7 surprising features that can make an apartment a penthouse, even if it’s not on the top floor

Today, a penthouse is not necessarily on the top floor.

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Today, a penthouse is not necessarily on the top floor.
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Getty Images/Inti St Clair

  • Today’s “penthouse” is no longer just the traditionally-defined top-floor apartment of a residential building.
  • Today, real estate brokers call apartments penthouses if they possess certain sought-after features that include unique layouts, ample outdoor space, high ceilings, and fantastic views – even if they’re not on the top floor.
  • Other surprising features that can snag an apartment penthouse status include additional luxury amenities other units don’t have and more square footage than the actual top-floor unit.

Traditionally, a penthouse is known as the top-floor apartment of a residential building. Today, however, there are several surprising features that can make real estate agents call an apartment a penthouse – even if it’s not on the top floor.

“… The term penthouse has evolved a little bit from the traditional sense of the top-floor apartment – which is the penthouse – to more of a marketing term in general to help achieve sometimes higher sales figures and a distinction from other units in the building,” Steve Gold, a luxury real estate agent at Corcoran and star of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York,” previously told Business Insider.

If a unit has more square footage than the top-floor unit, a unique layout, or luxury amenities not found in other units, for example, there’s a good chance it’ll be dubbed a penthouse if it’s toward the top of the building. And sometimes these units are more attractive than the true penthouse.

Read more: A billionaire movie producer is selling a one-bedroom apartment that takes up an entire floor of NYC’s Ritz-Carlton for nearly $40 million

“Contrary to popular belief, sometimes the top penthouse isn’t the best penthouse in the building,” Gold said. “There could be ones in the building with larger terraces or more unobstructed views, depending on the property.”

Alex Lavrenov, a broker at Warburg Realty, told Business Insider he thinks the term “penthouse” should only apply to top-floor units. It’s an exclusive label comparable to “a Fifth Avenue address,” he said.

Here are seven features that can make real estate brokers call an apartment a penthouse, even if it’s not on the top floor.


1. A location on a floor where the building begins to “set back,” or begins to have terraces

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120 Wall Street in New York City is an example of “wedding cake” architecture.
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Shutterstock/Valerii Iavtushenko

“So if you have a building that has the shape of a wedding cake, you have many ‘penthouse apartments’ there, which is great if you’re a developer and you have five penthouses versus only one to sell,” Gold said.


2. A unique layout from other units in the building

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432 Park Avenue, NYC’s tallest residential building.
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The World in HDR/Shutterstock

At 432 Park Avenue, New York City’s tallest residential building, floors 91 through 96 are all referred to as penthouses because they have different layouts than the rest of the building and some are full floors, a representative for the developer told Business Insider.


3. More square footage than the top-floor penthouse

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Ben Rahn/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

At the NOMA at 50 W. 30th St., one of Gold’s listings at Corcoran, the top-floor unit is called “Penthouse 2,” while the unit below was labelled “Penthouse 1” because it actually has more square footage overall and a different layout, as well as ample outdoor space and direct elevator access, Gold said.


4. Luxury amenities not found in other units

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Getty Images

“Today, a penthouse can even be on the ground floor, if it’s all tricked out and boasts luxury amenities not found in the building’s other units,” Cathie Ericson wrote for Realtor.com. “These might include upgraded appliances, increased security, fancier finishes, a larger balcony, oversize windows, a breathtaking view, a larger floor plan, and a private entrance.”

Source: Realtor.com


6. Ample outdoor space

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Getty Images

Outdoor space is a covetable amenity on any floor of a building.

Sheila Trichter of Warburg Realty told Business Insider that apartments that sit a floor or two below the top-floor unit can be considered penthouses if they have terraces.


7. Expansive living areas with large windows

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Getty Images

“… Very wide and very long great rooms and living rooms” with large windows are another desirable feature you can usually find in “penthouse-like” apartments, Lavrenov of Warburg Realty told Business Insider.


8. Fantastic views

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Courtesy of Related-Oxford

At 15 Hudson Yards, an 88-story luxury residential tower just starting to welcome residents, penthouse units start on the 84th floor. Penthouse 84D has no outdoor space and it’s four floors below the top-floor apartment. But with floor-to-ceiling windows in its corner great room, the unit offers “spectacular views of the Public Square and Gardens and Manhattan skyline,” according to its StreetEasy listing.

Source: StreetEasy