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Higher Floor Living vs. Lower Floor Living: Let’s Discuss.


What's a "hurdle?"

New York City has some very tall buildings. Central Park Tower stands at 1,550 feet and includes 136 floors. The first contract inked in this luxury tower by Extell Development in 2024 was for a duplex on the 107th and 108th floors.

Most recently listed for $149 million, the sale caught the attention of top NYC real estate agents lighting up their social media pages.

The sale price didn’t set a record, but it did demonstrate that higher floors with jaw dropping views, in uber luxury buildings command a premium.

Does it matter which floor you live on? In New York City the answer is yes but maybe not for obvious reasons.

Is a higher floor better?

If you are not buying in one of the top ten supertall buildings in NYC, should you always try to purchase an apartment on the highest floor in the building? The top floor apartment usually has amazing views, but it does not mean the top floor apartment is the best for everyone.

Certainly, the higher floors will impress guests, give you more light and exciting views but they come at a price. Homes on higher floors not only sell for more but they also tend to have higher monthly building charges. Does that high floor also have outdoor space? That will also drive up the purchase price and the monthly costs.

New York City zoning codes are complicated, but rules exist to make sure all residences have sufficient light and air. Even if you chose to live in a ground floor apartment you will not be in a dungeon. In fact, many have lovely outdoor spaces in which you can create a green urban sanctuary.

To achieve the goal of bringing sufficient light and air into every residence, larger buildings have mandatory zoning setbacks to create what is commonly referred to as a wedding cake structure. The result is that the top floors accommodate fewer apartments and in many cases they only offer one home, so if your goal is privacy, a top floor is the way to go.

However, the prestige of living in the Penthouse has been diluted over the years by aggressive marketers naming the top three floors of a building a Penthouse level. If living on the top floor is important to you, double check that you are not looking at a building with more than one Penthouse floor.

The hurdle, explained

It is helpful to understand how pricing works. In a new development, pricing is carefully considered for the entire building at the beginning of the project. The price differential between floors will likely be established according to the size of the building and the views. These differentials are referred to as hurdles.

Let’s just say for this example the hurdle is $10,000 between floors. Once the hurdle is established, if there is a marked shift in views from one floor to the next then that hurdle will be much higher. If the views on the 10th floor for example, are vastly superior to the ninth because you suddenly clear the neighboring building and the light and views are dramatically more special than on the ninth floor, then there will be a much higher price differential between the ninth and 10th floor versus the 8th and ninth.

Depending on the nature of the view break the hurdle could increase from $10,000 to as much as $100,000. Pricing is more of an art than a science so this formula cannot automatically be assigned to all buildings, but it gives you a sense of how views are valued.

Not all top floors cost over $100 million. Other coveted Upper West side apartments for sale can be purchased for less than half that price. 15 Central Park West, a Robert A.M. Stern designed condominium, with direct Central Park views, has a duplex condominium on offer for $48 million.

One United Nations on First Avenue between thirty ninth and fortieth street is a condo for sale in Murray Hill. There you can purchase a Penthouse for less than $9 million with beautiful open views of the city and East River. There are more established Murray Hill condominiums such as 630 First Avenue, 415 East 37th and The Corinthian on 38th Street, which all have top floor apartments with stunning views at much more approachable prices.

What about noise?

There are other important considerations when deciding which apartment floor you would like to live on apart from pricing. Looking to minimize the noise you hear? Many factors contribute to how much noise you will hear in your apartment but certainly how high up in a building is one of those factors.

Lower floors which are closer to the street typically hear more than those on the upper levels. Yet there is the phenomenon of noise rising. Some argue that the noise rises and you actually hear more. Noise is one of those subjective criteria, so listen up and let your ears decide if it is your home.

If you do fall in love with a noisy apartment, consider installing an additional layer of windows to create a sound barrier. Companies such as City Proof or Citi Quiet will happily give you an estimate.

Relying on an elevator everyday can be tough for impatient New Yorkers who do everything quickly. The ride from the lobby to the 136th floor of Central Park Tower is very smooth, but it does take time. Take note of how many elevators are in the building of your choice. Remember that when it comes time to replace an elevator, which happens every twenty to thirty years, it can take a few months to install a new one.

Water pressure can also be an issue on higher floors. If you are wondering about the best floor to live on in an apartment complex such as Waterline Square, rest assured that the pressure will be excellent on all of the floors.

However, if you are looking to buy in a townhouse then you want to check the pressure on higher floors. There are a number of Brownstones in Harlem which have been converted to condominiums so check the water pressure when you visit.

The advantages of lower floor living

There are also advantages to living on lower floors. Did you know that NYC Fire Department ladders typically only reach the sixth floor? All buildings have rigorous fire codes with extensive sprinklers, so living on a higher floor is not as risky as it may sound but it is interesting to note.

If you are buying on a tree lined street you may also notice that you are above the tree line on the sixth floor and above. If you love the view of trees in your window, lower floors might be you. And what about fitness enthusiasts? Getting in your additional steps by taking a few flights of stairs every day might be the small new habit you need. One client told me simply adding steps to his daily routine helped him shed five pounds.

Have questions? Reach out anytime.

Julia Boland