture created expressly for compact spaces that work well in urban environments.

#4. Brownstones are always getting older

The oldest brownstones originate from the 1800s, and while they have been renovated, the buildings are still historic. Brownstone is porous and requires continuous upkeep, which can be inconvenient for renters. Plumbing, electrical, windows, and ceilings are all subject to maintenance and care.

#5. The air conditioning system is problematic.

Landlords are hesitant to install any form of air conditioning system in brownstones due to the expense of renovating a century-old property. As a result, window AC units are used in the majority of residences in New York City and other ancient New England cities. However, brownstone windows may not always be able to accept the addition or may limit your options for where you can install them to keep cool during hot, humid summers.

What’s the Distinction Between a Townhouse and a Brownstone?

Brownstones and townhouses are frequently used interchangeably, however, they are not the same thing. A townhouse is a tall, narrow single-family residence with at least two levels. Townhouses also share a common wall with the townhouse next door. Townhomes are constructed from marble, wood, limestone, and other materials. However, if a townhouse has a brownstone façade, it is a brownstone house.

How to Care for a Brownstone House

For nearly as long as humans have lusted after brownstones, others have lamented the stone’s proclivity to deteriorate. The stone is extremely vulnerable to climate and pollution due to its porous nature and layered composition.

In some circumstances, how the stone was installed presents issues. Brownstone was frequently face-bedded, which means that the stone layers were positioned perpendicular to the ground, allowing water to penetrate and weaken it.

The passage of time has further intensified the issues of brownstone maintenance. Patching can be used to fix damaged surfaces. Regular maintenance, particularly adopting the following precautions to reduce water damage, can help with upkeep.

  • Keep gutters free of debris.
  • Inspect the roof regularly and repair any leaks as soon as possible.
  • Remove the ivy.
  • Fill open seams with caulk to keep water away from windows, doors, and other horizontal structures.
  • Examine metal flashings to ensure that they are not absorbing moisture.
  • Repoint any mortar joints that are loose, fractured, or missing.

Bankoff, the historic preservationist, advises having a brownstone house evaluated by a building engineer before purchasing it. An engineer can determine whether the structure has water penetration problems.

Conclusion

A brownstone house is more than just a stone structure. It is more than just a structure. Every time a resident of a brownstone sits on their front stoops, they are sitting on a piece of history. If you want to experience some NYC nostalgia, consider purchasing or renting a brownstone.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a brownstone a mansion?

A brownstone is a townhouse or row house composed of brick and, most importantly, fronted with a brownstone facade. Brownstones are most commonly found in Brooklyn and Manhattan in New York City.

Do brownstones have backyards?

Residents have a private entrance and sometimes a private back or front yard, but there is no space between the house and its neighbor. The word “brownstone” refers to the sandstone material used to create the edifice.

How much is an NYC brownstone?

(According to Buchman, current brownstone prices in the neighborhood range from $3.5 million to $10 million.) Brownstones have become associated with wealthy areas of Brooklyn, but they are not only in the boroughs. They can also be found in some parts of Manhattan.

Where can I buy a brownstone in NYC?

Brownstones can be found in several New York City neighborhoods, particularly Park Slope, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Gowanus, Windsor Terrace, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Brooklyn Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant, and Sunset Park in Brooklyn.

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