From Jamaica to Long Island: I saved enough on cheap rent to buy a house and create generational wealth for my son

  • Years of living in a cramped basement apartment left him craving clean air and a grassy lawn
  • He saw about 15 properties before landing a three-bedroom ranch with low taxes for $435,000
  • 'I love that the house is brand-new construction. No one has ever slept there except me'
By Kelly Kreth  |
September 22, 2023 - 9:30AM
Gregory in his new home in Suffolk County

Gregory's only visitors so far is a family of deer that stop by each day, and that's fine with him.

Sick of his cramped basement apartment and rude landlord, firefighter Gregory Shepherd headed to the far reaches of Suffolk County to buy his own, more luxurious home. He's thrilled to see deer on his lawn instead of garbage and rats. Here’s his story as told to Kelly Kreth. 

I was born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Most recently I was living in the Southside area in Jamaica, Queens, in a basement apartment. I rented the small, 300-square-foot one bedroom for $1,000 per month. The cheap rent, which included utilities, and month-to-month arrangement were pretty much all I liked. The place wasn’t ideal: It had low ceilings, a cramped staircase, and very cheap finishes and fixtures. The worst: I had to pay for my own exterminator to prevent mice and cockroaches. 

There was even more not to like about this place. The owner has several rottweilers that would leave interesting smells throughout the house. He was also invasive, showing up unexpectedly. Even though there was a washer and dryer in another part of the basement, he would not let me use it. So I would have to load all my clothes and trek a mile away to a public laundromat. Plus, there was little to no parking nearby.

I never really went out in the area. There are not many things to do in south Jamaica and no decent food places, just mostly fast-food places. I literally would go to work and come home to sleep. I was there to save money so I could eventually buy my house. 

In addition to being a firefighter for New York City, I would drive 30 to 45 minutes to my side-gig office in Flatbush—I am the CEO of Kultivated Hair Care, which makes quality hair butters and oils that are gender neutral and suitable for all hair types—though my apartment was also by public transportation. 

[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Transitions” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to move from one New York City neighborhood to another. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]

Wanted: A three-bedroom, two-bath ranch for less than $500,000

I knew that I wanted to leave that apartment the first month I lived there. I had a goal to save money and move somewhere nicer—with no traffic, more than two blades of grass for a lawn, friendly neighbors, and definitely no rats. I always wanted to be able to see the stars at night, too. 

Earlier this year, I sought the help of the best real estate agent in New York: Danielle Jerginan, an agent at Keller Williams NYC. I wanted to buy something to create generational wealth—to allow financial stability and opportunities for my eight-year-old son and future generations. I told her I wanted to purchase a three-bedroom, two-bath ranch for under $500,000 in Westchester, but then realized I could get more bang for my buck in Long Island. 

She sent me her entire database and I chose the top houses from there. Then we saw about 15 properties that looked good on paper and met my criteria in person. 

Danielle and I went hard at the search process, but she never once complained—and it paid off when I found my current home in Mastic Beach on the South Shore of Suffolk County. The minute I saw it, I knew it was the one for me! I just went with my gut.

The approximately 1,300-square-foot single-level house is open and airy, with tons of natural light and views of Great South Bay. There’s an eat-in kitchen with stainless steel appliances. I got the three bedrooms and two baths I requested. I also got a two-car garage with an attached workshop—all for $435,000. Best of all: very low taxes! 

The entire process, from viewing to getting the keys, took about three months. I was blessed to not have to wait forever to find my new home. All the headaches and hoops came from the lawyer. I regret using the one I did. They lacked understanding and customer service—it still gives me anxiety just thinking about that part of the process.

I do love that the house is a brand-new construction. No one has ever slept there except me and it’s mine, all mine. It's modern, yet charming; it has luxury but also warmth.  

Owning a house obviously costs more money every month. There are tons of unforeseen expenses all the time. You never can catch up. I have a long list of things to do and fix already. I have expensive tastes as well, so furnishing and decor have cost a small fortune. 

How he likes his new neighborhood

I’m deep in the boondocks. And that’s fine because nobody is popping up without an invitation here (unlike my previous landlord). I’m in love with the nature and clean air. It’s quiet and suburban. Seeing the stars at night is better than seeing drugged-out people. 

The nabe is a secluded residential area with lots of land. I only have two other people on my block. I mind my business. There’s a family of deer that come on my property twice a day. However, the mosquitoes and ants are aggressive. 

I still don’t go out much. Having a new home means I need to save for things that I need and want. So I work a lot of overtime to afford myself these things. I’m not comfortable just yet to be out spending money since I used all my savings for the down payment and closing costs. 

The food options in the suburbs are light years better than in Jamaica. Here you can find fresher food and more supermarkets. And I can do my own laundry in my own home thanks to the washer/dryer.  

The commute to Flatbush for work is absolutely ridiculous. It takes me two hours each way by car. I have to gas up every other day. I spend a lot of time with my thoughts while stuck in traffic. 

No one has come to visit me here yet. People in NYC don’t want to schlep to Long Island. Thankfully, the neighbors I know are around my age and have been helpful when I’ve needed something. 

I have no plans of ever leaving. I am thrilled to be a homeowner and so excited to continue making this space my own. 



Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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