Diary of a First-Time Buyer

I find my "dream" apartment...in Ft. Greene

By Elle Bee  | December 3, 2012 - 2:43PM

After eight months and 49 apartments, I was increasingly worried that my broker, Sidney, would throw in the towel—he had shown me numerous apartments that looked alike and yet, none that fit the bill.

He never intimated it, but I’m sure he thought, “What do you think you’ll get for $300k?” I was beginning to wonder the same.

Search fatigue set in, and so just after Halloween last year, I decided I needed a break from looking.  

Shortly afterward, at a friend’s birthday party, I met "Karen." A real estate agent in Brooklyn, she offered to show me around the neighborhood once she learned I was in the market.



I had zero interest in what I considered an overly self-conscious craftsman borough and politely told her it was “off my radar.”

A yoga and kabbalah devotee, Karen was one of those relentlessly optimistic people whose smiley sheen concealed a polite doggedness.

She wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“I’d love to help you find a home. This is what I do for people," she said.

What did that mean? Was she a consultant? A broker? A matchmaker?

I cast a “help me” look at our mutual friend, herself a born-and-bred Brooklynite, who promptly declared it a brilliant idea.


I emailed Karen my wish list (light, space, decent neighborhood, maximum $300K) and several links to apartments I saw and liked (romantic prewars)—and those I did not (new construction, postwars, low floors).  

Within a couple of weeks, we made a date to meet in Clinton Hill, where she scheduled a few appointments.

It’s too bad hindsight reveals its lessons too late. Looking back a year later, I had all the information I needed about Karen on that first day: We were on her home turf, yet she couldn’t seem to find our meeting place—the intersection of two main streets. She didn’t respond to either voice or text messages on her mobile phone, and I was left hanging on the street corner, which gave me plenty of time to cultivate an even stronger contempt for the neighborhood and its slouchy-hatted hipsters.

When we finally found each other and I squiggled into her car, squeezing in next to her oversized bag, I saw the problem: her phone was on the floorboard among clipboards, running shoes and empty Starbucks cups. ‘Nuf said.

Now half an hour late, we rushed through the first few listings—and frankly, a few minutes in each place was all it took to flatly reject them: a series of dark, cramped apartments in post-war high-rises.

Nothing resembled anything I asked for—in fact, it was as if she created the show schedule from my “do not want” list. My annoyance was balanced by a secret relief that I could quickly be done with my obligatory appointment and move on.

We left University Towers, the last awful high-rise, which, renovated to a shiny fare-thee-well, reminded me of a Florida retirement home. Karen checked her clipboard, clucked her tongue and heaved a sigh. As if she were annoyed.

“I’ve shown you the best places first, and if you didn’t like those, you’re not going to like what’s left,” she said, her lilting voice now taking on an exasperated edge.  She nodded to a gated complex across the street. “I have something in there, but the financials aren’t as good as this, and frankly, it’s a little dowdy.”

I shrugged. “We’re here, let’s see it.”

The complex contained five 15-story buildings in a landscaped patch behind a hospital and a university. The 1950s-era lobby had not been updated, but was nicely maintained. The turquoise and black enameled elevator made me smile. 

We started at a high-floor apartment, which, empty, gave me a clean slate for mentally placing my furniture. A wall of windows overlooked the center courtyard of the complex, giving a view of wavy treetops, and, in the near distance, the Prison Ships Martyrs' Monument in Fort Greene Park. The main room was an open plan, with a short wall separating the galley kitchen from the living room so that everywhere you stood, you had a window view.

The large corner bedroom had two windows (instant thought: cross breeze) and two double-sized closets, in addition to three other closets in the apartment. At 750 square feet, it was large enough to accommodate my furniture, piano, shelves for my 75-odd boxes of books—there was even a place to carve out a home office.

The kitchen needed an update, but still had the original wooden cabinets. Priced at $299K, I figured a renovation would bring the pricetag up to $325K.

Karen had a listing for another apartment with the exact footprint. Though a few floors down, the apartment was still airy and light with good views.  

Sadly, the kitchen and bath had undergone unfortunate updates that robbed them of their original tiles and wooden cabinets. But at $249,000, I could afford to renovate both. Another clean slate!

It was raining, and even with overcast skies, the apartment had good light. I wanted it. 

I looked at Karen. “This is it.”

She looked up from her clipboard her mouth a little O of surprise before breaking into a smile.

“I’d like to bring my friend back to see it with me, but assuming I’m interested, what would do I do next?” I asked. This was the only field trip my friend and trusted adviser Chris had not come on with me. Karen told me she would arrange a second visit with the seller’s agent, and suggested I start thinking about an offer price.

We left and I ducked undera dry canopy of a storefront on DeKalb Avenue, half a block away and called Chris.

“I think I found it,” I said. 

The 50th time was a charm. Or was it?

Next: The art of the deal

Elle Bee is a lifelong renter currently in the process of buying a Brooklyn apartment, recounted in her bi-weekly column, Diary of a First-Time Buyer.

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