Admit it: When you hear the real-estate maxim "location, location, location," you think about great neighborhoods and awesome transportation.
That's fine -- unless you're looking for an apartment. In that case, you also need to assess the location of the apartment within the building. It can affect your quality of life even more than a long commute.
Specifically, you may want to think twice about living...
1. Directly below a roof or a setback terrace
All roofs leak eventually, and the culprit can literally take years to find.
If your apartment is below an actively used terrace (versus undeveloped roof space), you may also be subject to noise from above.
To reduce that possibility, says Peter Varsalona of RAND Engineering & Architecture in Manhattan, "you want to at least see pavers -- squares of pre-cast concrete 1 ½ or 1 ¾ inches thick -- on top of pedestals, and even with that I've had clients who can still hear footfalls, and voices too if the windows are open."
2. On the ground floor
There are some really good things about living in a lobby-level apartment: They tend to be significantly cheaper; if you live in a walk-up, there are no stairs to climb; and if you have little kids or practice tap dance in your apartment, you won't be bothering the downstairs neighbor.
That said, there are a lot of downsides about living on the level just above the cellar or garage, starting with lobby noise (and remember, if you can hear them, they can hear you.)
Street-facing apartments not only contend with window bars, they must choose between perpetually drawn window coverings or living a semi-public life before passing voyeurs. There's also street noise (cars, buses, cell phone conversations of someone who leans against your building to take a call) and drifting cigarette smoke.
Odors may also penetrate an apartment above the basement, with garages among the worst culprits. (Think idling cars pumping out fumes.)
Apartments above the mechanical room or boiler room, meanwhile, can be treated to the sound of the boilers and pumps going on and off and can pick up vibrations. If you live over a boiler, your apartment is going to be hot -- and being on the first floor, you may not want to open a window.
3. Next to an elevator shaft
You may feel vibrations in the elevator shaftway and hear the rattling of the traveling cables. Noise pollution can also arrive in the form of loud chatter among residents waiting for the elevator. And they can hear you too.
4. Adjacent to a compactor shaft
Vibrations can be an issue; so is the sound of refuse as it falls cling-clang-bang down the shaft.
5. Down the hall from a community room or playroom
Living next to or along the path of a community room or playroom can expose you to foot traffic and noise. Traditionally those spaces are in the basement, but in newer condos they can be on the second floor or higher.
6. Along an exterior airshaft
Living along an airshaft that allows the apartment to satisfy light and air requirements can be a good thing, as airshafts can make lovely, quiet neighbors.
Just make sure to have a look at the buildings sharing the shaft. You don't want a Chinese food restaurant dumping whatever down there.
7. Adjacent to an upper-floor mechanical room
Just like community rooms, mechanical rooms aren't necessarily all in the basement. In certain high rises, they may be on floors 20, 30, 40 and the roof. They house boilers, a/c equipment, pumps, which can all generate noise, heat and/or vibrations. Check to see what's detectable from your prospective apartment. At a minimum, it's a good reason not to buy preconstruction apartments located next to mechanical rooms.
So where's the best place to live?
Varsalona, the structural engineer called in to diagnose and ameliorate problems like the ones above, recommends living "somewhere in the middle but at least 2-3 floors below the roof."
"For myself," says Varsalona, who owns a prewar co-op in Manhattan, "I happen to be three floors below the roof."