Friday, January 15, 2016


Someone on our Facebook page mentioned that the $1 giveaway days of Harlem brownstones were definitely over and had us thinking about a previous article that we read a few years back in DWELL magazine.  Reportedly just over a couple of decades ago, the government had owned a lot of the abandoned brownstones that were all over Harlem and some were given away at lotteries for basically a buck.  In this particular case, the sale was for $40K which is much more digestible than the million that similar properties are going for today.  Out of the 150 homes in this particular flash sale, 95 percent of them were purchased by local residents and all of those went into default at the end since it took hundreds of thousands to renovate one on the average.  Working on a shell or SRO in bad condition requires a lot additional financing and is a pitfall of acquiring any of these townhouses.  With that said, the end result is worth for it those who can manage the financial burden: LINK


  1. I know some examples of locals who bought when brownstones where very affordable and some are successful, still here, collecting rent, paying bills and now millionaires. Some others I know lost theirs, not to restoration costs but to personal issues. I don’t know anyone who over extended themselves with restoration costs.

  2. Great to hear the success stories. The above case for those 149 brownstones in question did not seem to do so well and one can still see many empty shells that have not been fixed on several blocks throughout the neighborhood these days.

  3. I remember when those Harlem brownstones were sold for so cheap. I was very young and did not have much money since I had just gotten out of high school. Granted they would take a lot of money to restore, but it was not anywhere near what it costs now. I think that maybe many of those people simply did not have the capacity and wisdom to know how to go about restoring them. I bought one in Troy, NY in deplorable condition in 2004. Twelve years it was empty, boarded up, windows broken and a complete eyesore. I got it cheap at auction for $10k. I am a single gal and not rich. Little by little I restored it. It can be done but you have to use your brains. Search for people who know how to do the necessary work without wanting to become millionaires off of you. It was not easy, but I was able to get it done. It has been eleven years and I am still working on it, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. My once very sad looking Queen Anne Victorian brownstone is now a healthy and beautiful 15 room single family home once again. You can see some of it in my latest blog post.

    1. Congratulations on your beautiful home and extra credit for doing it your way.

  4. When it comes to repair work on a brownstone, especially in NYC, there is a huge range of estimates to be had for an item of repair work. One thing that will not change much is the material costs, which is a small part, but the labor costs and all the middle men, contractor, architect and so on can multiply the final bill by a factor of 10. I have also seen wildly differing estimates based on location, the justification being parking and tolls while the real reason is there is Manhattan pricing and outer borough pricing. I have literally seen similar work cost ten times as much and spread over months with lots of drama as opposed to a week or two.

  5. This is a terrific thread and most appreciated. As a new resident to Harlem, I am astounded to hear these stories. On our beautiful block (120th street) we still have a couple of shells that are boarded up. The rumor is that the city owns them. I'm not so sure. I would just like to see them returned to public use ASAP.

    My gut feeling is that some long term residents of Harlem should be offered the homes at an attractive price. Folks who have lived in Harlem for many many years and have stayed here have lived thru the more trying times and should be allowed to reap the benefits of a rapidly changing neighborhood.