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My 2 Cents: 291 Hoyt Street, Gowanus

In his new “My 2 Cents” column, Donald Brennan presents unbiased, hands-on evaluations of properties on the market that he’s visited and examined inside and out—and gives you his unique perspective as an architect, developer and appraiser. (Note: Donald Brennan views these properties in representing buyer clients—he is not representing the seller on these listings.)

Rental quality, but chance to own a single-family row house.

291 Hoyt Street was recently featured in New York Magazine’s “What’s Gettable in Gowanus” listings that accompanied “The Superfund Discount,” a piece highlighting the “hot” Gowanus real estate market. I attended the open house with a buyer client, and as the magazine claimed, it was packed—as were other open houses in the area. This is a single-family home of rental quality, in need of improvement, and near the edge of a residential area. But while its price per square foot is high, its small size makes it relatively affordable at $1.5 million—so it could present an opportunity for buyers wishing to own their own row house.

Local Externalities—291 Hoyt Street is situated between Sackett and Union streets, less than two blocks from the Gowanus Canal, a block from Smith Street, and three blocks from the F train. Surrounding homes are of similar vintage and size, although many seem to be lacking in “pride of ownership” and haven’t been properly maintained. (The house pictured to the left, for example, has a deteriorating façade.)

Architecture/Appearance—While photos on the broker’s website give this 19th century brick row house a look of elegance, in reality that’s not the case. Like its neighbors, this home looks a bit run down, both its exterior and interior. The structure—two stories plus garden-level and cellar—is 16 2/3’ wide by 40’ deep, built on a lot of the same width and a depth of 66’. Approved for 2,200 square feet, the two-bedroom, two-bath home is now 2,077 square feet ($720/sf)—so the possibilities for expansion are limited. Like other nearby structures, the house has a high nine-step stoop and iron fence, gate and railings—although they’re not in great shape and the gate is mismatched. The yard is small and shabby, and the small “sun room” extension off the garden level doesn’t fit with the building architecture.  Inside, the house could have used a bit more polish before being shown. (Better presentation, through cleaning and cosmetic touchups, would have gone a long way.) What I did like about this home was its abundant natural light—throughout the parlor and upper floors, since the buildings across Hoyt Street are only two stories tall. Ceiling heights were comfortable on the garden level and in the cellar, and the cellar looked functional and dry, although cluttered.

Rehabilitation—291 Hoyt Street could use cosmetic improvements throughout its interior and exterior, and its dated and simplistic kitchen needs to be replaced. Depending on your taste, that could cost $25,000 – $75,000. I also recommend taking advantage of the allowable expansion by adding an extension to the building. Only 123 additional square feet are allowed, so your expansion options are limited. However, I see two possibilities: The first, and most functional and interesting, would be to add a master bedroom suite with an outdoor terrace on the top of the building.  Since the home is not in a landmarked district, additional roof space could be added, opening up the building to even more natural light and views, similar to other expansions in the area.  I would remove the garden level extension (approx 77 sq ft) in order to have more square footage to work with – 200 sq ft total.  Adding this roof top extension to the back portion of the floor plate would take advantage of the existing plumbing and waste lines. Base construction costs for such an extension would amount to about $225/square foot, or at least $45,000.

The second option would involve adding two extra stories above the existing sun room. However, the room is tiny—10’9” x 7’6”—so it would be difficult to create a space above it that’s functional.  This also assumes that the existing sun room structure would be sound enough to be built on, which is probably questionable.  This option would be less economical—also running about $225/square-foot for base costs–and, truthfully, would not be money well spent.

Donald Brennan 917-568-6525 dbrennan@brennanrealtyservices.com

If you’d like to learn more about my thoughts on this property and its pricing and value, or if you’re in the market to buy or sell in brownstone Brooklyn, please contact me.

For additional “My 2 Cents” columns, click here.

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My 2 Cents: 452 Sackett Street, Gowanus

In his new “My 2 Cents” column, Donald Brennan presents unbiased, hands-on evaluations of properties on the market that he’s visited and examined inside and out—and gives you his unique perspective as an architect, developer and appraiser.

For the adventurous, a chance to buy buildable space.

Less than two weeks ago I stopped by the open house for this single-family row house with one of my buyer clients. It’s listed for $1,295,000, or $761/square foot—pricing I find to be a bit aggressive. The property shows well—it’s in good shape, clean, well-decorated, and has extensive original detail. At closer look, it does have a few drawbacks, though, but it also presents a good add-on opportunity.    
Local Externalities—This three-story, 1,700 square-foot home is located in a transitional neighborhood–and it’s clearly in Gowanus, not Carroll Gardens or Cobble Hill, as claimed in some of the marketing materials. The home is situated between Hoyt and Bond streets—and that stretch of Bond is industrial—and less than two blocks from the Gowanus Canal Superfund site. (Parents with kids or expecting them, take note!) While the other homes on the block are of similar height, vintage and style, a few have been extended—in ways not always consistent with the surrounding architecture. Since the block is not in a landmarked area, almost anything goes regarding renovations and additions—meaning the look and character of the block could change at any time.

Architecture/Appearance— Reportedly built in the late 19th Century, 452 Sackett Street is a Federal-style brick row house, with some brownstone finishing at its base. It consists of three stories, including the garden floor, with a 16.7’ width and a 34’ depth, and sits on a deep 100’ lot. Some of the exterior features of this home include an attractive high stoop and a transom window that allows light into the narrow entry hall inside. Used now as a single-family home, it’s being marketed as “easily convertible” back to a two-family—although with only 1 ½ baths and one kitchen in the home now, the conversion would, in fact, be quite involved.

I’d consider the interior of the house to be rustic—since it hasn’t been updated. But it is rich in detail—with original wood doors, crown moldings and marble fireplace mantles; as well as high ceilings and exposed brick. All three fireplaces are not operational, however. And the wood plank floors have a deflection (mild sloping) across the width of the building— but this is not unusual in a building of this age. The layout of the home is a bit awkward, since the kitchen (in need of updating) and half-bath are on the garden floor, not the first/parlor floor. (The top floor contains the full bath and two bedrooms; with the third bedroom on the parlor floor.) At the open house, entrance to the cellar was not permitted, so I can’t speak to the shape of the mechanical systems and the storage space; and the yard was also snow covered so not revealing.

Rehabilitation—A major selling point of this house—not mentioned at all in the marketing materials—is the ability to almost double the size of the building. The allowable space on this lot is 3,334 square feet—and the structure there now is only 1,700 square feet. Other buildings on the block have expanded, with one property adding 1 ½ stories. And for the buyer, since this area is not landmarked, you’re not limited by landmark guidelines—so you can be creative as you’d like in your renovation!

So I see two options for renovating this home: Updating without reconfiguring, and the two-family conversion plus added space. Basic updates, in keeping with the current single-family layout, would include upgrading the kitchens and bathrooms, as well as relining the fireplaces to make them functional. This would run about $100,000 – $125,000. To convert this home to a two-family, the building would need to be extended out the back to make the garden floor a suitable rental unit and to improve the flow of space throughout the entire home. Such a project would add another $225 – $250/square foot to the price of the building, bringing the total all-in cost to about $1,000/square foot.

And that would make this property a multi-million-dollar home in a neighborhood that now does not warrant such a price. Might it be a good investment in the long run? Possibly. The area has improved over the years and let’s hopes it continues to do so. In a few years the nearby Atlantic Yards project will be complete, bring an infusion of new people and dollars. And with the Gowanus Canal cleanup expected to be finished by 2025, you’ll then be just a few steps away from the city’s newest waterway. It just might happen.

Donald Brennan    917-568-6525  dbrennan@brennanrealtyservices.com

Please contact me if you’re in the market to buy and would like to learn about my buy-side services, or if you’re thinking of selling your home and would like to learn more about my sell-side services and to receive a complimentary comparable market analysis.

For additional “My 2 Cents” columns, click here.

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