Finding That ‘Historic Feel’ in Jackson Heights

Tired of pouring money into rent, they traded the charmless modernity of a Brooklyn high-rise for the allure of a prewar co-op in Queens.

Finding That ‘Historic Feel’ in Jackson Heights

Barrett Brown-Fried, left, and Stephen Brown-Fried in their new Jackson Heights apartment.Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times

Barrett and Stephen Brown-Fried have done plenty of moving. The couple, who married five years ago, started out in a charming Brooklyn Heights one-bedroom, then lived briefly in a renovated loft building in Jersey City.

When they returned to Brooklyn, all the apartments they loved had inadequate kitchens, so they rented a place with a well-equipped kitchen in a Downtown Brooklyn high rise, for around $3,200 a month.

“Stephen likes to cook and I like to be the benefactor of his cooking,” Barrett said.

Planning to stay in New York for the foreseeable future, and reluctant to keep pouring money into rent, they decided to buy a home. Barrett, 33, who studied architecture before becoming an executive in beauty and fashion retail, took the lead.

“Most people would watch sports,” he said. “I would look at apartment listings. It was like a hobby of mine.”

They were hoping for a one-bedroom in a prewar co-op — with a good kitchen, room for a dining table and wall space for bookshelves — in a charming neighborhood with convenient subway access. They planned to pay no more than $600,000 and, ideally, closer to $500,000.

Many of their friends lived in Brooklyn, and they were reluctant to leave. But “unfortunately, our money didn’t go very far in Brooklyn unless we kept moving farther out,” Barrett said.

Their interest was also piqued by the historic district in Jackson Heights, Queens, where some friends had recently relocated.

Unnerved by the thought of moving again, Stephen, 38, a theater director, told Barrett, “You compile the short list, and I will look at the places that pass your threshold and see what I need to see.”

Last winter, Barrett visited a sunny, spacious one-bedroom in Jackson Heights, with a view of an interior courtyard. The asking price was just under $450,000, with monthly maintenance in the low $800s.

“It was a lovely apartment, but it felt a little more contemporary,” Barrett said. “If we moved into the Jackson Heights Historic District, we would like to have that historic feel.” That place later sold for $450,000.

The couple contacted Asli Ak, a distant relative by marriage and a licensed saleswoman at 718 Realty in Jamaica, Queens. She thought they would love a newly renovated one-bedroom listed by her brokerage that was also in the Jackson Heights Historic District, a sprawling community of six-story co-op buildings with landscaped courtyards dating to the early 20th century.

“Inside, it was done very elegantly,” Barrett said. “They preserved all of the prewar details.” The apartment, listed for $460,000, with maintenance of around $600 a month, included an eat-in kitchen and a dining area.

A one-bedroom in a Jackson Heights co-op was well priced, but its contemporary aesthetic wasn’t what they were after.Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times

Another offer had already been accepted, but there wasn’t yet a fully executed contract, so the agent was continuing to show the unit, Ms. Ak said. “Don’t sleep on this,” she told the couple, “because the last thing I want is this to be the apartment that got away.”

The Brown-Frieds offered slightly more than the asking price, $475,000, but then rescinded their offer, feeling rushed and uncertain about leaving Brooklyn.

“I freaked out, and we decided we did not want to make this momentous decision from that place of nervousness and anxiety,” Stephen said. “I realized I needed to be more present in the search if I was ultimately going to be more comfortable with the decision.”

To see Brooklyn listings, they contacted Jodie Garay, a licensed associate broker at Brown Harris Stevens, who had helped a colleague of Barrett’s. She showed them a large, sunny one-bedroom on Cortelyou Road in Kensington, listed for $530,000, with maintenance in the low $800s. “It didn’t have a ton of original detail, but it had a prewar feel,” Ms. Garay said.

The couple liked the apartment, but their bid of $550,000 was declined. (The unit later sold for $560,000.)

“While prices were softening in other parts of the neighborhood, they were becoming competitive for a lot of co-ops in Kensington,” Ms. Garay said. “It is not always possible to gauge, in a highest-and-best bidding competition, where a property is going to trade.”

The Brown-Frieds may have been surprised, but they weren’t terribly disappointed. “I have friends who were looking to buy recently, and they talk about how they were so devastated,” Barrett said. “I think we felt relieved, in a way.”

A co-op in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn was large and sunny, with “a prewar feel” — and a heftier price than they hoped to pay.Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times

The next day, Ms. Ak contacted them with news. The board of the Jackson Heights co-op, where they had rescinded their offer, had rejected the buyer with the accepted offer, a musician. The unit was available again.

“He had a piano and a violin, and I believe he had some form of guitar,” Ms. Ak said. “He was asking the board many questions about when he could play. His perspective was that you buy an apartment and you should be able to make as much noise as you want.”

By now, the couple had enough experience to know a good deal when they saw one. They bought the apartment for $489,000.

“Given that we had offered more than that for the apartment in Kensington and were still outbid, we had perspective by this point,” Barrett said. They arrived in the summer, glad to trade a business district for a real neighborhood.

“In 10 years, I don’t think I ever once had a conversation with my neighbors,” Stephen said. “Within the first three days of our living here, I found myself having long conversations with my neighbors in the building.”

On Sundays, they now shop at the Jackson Heights Greenmarket, although they are unable to make full use of their new kitchen or dining table: They have no gas for the stove because of ongoing utility work outside.

Their new building, in the Jackson Heights Historic District, has a neighborly vibe they appreciate.Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times

“The farmers’ market is a good thing but also torturous, because we want to have huge meals,” Barrett said. Instead, as they wait to use the room that was most important to them, they make do with a slow cooker and a hot plate, and they’re experimenting with one-pot recipes.

Or, Stephen said, they eat out: “There’s a gazillion great restaurants in this neighborhood.”

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