After years of sharing rentals, a new buyer takes her savings to a fixer-upper in Kensington.
Sam Reichman in her new Kensington studio, the first home she has owned. “There were so many not-great things about it that I thought, ‘This is my chance.’”Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times
Sam Reichman came to New York after graduating from the College of William & Mary in 2013. She lived mostly in Upper Manhattan and Brooklyn, always with roommates, some of them strangers she met through Craigslist. From the start, she was eager to become a homeowner.
“Pretty much every apartment I’ve had is living below my means and saving with this goal in mind,” she said.
Last spring, as she started hunting seriously, Ms. Reichman moved in with her boyfriend and his roommate, who rented in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “The girlfriends glommed on, to save money,” she said. “Four of us crammed into a two-bedroom.”
Ms. Reichman, 27, who grew up in Baltimore, had a budget of up to $300,000 for a co-op unit farther out in Brooklyn. Her boyfriend would be joining her and helping to pay monthly costs, but she needed to be able to afford it on her own, in case he moved away for graduate school. If a one-bedroom proved too pricey, a studio would do, preferably one with an alcove and separate kitchen.
“I never wanted to be able to smell food from my bed,” Ms. Reichman said. “And I wanted the bedroom to feel like its own little nook.”
She was willing to take on an hour’s commute to her office in Midtown, where she is a video producer for Barron’s Group. “I am a huge podcast listener, so the commute doesn’t bother me that much,” she said.
She contacted Carol Nemeroff, a family friend and a licensed sales agent at Douglas Elliman. “I was, like, five thorns in her side,” said Ms. Reichman, who knew she would need a lot of hand-holding.
They saw a charming, newly renovated studio in Ditmas Park listed at $299,000, with monthly maintenance in the high $400s. It had a foyer rather than an alcove, but its beautiful archways and prewar details made up for the less-than-ideal layout. Ms. Reichman bid $301,000, but it sold for around $311,000.
“I offered the most I could possibly afford, and it still wasn’t enough, and that was a huge disappointment,” she said. “That apartment had everything I wanted, and I had to peel it back from there as far as reasonable expectations.”
She liked a charming studio with beautiful archways and prewar details in a Ditmas Park building, but was outbid. “I offered the most I could possibly afford, and it still wasn’t enough, and that was a huge disappointment,” she said.Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times
Prices in Ditmas Park were on the high side, so she refocused on neighboring Kensington.
An alcove studio there, on the ground floor next to the building’s mailroom and staircase, had big windows with shrubs and flowers outside. “It was just good enough, but not something I really loved,” she said.
The price was $285,000, with maintenance of just under $500. It later fell to $265,000 and sold for $262,000.
Ms. Reichman considered several apartments along Ocean Parkway, including one on the sunny top floor of an elevator building. It was nicely renovated and had a window seat in the kitchen. The price was $269,000, with maintenance in the low $600s. But Ms. Reichman was too late: There was already an accepted offer of $272,000.
By now, it was early summer. “The inventory felt like it was gone, and the buying season was over,” she said. “I had sort of made peace with the fact that the apartment hunt was over until the next year.”
Still, she said, “I was checking StreetEasy nonstop, trying to make a miracle happen.”
Lo and behold, a new listing appeared. It was in the same Kensington building as the ground-floor studio, but was larger, with nearly 600 square feet. The online photos were underexposed and blurry. “I could tell they were bad iPhone pictures,” Ms. Reichman said.
The price was $260,000, with maintenance in the high $500s.
The floors were a mess. The bathroom had a tiny shower stall and no tub. The view included a parking lot.
“It was a dumpy apartment,” she said. “There were so many not-great things about it that I thought, ‘This is my chance.’”
She considered several apartments on Ocean Parkway, including one on the sunny top floor of an elevator building. It was nicely renovated, but already had an accepted offer.Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times
Also, she and Ms. Nemeroff got locked inside while the selling agent was in the hall. “When we tried to leave, it wouldn’t let us,” Ms. Reichman said. “I took that as a sign.”
She quickly offered $268,000.
“We went a little bit over,” Ms. Nemeroff said. “She didn’t want to lose another apartment. If the apartment was not perfect, it was fine. Her criteria were more about having that little alcove and getting to work in less than an hour. She didn’t need to have a cute coffee place down the block.”
The sellers, who had children, had added walls. The outlines showed on the floors, which the sellers offered to redo.
Ms. Reichman and her boyfriend arrived in the fall. She is surprised at how few people have heard of Kensington, which is smack in the center of Brooklyn and just south of Prospect Park.
With the help of relatives, she repainted the walls and retiled the kitchen floor. She had the finicky lock changed and bought houseplants. A hutch and a table serve as room dividers.
“We can pretend it is a one-bedroom,” she said. “I was happily surprised that 600 square feet felt like a real apartment. This is a test for me and my boyfriend. If we can do this, we can live anywhere together. I’ve lived in so much worse than sharing a 600-square-foot studio with one other person.”
Her trip to work takes just under an hour, including 10 minutes to the F train, “if you are power-walking,” she said. If need be, “I can message in and say, ‘Here’s the tweet that says the trains are delayed.’”
And Ms. Reichman is glad to put effort into “doing the unsexy stuff that comes with being a homeowner, like replacing the exhaust fan in the bathroom and the light fixture in the entryway,” she said. “That kind of stuff weirdly makes me happy.”
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