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Renovating a Brownstone

3 Hidden Costs of Renovating a Brownstone 

There are few buildings more iconic in New York City than the classic brownstones lining neighborhoods such as Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Prospect Heights, and Boerum Hill. These buildings emerged in the 1840s as the new urban middle class sought fancier, more durable homes other than those made of brick and wood. 

For today’s New Yorkers, brownstones still evoke the dream of upward mobility with their rich chocolate-brown structure, stately designs, and elegant carvings adorning doorway trims, ceilings, and moldings. But besides the costly real estate price tags that come with purchasing a brownstone, these buildings often have their own set of unexpected quirks and expenses waiting to be revealed. 

So, what are the hidden costs of renovating a brownstone that buyers should know ahead of time? Keep reading to find out. 

Façade Maintenance

When renovating a brownstone, repairing its façade should be a top priority. The building material is a porous sandstone that flakes easily due to environmental factors such as moisture. When the stone begins to deteriorate, it needs immediate attention, or else the entire façade will need to be replaced. If your facade needs to be repaired, a specialist will seamlessly fix these areas by cleaning, patching, or replacing the stone. A full-on façade replacement for a three or four-story brownstone can be very costly, so make sure to plan accordingly in your budget. 

Interior Upgrades

Brownstones are historic buildings dating back to the mid-19th century. That means buyers who seek to upgrade and renovate them upon moving in will need to understand that this is more than your typical renovation. Before renovation begins, a thorough inspection by the Department of Buildings will need to take place. They’ll help identify and determine how much work needs to be done, so the brownstone can safely be brought up to code.

Landmark Consideration 

If you're looking to purchase a brownstone and renovate it, you need to familiarize yourself with the Landmarks Preservation Commission Rowhouse Manual. This manual will offer advice on maintaining, repairing, or restoring windows, doors, walls, cornices, and ironwork. It will also tell you how to obtain a permit for any changes you want to make. Without the LPC's approval, they can fine you $500 to $5,000 depending on the change's severity. That's why you must always have all plans approved by them before work even begins. 

Inaccurate/Incomplete Architectural Drawings


Far too often, we've had clients come to us with drawing packages that were either incomplete or simply missing key vital items that are often overlooked during the early phases of engaging with a contractor. These discrepancies, if found well into project progress, often result in added costs to the owner. Most clients don't realize that if a specified drawing set lacks required items, the owner, not the contractor or the architect, is responsible - unless the missing detail is a blatant mistake required by code.


Homeowners must be sure to secure fully designed and completed architectural plans that meet all code and building requirements and fully define the practical elements that every contractor will need to execute the project properly.

Renovating a Brownstone is Made Easy with DBe

As a design/build firm, we like to think that we eliminate all communication issues on a project site or between vendors/service providers, but this is simply not possible if we happen to take on a project in which we do not have full control over. We pride ourselves in our ability to take a project from conception to full completion. If this process involves service providers not contracted to us directly, there is almost always an issue that is either misunderstood or misrepresented. These issues have a very high probability of creating added costs for the homeowner.

Ready for a complete brownstone renovation or remodel? DBe is experienced in turning historic brownstones into beautiful residences. We offer a client-centered approach to achieve your vision and work closely with you to design the space according to your lifestyle and needs. Reach out to us to learn how we can help you! 

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