07/03/14 11:30am


Please welcome our latest renovation blogger, Pamela Capalad, who will be posting here monthly about the renovation of a Bushwick row house. Long-time readers will remember Pamela and Brian Kushner, aka Dyalekt, who together purchased a two-family row house in Bushwick for $190,000 plus $145,000 for a renovation with a 203K loan. Dyalekt is a musician and playwright and Pamela is a financial planner who also blogs at So We’re Buying a House! Her latest venture is called Brunch and Budget: The client provides the meal and Pamela provides the financial advice. We are excited to tell you that Pamela and Dyalekt have finished their renovation and now have furniture and art on the walls! Pamela will post more about that in the coming months. This week she is writing about solar panels.

Now that the house is done, on to solar panels!

Getting approved for the home equity line of credit turned out to be less painful than we thought it would be. It wasn’t the grueling back and forth of our refinance (where they grilled me about every item on my credit report and asked me to call American Express to tell them to change the fake — for security purposes — account number on the credit report to the real one so it would match up with the account statement); in fact, it was only a little more cumbersome than opening a credit card.

Even though the house was done, it wasn’t done. We had all these plans when we started that now we finally had brain space to think about and prioritize. Did we want to work on the backyard first and fully be rid of any evidence of heroin needles? Maybe install the projector and surround sound so we wouldn’t have to squint into our laptops to see which Lanister was betraying who this week? Should we throw a big paint party and have our artist friends finally put a big mural on our side wall?

Nope. Solar panels.

Of course we wanted them for environmental reasons blah blah blah, but I think part of it was we just wanted to give a big middle finger to ConEd in any small way we could. (more…)

07/02/14 9:30am

brooklyn public library 2

Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch at Grand Army Plaza needs $100,000,000 in repairs but only has enough cash to cover $30,000,000, according to a report in The New York Daily News. Library officials are about to begin repairing the cracked and leaking roof over the wing on the Flatbush Avenue side, which will cost $1,400,000.

The current roof will be torn off and replaced with membrane roofing, a more durable alternative to traditional asphalt roofs. Next year, the library plans to repair the branch’s Grand Lobby, update aging fire alarms, and fix its creaky elevators. The 73-year-old Art Deco building also has faulty air conditioning, cracked windows, and decaying bathrooms with broken sinks and toilets.

The de Blasio administration allocated $18,000,000 for capital repairs across the BPL’s 60-branch system, which requires an estimated $300,000,000 in repairs. The library is still planning to sell its Brooklyn Heights branch to a developer. Officials began evaluating proposals for a mixed-use condo building with the library on the ground floor in December.

Brooklyn’s Central Library Branch Needs $100 Million in Repairs [NYDN]
Photo by gigi_nyc

07/01/14 10:00am

108 joralemon street brooklyn heights rendering

This townhouse on the corner of Joralemon and Henry Street Streets in Brooklyn Heights is getting a modern update. The multifamily building at 108 Joralemon Street is losing a four-story rear extension and backyard garage and gaining a rear two-story extension with large windows. The four-story house is currently clad in scaffolding, and we found this rendering tacked to the front.

CWB Architects is the architect of record. Landmarks approved the proposal last year.

The building recently had five apartments, but alteration permits indicate it’s being converted to a one-family. The 4,800-square-foot building last changed hands in February 2013 for $3,210,000. What do you think of the addition?

Click through to see a construction shot.


06/30/14 10:45am


As prices of brownstones in “emerging” areas push past the $2,000,000 mark, some flippers are changing how they do business. Out are the low-end, Home Depot-style renovations with 12-inch tan floor tile, country-style wood cabinets, and fake granite counters. In are $30,000 appliance packages, rear walls of windows, and central air.

“As the market changed, the clientele changed. Everything demanded a much higher grade rehab, higher grade finishes, and higher grade bells and whistles. If you’re dealing with $2,000,000 houses, it’s gotta look like $2,000,000 house,” said developer Adam Cohen of Stuyvesant Group. His company has about 20 projects in various stages, including rehabs in Brooklyn and rentals in Harlem.

It was Stuyvesant Group that renovated the narrow but detailed Amzi Hill house at 22 Arlington that reset the record for a townhouse sale in Bed Stuy when it closed at $2,250,000 earlier this month. As noted, the buyer was Australian investment firm Dixon.

One of the agents on the deal, Ban Leow of Halstead, said he expects prices in the area to climb even higher soon, because a group of bigger and renovated properties are about to come on the market. This was a premium house in terms of its details and renovation, but was less than 16 feet wide. Other houses that have recently closed at high prices for what they were in Bed Stuy and Crown Heights were full size with tremendous details but unrenovated. Three of those properties were also purchased by Dixon, as reported.

In Fort Greene, where renovated townhouses generally fetch $3,000,000 and up, Stuyvesant Group is renovating a brownstone to standards more typically seen in high-end custom renovations, including radiant heat on all floors that can be controlled from an iPad, a high-efficiency boiler, and replacing the back wall with glass and steel.

In Bed Stuy or Crown Heights, that renovation would be too expensive, but developers are still taking a high end approach vs. several years ago. “We never did the cheap stuff, it was always custom cabinets, better tile and hardwood flooring,” said Cohen. “We used to give a standard package of stainless steel appliances, and maybe now it’s [a more expensive] appliance package. It used to be quartz counters, now it’s Carrara marble.”

At 22 Arlington, for example, a new kitchen in the rear of the parlor floor, pictured above, has an Italian marble backsplash and center island, Sub Zero refrigerator, Wolf range and vent hood, Bosch dishwasher, a microwave in a drawer and custom made radiator covers. Wall-mounted split A/C units were chosen instead of central air conditioning to avoid unsightly ductwork in the detail-laden house, though Stuyvesant Group does install central air in the houses it gut renovates, said Cohen.

They also repaired all the plasterwork that could be fixed. The arch above where the stove now sits “was cracked into nine different pieces, and we fixed it,” said Cohen. The interior doors are original to the house, but not necessarily in the same places, since the layout was reconfigured. In Fort Greene, there was nothing to save, since the house had a fire so it was a full gut job, but they purchased three vintage pier mirrors and restored the front door (since the house is landmarked). “We try to give it that brownstone look, we don’t want it to have that condo look,” as Cohen put it. “I feel like in this market, if you give buyers something good, they are happy to pay for it. They don’t want to pay for garbage.” 

Stuyvesant Group is already in contract on two other nearly finished houses it never even put on the market but struck a deal with buyers who were among the bidders at 22 Arlington, he said. 

Buyers are “looking for well-configured homes,” said Leow. A triplex over a garden rental is ideal. They don’t like small galley kitchens but prefer a “very nice open space with lots of countertops where a family can actually enjoy their home and cook for friends.” As for gut jobs vs. preserving original detail, “every buyer who buys a brownstone wants a house full of period details,” said Leow. “If there are details, it would be shameful if someone comes in and rips everything out and throws it in a Dumpster. But sometimes investors buy a shell and there is nothing to salvage.” In that case, buyers “would rather see a high end renovation that will work” for a family, he said.

Problem properties that developers were picking up for $250,000 to $350,000 at the height of the bust and selling for $500,000 to $625,000 once they were renovated are now about $800,000 just for a shell — maybe 5 percent more if they are close to Nostrand Avenue. “Today we would buy them for more than what we sold them for even after rehab,” said Cohen. Another thing that has changed is buyers were highly leveraged before and now they are putting down at least 50 percent cash if not 100 percent. (more…)

06/23/14 11:30am


Renovation projects in Brooklyn are on the upswing, according to renovation matchmaking service Sweeten, which saw an increase of 75 percent in Brooklyn projects handled by its own firm in the first quarter. The average cost of Brooklyn home renovation projects handled by the service clocks in at $57,000.

Obviously the numbers apply only to Sweeten’s own business and not to every renovation happening in Brooklyn, but we think the data provides an interesting snapshot of Brooklyn renovation projects.

The top 10 neighborhoods for renovations posted on Sweeten by dollar volume (which reflects both budget and quantity) are, in order:

1. Park Slope
2. Prospect Heights
3. Vinegar Hill
4. Brooklyn Navy Yard
5. Gowanus
6. Williamsburg (zip code 11211)
7. Red Hook
8. Ditmas Park
9. Greenpoint
10. Williamsburg (zip code 11249)

Apartments, whole houses, kitchens and baths are the most popular Brooklyn renovation projects among its users. (more…)

reclaimed home hot seat

Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview people involved in real estate, architecture, development and design. Introducing Phyllis Bobb and Emilia DeVitis, bloggers and owners of Reclaimed Home, an architectural salvage and antique store in southern Crown Heights. Bobb has been blogging about renovation, upcycling and recycling vintage items at Reclaimed Home since 2007. She’s also a longtime Brownstoner commenter who goes by the username “rh.” She teamed up with her good friend DeVitis, a visual artist and studio manager, to open their shop in April.

Brownstoner: Where do you live, and how did you end up there?

Phyllis Bobb: I live in the southwest corner of Bed Stuy or “Bedford Corners Historic District,” as some like to call it. In 2003, my husband and I sold our Park Slope home and moved upstate to our weekend place in Ulster County. After a year of living in the woods, we decided that wasn’t for us but we still didn’t want to return to the city just yet, so we moved to Beacon, thinking that there was more going on.

I got involved with real estate up there and started looking for an investment property. After a deal in Newburgh fell though (thank heavens!), I started looking closer and closer to the city…Rockland County, Yonkers…The Bronx. Then my husband said “What if you look in Brooklyn?” And that was the beginning of the end of Beacon for us. We bought the two-family house as an investment, full well knowing that one day we would return. And so we did a couple of years ago!

As far as how I chose Bed Stuy, I just drove around the affordable areas to get a feel for them. A lot of my research came from Brownstoner. Back then, it was Bed Stuy, Crown Heights, Greenwood Heights, Gowanus and Sunset Park. Going south of where we were in South Slope (15th Street) would have been a step backwards, so I literally drew a radius around lower Manhattan and went for the 15 minute commute. A train only.

Emilia DeVitis: I’ve lived in Bay Ridge for a year now. I had lived in Manhattan since 1987, but the rent just got too expensive. Bay Ridge was the cheapest I could find in Brooklyn and I actually love it there.

BS: Can you talk about how the blog first began?

PB: The blog actually started when I finished my Bed Stuy renovation. There wasn’t enough time to do it during. At that point, I had 3.5 DIY renovations under my belt (Beacon was half finished) and I was looking for my next career, having semiretired from photography, my day job. The blog started as the face of my new business venture, which was selling repurposed items online and at markets. And of course that came out of my experience with restoring older homes. My first market was the Brownstoner Salvage Fest, and I remember that my blog had just launched around that time.

After the jump, Phyllis talks about the advantages of being in Crown Heights, her favorite salvage spots and how to avoid being ripped off while renovating. 


05/27/14 11:00am


Last we left off things were moving along at a steady pace. The electrical work was moving and my contractor had started the framing. And I started working with a garden designer, hopeful that I could even tackle the backyard before summer.  And I also put my rental on the market — it rented in two weeks. You can read about the rental updates here. What do they say about nothing good lasts forever?

First problem was finding a plumber who was within my very limited 203K budget. The budget was $8,000 and included updated one existing bathroom, one new full bathroom, one half bath,washer/dryer connection, and plumbing for the kitchen. The plumber I wanted to use and does amazing work was just too expensive — his bid came in at more than double the plumbing budget. I asked around for a few recommendations and interviewed a few plumbers.

The plumber I chose came highly recommended but more importantly he was within budget.  Well, everything started off right but then he disappeared for a few weeks. Daily calls, angry voicemails and promises to show up landed us three weeks behind schedule. Which means I’ll be camping out with friends after June 1 for a few weeks until at least one of the rooms and a bathroom is completed. I’m in the process of firing the plumber.

But I’m incredibly thankful for my amazing support system — including the Brownstoner community who tell me to keep pushing and that one day it will all be worth it.

Above, the kitchen in the rear of the parlor floor with its electrical, framing and Sheetrock. Click through to the jump for more photos of the progress or lack thereof.


05/21/14 11:30am


We’re not sure when this addition was completed in the rear of Theobald Engelhardt’s 1889 Romanesque Revival North Side Savings Bank at 33-35 Grand Street in Williamsburg, but we were surprised to see it on a recent visit.

An alt-1 permit to add a second and third floor to the one-story building was filed in 2007; the most recent application related to the Alt-1 permit was in June. Part of the structure is visible in a PropertyShark photo from 2012.

As Montrose pointed out in a recent Building of the Day column, there used to be an A.P.C. outlet here. Now it appears to be a home or a live-work space. The owners appear to be in construction.

05/08/14 10:00am


We are very excited to show you the exterior restoration of a wood frame house. Brownstoner commenter Williamsburgguys very generously shared photographs and all the details of his renovation with us. The house on Orient Avenue in East Williamsburg is one of several on the block neighbors are refurbishing.

Some are using real wood and others HardiePlank. The advantage of the latter is that is durable, non-flammable and looks identical to wood, according to our renovator. He used HardiePlank for his siding and also to rebuild his cornice.

“So it looks like it did in 1895 yet should hold up with less maintenance,” he said. He and his partner hired a siding and cornice contractor for those two jobs because “I don’t do heights and I know nothing about installing siding or building a cornice from scratch,” he said, but they handled other aspects of the restoration themselves. They built the porch canopies, refurbished and installed the salvage front doors and are stripping and repointing the brick base of the house.

The duo have plenty of construction experience: Williamsburgguys grew up helping his dad and uncles with construction, and he and his partner used to buy and flip a neglected property every summer when they lived in the south and Williamsburgguys had time off from his teaching job.

The house was built with two others to its left in 1895 to 1896. In the 1939 tax photo, the house was already covered in fake brick tarpaper. Luckily the double door entry enframement and 120-year-old wavy glass transom were still there, although hidden under Sheetrock. The fence and gate are original.

Rather than restoring the appearance of the house exactly as it appeared in the 1930s tax photo, they kept the picture window and, inspired by another nearby restoration at 124 Ainslie, used off-the-shelf components to create a credible period look. (more…)

04/15/14 11:30am


Interior demolition has started at 144 Willow Street, a landmarked building in Brooklyn Heights that Jared Kushner purchased from Brooklyn Law School in February as part of a bigger $36,500,000 deal.

A crew of at least eight started work late last week, a tipster told us. He didn’t see any certificate of no exterior effect, required by Landmarks, he said, except on former Watchtower buildings, which deeds indicate this was not.

An Alt-2 permit filed this month indicates a renovation is planned for the apartments on the basement through the fourth floors.

Kushner plans to turn three of the buildings in the recently acquired portfolio back into single-family townhouses, as we reported last week, but this one will remain apartments.