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For 6 years, I lived one of those great New York City rental stories on the Upper West Side.
Back in 2005 a good friend enlisted me, a real estate agent, to find her a one- or two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan that would make a good investment.
Once I had found her a great starter apartment in a full-service condo (with double height ceilings and a Juliette balcony), she then had me move in as her tenant.
Because she was living out of town, it was more important to her to have tenants that she could completely rely on to take care of her investment than it was to make a profit.
I was paying her a rent of $2,200 -- which only covered the maintenance and mortgage.
She never increased the rent and financed renovations that I suggested over the years to increase the value of her real estate. Also, my girlfriend moved in with me, reducing my housing expenses even more.
I loved living in that apartment, in that building. The staff were great, my neighbors were nice, and the building had a roof deck and hot tub I took advantage of whenever I could.
Then, about a year ago, after six years, my friend asked me to put my -- yes, technically her -- apartment up for sale.
We had to find a new place to live. We hated losing that apartment, but to tell the truth, we never really felt at home on the UWS.
Out neighborhood -- 90th between Broadway and West End -- was lively enough, with every convenience up the block and around the corner, such as Le Pain Quotidien, tons of bodegas and delis and my Equinox. As a “commute” to the office, I had only to walk across Central Park every morning to Madison Avenue.
But as a real estate agent, my work takes me all over the city, so proximity to my office wasn’t really a factor in deciding where to look for a new home.
More importantly, my girlfriend and I didn’t feel like we fit in with the Upper West Side's staid, family vibe. Much as we liked our living situation, we were always going elsewhere to have fun. The restaurants, bars and shops in our area were good, but to us, not that great.
Brooklyn is where we often found ourselves going out and hanging out, and so Brooklyn is where we went to find a new place.
I only had three prerequisites: It had to be close to transit, within a few blocks proximity to an Equinox gym, and it had to have a door to the bedroom (the old place had two bathrooms, but only a single doorless sleeping loft). Fortunately, that narrowed the search down to just a few neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
I organized myself a power search: 15 apartments in two days. The search yielded an amazing two-bedroom for $3,000, in Brooklyn Heights just a few short blocks to Equinox and Borough Hall. It also had a 15-square-foot terrace. There was a broker fee, but because I’m an agent as well, that amount was slashed in half. We moved right in.
This place fulfills all my basic requirements (including doors to the bedrooms), and there are some nice bonuses, too. We do like to get out of town on the weekends, and since I only have to move my car once a week, I’m able to keep it here. I didn’t have a car in Manhattan because the alternate side street cleaning regulations made it impossible without tacking on the expense of a garage.
A bar that has been one of my favorites for years -- Floyd’s on Atlantic Avenue - is right around the corner. Colonie is another great restaurant close by and my girlfriend and I also love Gran Electrica in DUMBO. There’s just amazing food at every turn here.
While I do miss Central Park -- especially my morning walks there -- I love Brooklyn Bridge Park. Brooklyn Flea is an incredible flea market to visit on weekends. Brooklyn’s shops, streets and restaurants in general are just fun to explore. To me, the people are friendly and more interesting and it feels like we have a lot more in common with them than the residents of the Upper West Side.
Of course, there are things I miss about living in Manhattan. The convenience of working and living there, for one. Whereas I could often drop by my apartment -- after work and before going out, say - I now have to take a bag along with me with everything I’ll need for the day before heading to work. It’s a drag, especially if something comes up last minute.
Another not-so-great thing about Brooklyn Heights: After 10:30 p.m., it becomes really hard to find food. I get a lot of house guests. I have friends from all over the world who to come to visit and like to experience the nightlife, and for some reason, when it gets to be about 10 p.m., they all get hungry. No kitchens are open then.
Also, I miss my doormen. I loved those guys. Sometimes after going out, I’d get to the lobby of my building at 2 a.m. and not get up to my apartment till 3 a.m. because I was chatting with the guys.
I miss the hot tub and the roof deck of my building, and I do sometimes miss the anonymity that’s possible when you live in a larger building. You don’t really have to deal with anybody’s personality and attitude too much when you live in a large building with so many people that everybody just minds their own business. Let’s just say that’s not quite the case in our walk-up building now.
But none of that offsets how cool it is to just really enjoy being home. The neighborhood is definitely more “us.” Since moving in, it’s become pretty clear that this is something we should have done a long time ago (if not for our incredible UWS deal).
It’s not just the restaurants and bars, of course, that are making us feel like we completely belong here. The people around us are closer to us in age and seem to be going through the same life stages: young couples just starting out together as opposed to the older, larger families around us on the Upper West Side.
It also seems like there are many more creatives around us now than before -- so many in our circle of friends and family are artists and musicians. We were always looking elsewhere to find a more alternative vibe.
We’re paying real rent now compared to what we were paying before, and that is making itself felt now that we’re also saving up for a wedding. Still, we felt at home here from the start. Like we had finally found “our people” and the right place for our lifestyle.