Category Archives: Townhouse

Thinking of selling your Manhattan brownstone without a certificate of occupancy?

If you are thinking of selling your Manhattan townhouse one of the first things you should verify is your certificate of occupancy. A certificate of occupancy tells a prospective buyer what the legal use is. The challenge is that the certificate of occupancy rules came about in 1938 and many homes were built before that. As a result, you may have a building without a certificate of occupancy. Department of Buildings site  Go to the DOB site and enter the address of the property then click on certificate of occupancy link. Many properties will not have a certificate of occupancy on file. In some cases the CofO may contradict the actual use. Consult with your lawyer and architect and your real estate broker to see what would be required to modify the CofO and if it can be sold without bringing the C of O inline with the actual use.

If there isn’t a CofO on file then it may get even more complicated. Consult with your attorney/architect to see what the DOB records indicate. Sometimes, it can be confusing due to different NYC agencies classifying your Harlem townhouse as different usages. Recently, I met a homeowner who said his building was “registered” as a 4 family with the City. Upon initial research he was being taxed as a 4 family by the NYC Department of Finance but his CofO says 3 family home. If your CofO says 3 family, you have a 3 family.

As always, this blog is intended for informational purposes and not as a substitute for legal advice so please consult your attorney. Your real estate broker can normally recommend an attorney for you who specializes in real estate and hopefully can shed some light on any CofO issues that you might have. Additionally, an experienced, Manhattan townhouse broker can advise you  on what is customary as far as paper work and what would cost you money in terms of marketability.

The Author-  Brian Silvestry , a licensed real estate broker, has been selling residential and commercial real estate since 1999. He has sold in every neighborhood from Battery Park City to Washington Heights.



Understanding buyer due diligence on a Manhattan residential purchase

Once a contract is sent out, the buyer’s attorney and associates do their due diligence. What exactly happens?

The buyer in the purchase of a Manhattan condo or co-op will examine the last 2 years financials, the original offering plan, any amendments to the offering plan, board application package, house rules and may even read the minutes of the Board of Directors meetings.

When I almost purchased a co-op on the Upper east side, my CPA actually reviewed the building financials and told me that the building was losing money and my maintenance will increase over time sharply and advised me not to buy. So your attorney or even your CPA will try to steer you clear of any building with finance issues at the least.

Also when they look through the rest of the building documents they are looking for any hint of a major expense on the horizon or perhaps a troublesome neighbor. They may even send their own questionnaire to the building management. I have seen this done by one attorney.

If you were buying a townhouse, they would look at the certificate of occupancy to see if it is consistent with the current layout as well as any inspections that you may have conducted that would turn up any major potential expenses that you may incur like a roof, or mechanical systems.

During this period of time, they will review the contract sent by the seller’s attorney and will also make comments or add a rider to the contract to best protect your interests.

Typically, the due diligence period will take about a week or so, and once completed the lawyer will give their approval/advice to you as the buyer so that you may sign.

The Author-  Brian Silvestry , a licensed real estate broker, has been selling residential and commercial real estate since 1999. He has sold in every Manhattan market from Battery Park City to Washington Heights.

Harlem townhouse sets new price record

A Hamilton Heights home at 72 Hamilton Terrace has set a new sales record above 125th street, with it’s sale at $5.1 million. The home was nearly destroyed by a fire 10 years and was bought by an investor who has experience renovating and reselling homes on Hamilton Terrace and in this area. A complete renovation was undertaken and the home has now closed and broken the $5 million mark.

The renovated home on the corner of Hamilton terrace and West 144th street in Hamilton Heights sold for $5.1 million establishing a new record.

The Real Deal coverage

The Author-  Brian Silvestry , a licensed real estate broker, has been selling residential and commercial real estate since 1999. He has sold in every Manhattan market from Battery Park City to Washington Heights.


Thinking of selling your Harlem SRO townhouse?

SROs or single room occupancies have a wide range of value in Harlem.  SROs are typically set up as rooming houses where there might be several rooms per floor with a common bathroom or kitchen. The most valuable SRO will have a certificate of no harassment and be delivered vacant. The least valuable will have non-paying tenants and be delivered without the CONH. What is a CONH and why would having it add at least $100k to the value of your SRO?

A CONH is granted after an investigation or look back by NYC’s Housing Preservation and Development of approximately 3 years. They are looking at your history of tenants to see if any tenants were forced out or harassed. Some of the questions on the application ask if you have had a discontinuation of service like heat, hot water or electricity, a potential sign that the tenants might have left due to poor living conditions. It takes approximately 7 months according to reps at HPD to get a CONH assuming the application is in order. You can have an experienced lawyer do this for you and they will charge $3k-$5k depending on how complicated the case is. So if you have some advance notice you might want to apply for this prior to putting your house on the market. If you are a DIY’er then you can fill in the application yourself and can visit the HPD during the week between 9-11am with your walk in questions. Make sure your property is registered with HPD. The CONH is valuable because the purchaser of your property will not be granted building permits to alter the SRO without a CONH. Also, while it may be difficult for you to come up with the names of all the tenants who lived in the property, it is impossible for the buyer so in some cases they may even just decide to sit on the house for 3 years before applying for the CONH. For that, they will expect a severe discount.

Certificate of no harassment application

As you are arranging your future plans to sell, you will want to maintain an excellent relationship with your tenants so they vouch for you if contacted by the City. Also, if they are not a rent stabilized tenant then you might not want to renew their lease which will give you the option to ask them to vacate with a 30 day notice. If you can get by without the income, vacating the house just prior to listing will make it easier to show and sell, but certainly ethically empty out the house prior to closing. If the tenants are rent stabilized then you may need to offer them a buyout or leave that up to the next purchaser. If you must deliver the house occupied make sure that your tenants are current. A building full of non-paying tenants will be only taken on by investors if the price is very low.

As this sale is a complicated one, you will need a team to insure the most lucrative sale including an experienced and knowledgeable real estate broker, a real estate attorney plus perhaps even an architect or expediter. Even though it may seems like a burdensome effort, it will be worth it in the end especially if you know that you have lead time. If you have even only a few months before you will sell, it makes a lot of sense to plan ahead and get a CONH and get the house vacant for closing.

The Author-  Brian Silvestry , a licensed real estate broker, has been selling SROs and Harlem townhouses for more than 12 years and has helped owners to apply and obtain the certificate of no harassment.

Thinking of selling your Manhattan townhouse?

Here is one simple tip that will help you when you are selling your Manhattan townhouse. Take a look at your certificate of occupancy (coo)and see how it complies with your actual usage. You might have a coo that says 3 family  but you have 4 apartments. You might have a coo that says SRO and you have a 2 family. The ideal is that you have a coo that agrees 100% with your usage.

If you have plans to sell and have a cushion of time, getting this in order before you list the property, will have an impact on how much the next buyer is willing to pay.

What if the Department of Buildings does not have a coo on file for your property? Now it’s more complicated. What is the history of your building as per other city agencies such as HPD? What is your building registered as assuming it’s a 3 family or higher? How many years have you owned the property and would a letter of no objection assist in clarifying this issue?

Consult with your attorney who should be very knowledgeable in these matters as well as a real estate broker experienced in townhouse sales who can assist you with the steps to take here to increase your marketability and what will add value and what will not.


Mt Morris Park Landmark townhouse enters market

146 West 121st street, which is in the middle of the Mt. Morris Park Historic district has entered the market. It is an 18′ wide, 5 story townhouse with a cellar. The home which has many original details still intact,  has been in the same family for more than 70 years. It is located 1 block away from the Marcus Garvey Park and right in between the A,B,C,D and 2,3 subway stations as well as very close to the recently opened Whole Foods. In addition, Restaurant Row is nearby. The home will be delivered vacant with the certificate of no harassment . 

The asking price is $2.2 million.

Listing details


How much money is a double brownstone block worth?

Many sellers of property in Manhattan may or may not understand the transaction from the perspective of the buyer. One of the aspects of a brownstone in Harlem is the appeal of the block itself. 10 years or more ago, there were many more boarded homes in Harlem than there are now. Nowadays, you might one boarded home on a given block in Harlem or none. However, what about the condition of the homes and how do compare a double brownstone block, one with brownstones on both sides and one with brownstones on one side and perhaps apartments buildings on the other side? How does this affect value?

Most buyers that come to visit a home usually comment that they like the block or the block seems okay without really asking or getting into the details of the makeups of the building on the block themselves. Certainly, if your neighbor is running an SRO or there are many apartment buildings on the block, the feel is going to be more transient.

Every now and then you see a row of brownstones that is by itself and most of the rest of the block is apartment buildings. One such property to my surprise has not sold in Central Harlem but this could be why. The block has about 10 homes and the rest are apartment buildings. Perhaps this is why the property has lingered on the market. Take a look at the two photos below. Which block do you find more appealing? What do you think?



What allows one townhouse to be a single family and another to be 8 units?

Just looking at the photo in this post, you have 5 houses visible and in that group, an 8 family, a single family and a house that was an SRO being converted to a 4 family home. Lots of diversity. What allows such a variety of uses buyers often ask? Well, the zoning allows it and as long the department of buildings allows either the alteration or continued use of the building, it continues. Have you ever wandered down a Manhattan brownstone block and counted bells? Yes, that’s one way to take a guess at the number of units but not always accurate as over time owners may combine units.

The other question that buyers often ask is what is best use of the townhouse? Well that depends on the your strategy. The smaller units are easier to rent out but there is more turnover and more regulation. You will have a much easier time renting out 600 sqft 1 bedroom apartments than 3 floors for $6500 per month but the turnover will be higher. Also, as you have more units, you have potentially higher taxes and different requirements per building codes as you crossover from a residential use to a commercial one. As always, a thorough analysis of the building combined with conversations with your team including general contractor, architect and experienced real estate broker will be the best way to protect your investment.