5 FEATURES THAT MAKE A GROUND-FLOOR APARTMENT DESIRABLE—INSTEAD OF A DEALBREAKER

Wednesday April 24, 2019 | by Virginia K. Smith, Nikki M. Mascali, BrickUnderground

Living in a ground-floor apartment often gets a bad rap in NYC—with good reason. Being on the lower level of a building means you’ll have less privacy, especially if your windows face the street, and less natural light. Plus, you’ll be closer to noises, smells, and potential pest problems and security issues. 

Because of these factors, you’ll often see ground-floor apartments listed for a lower price or rent than a similar unit on a higher floor. Beyond saving some of your hard-earned money, there are a lot of New Yorkers who actually prefer living in a lower-level unit. Not only might they be easier to move into (especially in walk-up buildings), these apartments can be an obvious choice if you’re elderly, have mobility or health issues, children, or a dog that goes out several times a day. 

In addition to meeting your lifestyle needs, some ground-floor apartments have features that can actually make them more desirable—and luxurious—than units on higher floors.

Pro Tip:

If you're not seeing enough places -- ground floor or otherwise -- 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. 

1. Location, location, location

Given that some of the chief complaints surrounding ground-floor apartments have to do with their proximity to the street and all its fracas and stenches, an apartment's actual location in the building can make a world of difference. If you're situated toward the back of the building, for instance, you'll have much more peace and quiet—and maybe even a backyard (more on that later). A more-secluded location can also protect you from the noise of the building's lobby, stairwell, or elevator.

"I saw a ground-floor apartment recently that was at the end of the hallway all the way at the back, so nobody actually passes in front of it," says Kobi Lahav, senior managing director of Mdrn Residential. "And in that case, the back part of the building was a little elevated, so you feel like you're on a higher floor so nobody's bothering you."

For this reason, in new developments or recent renovations, you'll often see developers make an effort to put ground-floor units toward the rear of the building, or at least ensure that the bedrooms aren't facing the street to maintain some relative quiet. "Any smart developer is going to put the living room in the front and the bedroom in the back," says Nick Sanni, an agent at Citi Habitats.  

Similarly, many of these apartments are oriented so that the main entertaining spaces like kitchens and living rooms are facing large back windows into backyards to avoid street noise and let in more natural light.

Bottom line: You still may not get all the light you want, but if noise is your primary concern, don't necessarily rule out a lower-level unit because where it’s situated could mitigate those concerns almost entirely. 

2. You may have a backyard to call your own 

One of the most common perks that may offset the potential downfalls of a ground-floor apartment is the all-important backyard, a coveted amenity in a city with precious little outdoor space. "Especially in Brooklyn, I feel like everybody with a dog is coming to see that apartment right away if it has a backyard," says Win Brown, an agent at CORE.

In some cases, landlords may be inclined to renovate the space to make it more enticing (though if not, we've got tips here). "I worked with a developer who was going to have a ground-floor unit for sale, and I told him to put an outdoor kitchen in the backyard," Sanni says. "And landlords can have the outdoor space landscaped to add value. It's something so rare, and it's not that expensive to add on."

If you're hoping for outdoor space but don't want to overspend, you may be able to score a deal by looking in the colder months. "We closed on a condo conversion with a backyard. It was on the market for almost six months, and then spring came along, and by the end of March a client said, 'I have to have it'," says Brown. "The same thing happened with a listing in Williamsburg. It was facing the street, which would be considered a drawback, but had an eight-foot setback, so it had a deep terrace facing the sidewalk, elevated by a few feet. That one was on the market for four or five months over the winter, but as soon as the nicer weather hit and we had an open house when it was 65 degrees, it sold immediately."

Bottom line: A terrace or backyard might not seem especially enticing in the doldrums of February, but if you snap it up ahead of time, you've got a good chance at avoiding more stiff competition.

3. The lower level comes with extra space—and storage

Particularly in apartments that are located on the ground floor of a townhouse or brownstone, there's a good chance you'll get access to the building's basement, which could mean extra storage and even your own laundry room. 

"You have your own private entrance, under the stoop, and get a sort of mudroom via that common hallway that leads down to the basement, but that nobody really uses," says Brown. "And besides the backyard, owners will usually give tenants access to the basement for laundry and extra storage, which means more space overall."

Even in newer developments, you may see the space below-grade (aka, below the sidewalk) rejiggered as amenity space rather than a glorified darkroom. "With one property we're working with, on the lower level, we created a wet bar down there, and a full laundry room—it feels like a house," says Emily Beare, a broker at CORE. "That also comes with tons of storage, and huge closets."

Bottom line: Pack rats, consider this a potential solution if you don't feel like springing for a storage unit.

4. It's a maisonette with multiple floors (and a private entrance)

If you've got a bigger budget to play around with, developers are increasingly turning ground-floor units into elaborate, townhouse-style maisonette duplexes or triplexes, with high ceilings, multiple floors, and luxury finishes. (Indeed, this trend has been on the rise for a few years now.)

"[These are ideal] for the buyer who wants a townhouse lifestyle and more square feet, but doesn't necessarily want to be responsible for shoveling snow," says Beare. "You have the townhouse feel, but the beauty and convenience of being part of a building—you have a doorman, your own private entrance from the street, [and an entrance from the lobby]."