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Rowhomes on the Upper East Side (CityRealty) Rowhomes on the Upper East Side (CityRealty)
New York City townhouses have long been among the city's most extraordinary real estate, and are enjoying a whole new appreciation with memories of the pandemic-induced lockdown not far behind. It was hard to practice social distancing in cramped common areas like elevators and mailrooms; amenity-rich buildings' much-hyped common areas closed as part of the effort to stop the spread; and, as whole families spent months working, studying, exercising, and relaxing in close proximity, even the most spacious penthouse could feel a little cramped.

As such, townhouses have spent several months of 2023 among the top luxury contracts in Manhattan, sometimes accounting for the majority of the week's highest-priced deals. The most famous have barely lasted long: An Upper East Side townhouse seen in The Devil Wears Prada had been on the market for fewer than three months when it entered contract, and Stephen Sondheim's Turtle Bay townhouse was only on the market for about a month when it entered contract.

"Townhouses are the pinnacle of what a lot of people consider the very finest thing they can buy in New York City after they’ve already bought their condos with the view on a high floor" — Dexter Guirrieri, Principal and President, Vandenberg

Park-SLope-593 Park Slope rowhouses
“At some point, they want to be near the earth, and they want to live in these historic buildings where they can control their own destiny with their own construction and their own front door," says Dexter Guerrieri, founder, co-owner, and president of Vandenberg, Inc.—The Townhouse Experts. "We call it the townhouse lifestyle.”

Privacy is a key characteristic of the townhouse lifestyle. “The townhouse is really the only way to live self-sufficiently in the city,” S. Christopher Halstead, executive vice president of Halstead, told the New York Observer. “As a result, the way of life is very attractive to some buyers, and equally unattractive to others.” In other words, you’re responsible for salting your icy stoop, taking the garbage to the curb, and maintaining the boiler and HVAC, all chores apartment owners can take for granted. But on the other hand, you don’t need board approval for renovations, and you won’t have to worry about a downstairs neighbor complaining about how much noise you’re making.
394-Madison-Street-1 Some of the ostentatious townhouses of the Upper East Side (CityRealty)

Townhouse Hunting

The experience of buying (or selling) a townhouse is very different from buying an apartment, starting with the process of looking at a property. “I take buyers through it in a completely different way than I would take them through an apartment,” says Guerrieri. “There are so many more spaces to cover and only the finite attention span of the typical New York buyer.”
There’s also a whole different list of items to evaluate. One of those items is width. The wider the townhouse, the more valuable. The average width of New York City townhouses is 18-20 feet. Anything below is considered narrow (and harder to resell), anything above 25 feet is called a trophy property (or a mansion). However, width in a townhouse is about more than value. The wider the townhouse, the more air and light, the better the flow between rooms. Wider, shorter rooms are easier to furnish than longer, narrow ones.
Of course, there’s location location location. But even location parameters are different when looking for a townhouse. “Most difficult, and the most fundamental thing as well, is understanding values vis-à vis location,” says Guerrieri. “It's very different in a townhouse than in apartment buildings. There are apartment buildings that have wonderful amenities, but they're on a slightly inferior block, and it doesn't make such a difference. With the townhouse, what’s on the block can make a huge difference in terms of value.”
Townhouse row on the Upper East Side (CityRealty)

"The wider the townhouse, the more valuable."

Price Considerations

What is it that makes one street more valuable than the adjacent one? When you're evaluating townhouses, says Guerrier, it depends on how they back up to the houses behind them, the houses that are beside them, and the houses across the street. The most valuable townhouses are on blocks with rows of townhouses on both sides of the street. The factors that bring the price down include a firehouse, police department, or school on the block. “The values are generally going to be less because there will be more noise and more traffic.”
So what are the hot locations in the townhouse market? That depends, says Guerrieri. If you’re on the Upper West Side, it’s in the 70s on the block between Central Park West and Columbus that has “historically the highest priced sales.” On the Upper East Side, it’s near Fifth Avenue, with the priciest block between East 70th and 71st. In Chelsea, the most valuable townhouses are found on West 21st and 22nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenue. There can be a significant difference in price from street to street. Buyers should do their research to avoid sticker shock.
One factor that can bring the price down for a townhouse on a prime street is tenants. “The best buys are townhouses that have rent-stabilized or rent-controlled tenants in them,” says Guerrieri. “You can only have a limited-sized owners unit for yourself, but then you can afford to be in the neighborhood that you perhaps wouldn't have been able to purchase in. The value has been discounted due to those rent-regulated tenants.” On the flip side, if you are looking to renovate the entire building, rent-regulated tenants can make that difficult.
Brownstones on the Upper West Side (CityRealty)
For sellers, Guerrieri says that it’s a transition market with a disconnect between the way sellers and buyers appraise a property. “What sellers have continued to do is price their townhouse 15 percent higher than what the neighbor's sold for.” Buyers, however, are bidding 15 percent lower. These days, sellers are being more realistic about what can be achieved and are transitioning to more realistic expectations. There are also things a seller can do to raise the value of their property, such as putting in a garden at the front of the home. "Curb appeal really matters," says Guerrieri, but he does suggest consulting an expert first.
If you're prepared to take on the extra work of the search, not to mention the responsibility that goes into owning and maintaining your dream home once you've finally found it, CityRealty has 250 townhouse listings on the market. Some of them are veritable models of Old World New York (and priced accordingly!), while others have been designed with contemporary buyers in mind.
702-Mac-Donough-Street-1 Park Slope (CityRealty)

Notable New Townhouse Listings

197 13th Street, # (Compass)

175 Woodruff Avenue, # (Redfin Real Estate)

726 Jefferson Avenue, # (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

The Noor, # (Compass)

663 Putnam Avenue, # (Compass)

252 West 137th Street, # (Christies International Real Estate Group LLC)

The Summit Street Townhomes, # (Serhant LLC)

304 West 18th Street, # (Reserve Partners)

Polhemus Townhouses, # (Serhant LLC)

239 East 78th Street, #House (Sothebys International Realty)

249 West 99th Street, # (Compass)

393 Clinton Street, # (Nest Seekers LLC)

568 1st Street, # (Compass)

161 East 63rd Street, # (OFFICIAL)

9 Vandam Street, # (Serhant LLC)

137 West 77th Street, # (Compass)

536 West 29th Street, # (Douglas Elliman Real Estate)

842 Carroll Street, # (CORE Group Marketing LLC)

14 East 81st Street, # (Modlin Group LLC)

11 East 74th Street, #NA (Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales LLC)

973 Fifth Avenue, # (Modlin Group LLC)

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