Editor’s note: Welcome to the first installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary. We’re excited to publish their tale of buying and renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. They also blog at www.thebrownstoneboys.com.
It’s been our dream for years to buy and renovate a Brooklyn brownstone. The tree-lined streets with charming 19th century architecture. The rows of stoops ready for a coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the afternoon.
I’m pretty sure we’re not alone in wanting one for ourselves. There are only a few areas left in Brooklyn within easy range to Manhattan that still have the charm of a brownstone neighborhood with an affordable (relatively) price tag. In Bed Stuy, Crown Heights and Bushwick you can still buy something for $1 million to $1.5 million for what costs $3 million to $4 million only a mile away in neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Prospect Heights and Park Slope. But the window is closing and the rush is on.
The Brooklyn real estate market is a double-edged sword. It’s usually a sellers’ market. Listings can go for over asking (sometimes well over) and competition to find a place and win a bidding war can be fierce. That makes it hard to get into, but the payoff can be huge. Some neighborhoods appreciate 20 to 40 percent in a year.
It’s possible to buy an apartment and sell it a couple of years later (two years as a primary residence to avoid capital gains) and make a nice chunk of money. I know because I’ve done it four times with one- and two-bedroom condos. Including one I kept for two years as a rental. Now everything is sold, and with cash in hand we’re finally at a point to make the move.
We searched for months (really years if you count the hours most days I spent looking at online listings). As any property hunter knows, there were long days on weekends going from open house to open house in the 95-degree humidity.
Most Brooklyn brownstones are between 100 to 150 years old. Some that we looked at haven’t been updated in decades. The scope of a renovation of a place that needed to be gutted down to the shell of the building (with costs of over $400,000) was terrifying. Some were just renovated by a developer with generic finishes and most of the history erased. It was hard to find a good balance.
We wanted to take on a renovation we could handle to make it a place of our own and produce something we can sell in a few years at a profit. We held out hope that each one we walked into was going to be the one. We had one pretty devastating bidding loss. Then a place we bid on and won but then backed out because it wasn’t really what we wanted (it was basically my rebound).
Finally on a day I’m pretty sure I was dragging Jordan around in the humidity we found a two-family beauty, on a tree-lined street, in a neighborhood just starting to have coffee shops, bars and restaurants popping up. It was moderately renovated a few years ago as rentals, so not the quality we wanted, but fortunately many originally details were intact.
This place would give us the ability to do a renovation we could handle (fingers crossed), at a price we could afford, but still in a neighborhood we wanted to live in (Stuyvesant Heights). We lucked out that two prior offers feel through. The seller was ready to get into contract. We put in an offer in the next day and had a deal by that night.
Not that everything has gone according to plan. The inspection revealed some pretty bad termite damage to a structural beam in the basement that has to be replaced ($10,000 off the sales price ;-)) and I’m sure we’ll find some other issues when we start tearing the place apart. With the closing scheduled in just two days, we’re about a month behind, with probably more delays on the way once we close. It will be an adventure!
We have a lot of hard choices to make, problems to navigate through, new issues to uncover, delays to stress about, and hopefully the realization of a lot of dreaming. We’ll do our best to capture it all here. As we’ve done research over the past years to figure out what we want, one of the best resources we’ve found is other renovation blogs. Our hope is that you’ll find our story helpful, or entertaining, or both.
[Photos by Brownstone Boys]
- Bed Stuy Reno: An Introduction
- Bushwick Reno: From Weeds to a Mural
- A Family Takes on Mirrored Walls and Pink Bathrooms in a 100-Year-Old Beach House