In New York, most apartments have one thing in common: they are small! Even the most luxurious and spacious apartments in New York can often seem tiny compared to their suburban counterparts. A two-story apartment in the New York real estate market is rare and very valuable. These units are called duplex. Outside of New York, the meaning of “duplex” is a two-unit building with two separate entrances – but in New York, a duplex is a unit with two units connected vertically by stairs or elevator or side-by-side by doors. These units are often owned and occupied by a resident or large household and are a rare commodity in the crowded city.
How many duplexes are there in New York?
While duplex apartments have many advantages, they are also relatively rare. Duplex apartments represent less than 9% of sales and 4% of rentals in New York. Duplexes are often not cost effective for builders, making most new construction single level units. Although these two-story units are scattered across New York City, duplexes are most common in antebellum buildings, often found on the Upper East Side or Upper West Side. Sometimes tenants can purchase and combine two units, but this depends on communication with building management and landlords.
Advantages of duplexes
Duplex apartments aren’t hot commodities for no reason – these apartments come with extra square footage that you can only find in these apartments. Duplex apartments are ideal for families, with the separation of space and a feeling of home. There is also more privacy in these units, as bedrooms can often be located on different floors, so noise is less likely to travel through the space. For homes with kids, parents can enjoy an evening downstairs while the kids sleep upstairs – or for parents who work from home, duplexes can also offer great space separation.
Residents can take advantage of the two-story space in a duplex while enjoying the amenities of the building. Unlike living in a two-story house in the suburbs, a duplex in the city can have a concierge, gym, doorman, etc. Penthouse units can often be duplexes, making them even more unique and desirable for high-end buyers. Some duplexes can even have an outdoor space: a private garden terrace on the lower floor or a private roof terrace for penthouse duplex residents.
Duplexes can also be used for various purposes. Even for single residents, the space available in these units can be used for artist showrooms, trade shows and events. Receptions can be exceptionally successful in these spaces, as guests can occupy different parts of the space and mingle upstairs and downstairs. Some duplexes have only one bedroom, making all of the space on the lower level the accommodation and gathering space.
Disadvantages of Duplexes
Many wonderful things come with living in a duplex, but they can also have downsides. Accessibility can be a major issue in duplex apartments, as most of these units have two floors connected by stairs. This immediately excludes subsets of renters, whether older renters unable to navigate stairs frequently, young children or anyone with reduced mobility.
In terms of area, a staircase also takes up valuable space in the apartment. The layout of duplexes can be odd (many duplexes are created by merging two previously existing units), so before buying or renting a duplex, it is imperative to study the layout according to your personal needs. Some duplex apartments have bathrooms on different floors than bedrooms or bedrooms on different floors. Although every apartment is different, furnishing and living in a duplex can be a big adjustment, especially for residents used to living on one floor.
Duplexes can also be difficult to heat and cool. Many pre-war buildings use steam radiators to heat space in the winter, and due to the physics of heat, many duplex apartments can become stuffy and hot from overheating during the cold months. . Many residents install window air conditioners or have to open windows in the winter to combat uneven space heating.
Duplex on the market
Duplexes come in many shapes and sizes. Here are some duplexes currently on the market in New York:
- Residents can live in luxury at 25 Mercer Street in SoHo. This duplex penthouse unit is 4,350 square feet and features four bedrooms and bathrooms in the spacious unit. This building was built in 1867 and renovated to combine cast iron details with a sleek modern design. In addition to a sprawling interior, this duplex also features a private rooftop terrace with 360 degree views of Manhattan and bright light throughout the space. This building is an excellent example of a Gilded Age building brought into the modern era and marketed to high-end buyers. Former occupants of the space are Mary-Kate Olsen and Swedish designer Johan Lindeberg.
- The Upper East Side is a prime location for duplex apartments due to its myriad pre-war construction, and this unit at 4 East 81st Street is no exception. This duplex is near the Metropolitan Museum of Art and boasts features such as a fireplace and a Juliette balcony. Although duplexes can be difficult to heat, this unit has a wall-mounted air conditioner on both levels to combat heating and cooling issues. There is also an elevator, which makes the apartment more accessible for a variety of tenants. At $8,500 per month, this duplex is still expensive for most residents while being much cheaper than the penthouse duplex. The layout of a bedroom also makes it an ideal space to host or be used as an artist’s studio.
- Not all duplexes have to be extremely expensive – this duplex at 537 Central Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn has two bedrooms for just $2,800 a month. Unlike the duplex penthouse with a private roof terrace, this unit has a private backyard and garden for tenants. The second floor of this duplex is the basement, which lacks light but has more square footage at a lower price. The building also has a laundry room in the basement and air conditioning and central heating. Although this building lacks “pre-war charm”, it has updated appliances and fixtures that often come with a newer building.
Is the duplex right for you?
Duplex apartments may seem like the crème de la crème of New York real estate due to their scarcity and size, but not every family or resident is suited to a duplex. They can have accessibility issues, heating issues and odd layouts, often in older pre-war buildings. Still, if the layout and stairs aren’t daunting, duplexes can be wonderful, spacious homes. Duplexes can provide private outdoor space and much-needed privacy in the busy city. Especially for families who like to entertain, splitting the space of a duplex can be fruitful for separating downstairs and upstairs activities. Although duplexes may seem made for luxury, they can be offered at different prices and are accessible to a wide range of tenants. While duplexes aren’t for everyone, these rare and unique homes are rightly cherished by those who occupy them.