Editor’s note: Welcome to the first installment of It’s Just a Heights One-Bedroom, a reader renovation diary. We’re excited to publish Robert Schwartz‘s tale of buying and renovating an apartment in Brooklyn Heights.
Four years and 1,906 open houses ago, my wife, Evin, and I started looking for an apartment to buy in Brooklyn. Our wish list — a two-bedroom, on a nice block, a short stroll to good food, near a train whose letters or numbers we were familiar with — seemed modest and attainable. Back in the boom times, open houses were standing room only, brokers mostly ignored you, and buyers screamed out all-cash offers way above ask out the open windows of passing Ubers. Nothing elicited enough enthusiasm for us to make an offer, we misjudged a price correction that never came, or we were too chicken to pull the trigger. Perhaps we weren’t even in a rush, happily ensconced in our Boerum Hill floor-through apartment with the wildly uneven floors and the ludicrously low rent, in a building owned by a sweet old woman.
One wet Sunday last June, we braved three open houses in Crown Heights and Bed Stuy. The first one — dark, boxy — had only one closet in the entire apartment. The second was a large two-bedroom with luxuries like a dishwasher and more than one electrical outlet in each room. But food was a hike, and we weren’t going to walk 15 minutes for garbage jerk chicken. The last one was so awful the one-sheet may as well have said, “bring your own bunkbed!”
Over pancakes at a nearby diner, Evin suddenly remembered an open house in Brooklyn Heights. It was late, we were demoralized, and the open house ended in 20 minutes. But since we are gluttons for punishment, we said “what the hell.”
The apartment was a large one-bedroom in a full-service building. The appliances were circa the 1500s, the ceiling popcorn asbestos, the floor peel ‘n’ stick parquet. On the plus side, there were five closets, one a walk-in (!), a balcony large enough for outdoor furniture, with views of Dumbo and downtown Brooklyn, and it was close to the A/C and 2/3 trains. But the icing on the cake was a co-op-owned parking lot in the building, costing a positively criminal $120/month! We were excited it was a gut reno, making the thousands of hours of HGTV we had watched suddenly worthwhile and relevant. We made a preposterously low-ball offer the next day, which was promptly accepted.
Our contractor is the unofficial “building contractor,” having reno’d a slew of apartments there. Low key, with some great ideas, he even agreed to do the reno for labor only. This meant that Evin and I would do the sourcing, buying, and delivering, meaning Evin would do the sourcing and buying, and me the actual delivering. We have a budget, which we’ve already started referring to as a moving target. The contractor told us six to eight weeks, and they never lie or misrepresent timelines to clients, right?
Over the next six to eight to 400 weeks, I will be blogging weekly about our reno. I hope this will be reminiscent for those who’ve gone through it, illuminating for those who haven’t and, hopefully, a humorous distraction for everyone else. The comments will be “open,” which means I am excited to read what you have to say, while at the same time, scared to death to read what you have to say.
Pray for us!
[Photos by Evin Lowe]
- Brownstone Boys Renovation Diary: The Close
- Pink Brownstone: How We Silenced Our Extremely Loud, Creaking Stairs
- Bed Stuy Reno: First 203K Inspection