The Dilemma: Brownstone or Luxury Building?

Boston seems to have a neighborhood to suit every lifestyle, but with so many real estate options available, how do you choose the type of home? The decision between a brownstone or a new luxury high rise condo can be quite the dilemma! Read on for the comparisons between these two sought after home options and the lifestyles each offers.

Classic Brownstone

A brownstone — the structure — first popped up in New York City in the early 19th century and is typically a city row house. Among a brownstone’s distinctive features: a brown sandstone facade, front stoop and a design that goes up to the sidewalk and street. It typically is four stories though may be higher. In Boston’s Back Bay, South End and Beacon Hill neighborhoods, you’ll see many brownstones, particularly on streets such as Commonwealth Avenue, Marlborough Street and Beacon Street, which are famous for rows of classically beautiful brownstones. Inside, you may find architectural detail, high ceilings, oversized bay windows, and hardwood floors. There might be a garden, patio, terrace or a roof deck.

Brownstones can be single-family town homes or multi-unit with apartments or condos. Inside, the brownstone (or individual unit) may be gut renovated, updated though not necessarily recently or in its somewhat original form. If it has been converted to condos, each unit may differ in detail and condition. Exterior renovations may require approval from neighborhood historical or architectural commissions. In general, you’ll find fewer residents for a more intimate neighborly feel than you’ll find in a luxury high rise building. Some multi-family brownstones may be self-managed while others have professional off-site management, but monthly fees tend to be lower as they are not full service or full of amenities such as concierge, fitness, club rooms, etc. Nevertheless, brownstones remain a desirable option and can command top dollar in today’s real estate market.

Notable Neighborhoods for Brownstones: Back Bay, Beacon Hill, South End


Luxury High Rise or Mid-Rise

Several new luxury condo developments are completed, or are underway in virtually every Boston neighborhood and others have been around for a while. What characterizes these buildings are the amenities and hassle free lifestyle. In a brownstone, maintenance can be at the hands of individual owners or a smaller management company and be stressful, but in luxury high rises, there is staff to take the stress away from day to day maintenance, whether you are there or out of town.

In the luxury buildings, you’ll typically have garage parking (self park or valet) either included or as an option. In addition, you’ll have access to shared amenities, though they may vary depending on age of condo with some of the newest buildings going well beyond the doorman /concierge, security, garage parking and gym to major communal spaces from roof deck with pool and even cabanas, to clubroom/lounges with restaurant-type service, to media rooms for movie nights to a program that organizes activities to fit the lifestyle interests of its residents. All of these amenities come at a high cost and to some, a less intimate/less private, more hotel-like feel. Yet those who choose this living option value the amenities and the opportunity to meet and engage with many more people.

Notable Neighborhoods for Luxury Mid or High Rise: Seaport, Back Bay, Downtown, South End


It all comes down to the lifestyle you want, what you value and the tradeoffs.

If you are interested in learning more about brownstones, or luxury condos in the Boston area, contact me to get the conversation started.

For more information, check out my list of Boston’s Luxury Buildings , and related blogs: Beacon Hill Neighborhood Snapshot, and All About the Seaport.