What is a Brownstone?

An Essential Property Management Term

Brownstone Definition: A brownstone is a brick townhouse or row house with a brownstone facade, and it’s particularly popular on the East Coast. Often sporting four to five stories and 4,000-6,000 square feet of living space, modern landlords typically divide brownstone rentals into multiple units.

Homelight highlights traditional elements of brownstones’ design and character, including “carved fireplaces and tall ceilings, some up to 14 feet tall. Many brownstones have a stoop that leads from the sidewalk up to what is called the parlor floor, which contains the living room and dining room. The floor below is the garden level, which is where the kitchen might be located, and beneath that is the basement. Two or three floors of bedrooms sit above the parlor floor.”

With a classic sense of grandeur, brownstones have been considered fashionable for centuries. However, landlords looking to purchase a brownstone building should be aware of its maintenance challenges before inking any deals.

Brownstone Maintenance Issues

Homelight outlines the major issues unique to brownstone properties, including:

  • Brownstone is porous and thus especially susceptible to climate and pollution
  • Stone layers set perpendicular to the ground have an increased risk of water entering and weakening the structure
  • This material is also fairly soft, and façade repair may cost up to $100,000 for larger projects, according to writer Stanley Montfort

Regular maintenance can help combat these issues in part. Homelight says landlords who own brownstone properties should:

  • Keep gutters clear
  • Inspect the roof regularly
  • Prioritize roof repair leaks
  • Remove ivy
  • Caulk open joints to keep water away from windows, doors, and other horizontal structures
  • Inspect metal flashings to ensure they aren’t absorbing moisture
  • Repoint loose, broken, or missing mortar joints

It’s highly recommended that a building engineer assess a brownstone property before purchase to assess whether the building has water penetration issues. Writer Stanley Montfort advised that interested buyers understand “purchasing a brownstone is more than a temporary short-term financial investment; it is a long-term investment that requires careful budgeting and lifetime changes to reap the benefits.”

Further, he suggests holding any purchased brownstones for a minimum of 10 years if you’re not purchasing a three to four-unit building.

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