Top Ten Fixes To Add Value To Your Brownstone

The market keeps rising but what’s the best way to add value to your brownstone?

By Jeff Vasishta September 21, 2016
Photo courtesy of Vivienne Gucwa via Flickr

“A brownstone has become a status symbol for Manhattanites looking to move to Brooklyn,” says Jessica Buchman, Corcoran’s number one selling broker in Park Slope. It can’t be denied that the Brooklyn brownstone has taken on an almost mythical cultural significance recently, championed by Hollywood studios and NY ad agencies. But it wasn’t long ago that many of them were single room occupancies (SRO’s) or chopped up into multi-family units with scant regard for their stately beginnings.

If you’ve just shelled out over $1 million for a townhouse in serious need of an upgrade, here are the top ten cheapest fixes to restore some 19th century charm while bringing the millennial glam and adding major value in the process.

Related: A Brownstone House Tour: A Chance To Gloat Or An Attempt To Inspire?

1.  Become A Stripper.  No, not a career change. We’re talking about paint that’s coming off. “When you think of a brownstone, you think of original details,” says contractor George Wilson of Five Star Contracting who has worked on brownstones throughout Brooklyn over the last twenty years. “When those details are covered in layers of paint, the paint needs to come off to expose the original wood which adds so much value and beauty.”

Photo courtesy of Robert Catalano via Flickr

Though wood stripping can be costly and labor intensive, Wilson says that homeowners can save a lot of money by doing the work themselves. “The majority of paint can be stripped over time by the home owner. They may want to call a professional for the final detail work,” he says.

2. Kitchens and Bathrooms. “These aren’t exactly the cheapest renovations”, says Wilson, “But they always add tremendous value when done right, within the context of a historic home, assuming that it has original details.”

3. Adding Original Details. Brownstones are all about the original details, the more you have the more the value. If your home is missing some, it’s worth the investment to hire a carpenter to install new moldings to match the old. A little wood stain and polyurethane and you might not be able to tell the difference.

4. Central Air. “The big draw back about a brownstone is that often the entire building runs on one furnace which makes them very inefficient energy wise, especially when floors aren’t being used,” says Wilson. He recommends a ductless split system for heating and cooling to save costs and add value.

5. Individual Hot Water Systems. For the same reasons as above it pays to have each floor running on its own tankless water immersion system.

6. Electrical Upgrade. If you’re going to be running a split heating system, using washers and dryers and high end appliances along with recessed lights and sound systems you need the juice to make it all happen. Electrical system, let me upgrade you. It won’t be cheap ($20K +) but it’ll be worth it.

7. Front and Back Garden. “It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money” says Wilson, “but you can’t underestimate how much of a difference a good looking front and back garden bring to a house.”

8. Original Looking Windows. Pella and Anderson both make historic windows which will add classic charm and help eliminate heating costs.

9. Repoint Brick or Restore Brownstone Facade. What’s the point of owning a brownstone if the brownstone itself looks shoddy? It’s well worth hiring a mason to allow your property to really shin in its original glory. Repointed bricks and rich brown tones just add a certain grandeur that can’t be replicated in other houses.

10. Roof. Even though a roof is a little less sexy than other parts of the home, it adds tremendous value. It can also cost a homeowner a fortune if it’s not up to par. A leaking roof in a brownstone can cause serious damage to all that woodwork, plaster work and cove moldings. Make sure this is one of the first fixes you do. And don’t be cheap, either. Add the silver paint. Your AC bills in the summer will thank you.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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