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How Much Extra Cost for Outdoor Space?


How to calculate

Spring in New York City ushers in a rush of renewed energy — as Mother Nature turns on the lights again after months of dreary grey days, a new crop of buyers arrives, seeking outdoor space.

I certainly find myself looking wistfully at the large terraces in my building, owned by neighbors who have lush gardens and outdoor seating areas.

While many of us desire to own private outdoor space rather than share a common rooftop with neighbors, there are a number of hidden costs associated with this perk. If you are considering purchasing a Manhattan condo or co-op with outdoor space, it does help to understand how much extra you will pay. 

The cost of outdoor space

You may have already noticed that homes with outdoor space command a premium. Recent estimates show they sell for 25 to 30% higher than those without private outdoor space. You will find some properties sell outside of those ranges because determining a list price for a property with outdoor space is more of an art than a science. 

The general rule of thumb is to assume that the outdoor space is worth 50% of the interior price per square square. For example, if you are looking at an apartment that is priced at $2,000 a square foot, then the exterior space is likely to be priced at $1,000 a square foot. 

Here is the tricky part: not all outdoor space is created the same. A slim Juliet balcony — which allows you to do nothing more than step out to feel the temperature outdoors — does not have the same utility and therefore value as a terrace where you can put a table for dining al fresco while surrounded by an outdoor garden of your choosing. 

On the other end of the spectrum, a large outdoor space that is oversized in relationship to the size of the apartment also has diminished utility. For example, there is a one-bedroom Condos for Sale in Harlem which is a modest 615 sq. ft. and the exterior is 340 sq. ft. If the outdoor space was priced at 50% of the interior, the aggregate price would be too high to attract a buyer, especially as it is a fifth-floor walk-up! Whereas in the luxury property market, an oversized private outdoor space is prized.

Higher monthly costs – how they are calculated

It’s not simply your purchase price that is increased. You will also pay a higher monthly charge because how much you owe is in part dictated by the size of your apartment. In a condo, monthly charges are determined by the square feet you own including the outdoor space. 

Remember my neighbors with the expansive outdoor spaces? Their apartments are charged at a slightly higher rate per square foot than those without private outdoor space. The basis for these charges in a condominium is established during condo formation by the sponsor who files the offering plan with the Attorney General’s office. 

In the plan, Schedule A will reveal exactly how much each apartment is expected to pay for its monthly common charges and what percentage of the common areas each apartment owns. As time goes by and costs go up, any increases to common charges are applied to the percentage of the common area owned and added to the most recent common charge amount. 

For example, if the cost of running the building goes up by 3% after your first purchase in a new development, your common charges simply increase by 3% of what they were at the beginning. Therefore apartments with private outdoor space continually owe slightly more as the original cost basis was higher. 

The same is true for a co-op but the charges are multiplied by the shares owned. The additional monthly amount might not dissuade you but it helps you understand why the monthly charges are higher for an apartment with outdoor space. 

The higher costs of maintenance 

Then there is the higher cost of setting up and maintaining the outdoor space. There is always the upfront cost of purchasing furniture, planters, plants, and supplies. For larger terraces, plants are likely to require an irrigation system. 

Dimitri Gatanas, owner of The Urban Garden Center, estimates that based on the size of the terrace, the cost for plants and an irrigation system can be approximately $25,000 – $100,000. After that, you will need regular maintenance. You may choose to purchase a residence with a mature garden already in place.

Looking at a townhouse? Those costs could be higher.

Deciding how to plan your space is a big project. If you are purchasing a townhouse you may have a garden as large as 500 square feet and an additional rooftop terrace. “The biggest change in the outdoor space is the shift of how an outdoor environment is being utilized as an additional room,” said Vincent Falls, owner of Harlem-based Vincent Falls Designs. “It needs to function as a workspace, family room, and most importantly, a place to relax and recharge.” 

I sold a Harlem Condo garden apartment at 117 West 123rd Street where the outdoor garden area was almost as large as the living room. The owners had a lush urban oasis complete with a gardening shed and water feature. An elaborate irrigation system kept it all in bloom giving them the freedom to travel for extended periods of time. It was hard to be in this garden and believe you were in the heart of Harlem. When perched among the flowers, watching the butterflies, it felt more like the Hudson Valley.

A few blocks away in another Harlem condominium a friend purchased the Penthouse in a new development. A successful media executive, her idea of outdoor heaven included a large flat-screen TV shielded from the weather along with a grilling station to keep her large group of family and friends fed.

How to best use the space

However, if you choose to use your space you will need to be well acquainted with the building’s rules. You will have already checked to see if the terrace has electricity and water. In addition, there are frequent rules about how much weight the terrace can hold. 

There may also be restrictions regarding what you can put on your terrace. A high wind can make a projectile out of certain pieces of furniture and you will be responsible for any damage. The building rules are designed to mitigate such damages so be certain to access them well in advance of making an offer if you have already envisioned your dream terrace.

How about a common terrace?

If having a private outdoor space is not affordable for you or you are not interested in maintaining it, look for buildings with common terraces or rooftops. My building has a beautiful roof deck with open views of all the other lovely Harlem condominiums, area parks, and impressive views downtown.

There is also an additional landscaped terrace of over 5,000 square feet off of the second floor. On the days I work from home in the warmer months, I cherish my outdoor time, having lunch on the roof and relaxing for a few minutes in the fresh air.

After a sunny break, I find I am more productive than I would normally be returning to my desk with renewed vigor. I equally enjoy not having to maintain the space. Yet if owning private outdoor space is your dream, there are many wonderful options to suit your lifestyle throughout Manhattan.

Have any questions? Feel free to reach out to me — that’s why I’m here.