The Hunt: Brownstone Charm on a Budget

The Hunt: Brownstone Charm on a Budget

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“For us, nesting is important,” she added. “We didn’t want just a launchpad. We wanted a place we could settle into.”

The master bedroom.

Credit
Katherine Marks for The New York Times

The apartments they could afford were overly quirky, “in the sense of the sink being in the bedroom,” Ms. Chock-Goldman said, adding that when they contacted Debra Bondy, an associate broker at Compass who had helped her sister buy a place, “she brought in the reality factor.”

In the kind of small building they favored, Ms. Bondy said, “it’s hard to get the kind of light they wanted, unless you’re on the top floor.”

And then it appeared: a two-bedroom unit in Fort Greene, on the fifth (and top) floor of a 20-unit co-op building, priced at $745,000, with maintenance in the mid $800s. The couple dropped their Sunday plans and rushed to the open house, thinking an early arrival would give them an advantage.

FORT GREENE A two-bedroom on a sunny top floor sold for far more than the asking price.

Credit
Katherine Marks for The New York Times

They offered the asking price, but the apartment sold quickly to someone else for $782,000.

“When you get really excited, the fall is that much harder,” Mr. Trabucco-Campos said.

Ms. Bondy urged them to expand their search to the sort of buildings they hadn’t initially considered.

In Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, they checked out the Clinton Hill Cooperative Apartments, dating to the 1940s, and found a unit they liked on a high floor, with a second bedroom fashioned from a dining area. The asking price was $599,000, with maintenance in the mid $900s.

CLINTON HILL The couple wanted overhead lighting and learned they couldn’t add it unless they dropped the already low ceilings.

Credit
Katherine Marks for The New York Times

But they wanted overhead lighting and learned they couldn’t add it unless they dropped the already low ceilings. And the layout seemed less than ideal for the placement of floor lamps.

“That became a deal-breaker for us,” Ms. Chock-Goldman said. “In retrospect, it seems silly. We were trying to find mature reasons why it couldn’t work, instead of just saying, ‘Nah, we don’t love it.’” That apartment later sold for $640,000.

They visited another apartment in Clinton Hill, a two-bedroom on the top floor of the nearby Willoughby Walk co-ops, built around 1958. As they waited for Ms. Bondy to arrive, people smiled and said hello, which they liked. “Why was everybody being so nice?” Ms. Chock-Goldman said. “This was our introduction to the building.”

CLINTON HILL A two-bedroom apartment in the Willoughby Walk co-ops offered great views and the opportunity to renovate.

Credit
Katherine Marks for The New York Times

The apartment, which was in foreclosure, had great views and big windows. Both bedrooms were sizable, unlike those in the brownstones they admired, which usually included one nursery-size bedroom, Ms. Bondy said. A second bathroom was a bonus, as was the balcony.

The price was $750,000, with maintenance in the $1,100s. The couple planned to make an offer, but on a subsequent visit they noticed a buzz coming from the bathroom vents. “It was like being on a prop plane,” Mr. Trabucco-Campos said.

The problem seemed to be the rooftop fans, but while the management company brought in engineers and maintenance workers to fix it, the buzz persisted. The couple decided to move on, and the apartment later sold for the asking price.

Soon after, though, another apartment in the same line, with an identical floor plan, came on the market.

This one, listed at $715,000, was on a lower floor and in especially bad condition. Each room was painted a different bright color, and Ms. Bondy declared it “a disaster zone.” But it had the same open view and no buzz.

Excited to renovate, the couple bought it for $710,000 in midsummer, and then moved in with Ms. Chock-Goldman’s parents in Westchester for six months.

“It was unrealistic for us to continue paying rent and renovate an apartment,” Ms. Chock-Goldman said. They commuted to work by train, often rising before dawn to meet the contractor at 7 a.m.

In December, they moved in. Since then, Ms. Chock-Goldman said she has been noticing small flaws, “things I didn’t think about before,” like the awkward placement of a toilet-paper holder in one bathroom and a power outlet on the kitchen island.

The renovation also caused a leak in the bathroom downstairs — a nerve-racking problem, but one easily fixable by removing and replacing several tiles to repair a pipe.

By now, Ms. Chock-Goldman and Mr. Trabucco-Campos have met many of their neighbors, some of whom have lived in the building for decades, and they converse in the elevator and the hallways.

“We wanted the charm, warmth and intimacy of a brownstone,” Mr. Trabucco-Campos said. And in their large postwar mid-rise, they found it.

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