Lauren, an attorney, was living in a rent-stabilized apartment in Brooklyn Heights. The location was great, but the place was dark and the building neglected. She saw a new waterfront condo in the Rockaways—the only building she checked out in person as part of her search—and decided to buy there—despite the fact that it would make her commute an hour and a half one way. Here’s her story.
A born and bred Brooklynite, I was living by myself in Brooklyn Heights in a rent-stabilized, one-bedroom apartment. The amenities in my building were slim. I just had laundry and storage options in the basement.
I originally liked the charm and the high ceilings in my apartment. Both my bedroom and living room overlooked an amazing tree right outside, but the apartment was kind of dark. It was hard to keep plants alive and started to feel like a cave. The place was also old and because it was rent stabilized, the landlord didn’t maintain it very well.
[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.]
Brooklyn Heights is all about location, and pre-pandemic, just about everything I needed was nearby: grocery stores, some restaurants, clothing stores, and tons of fitness options. I was a regular at spin classes several times a week. There were a few great yoga studios nearby, as well as Pilates studios and SoulCycle.
I liked to browse the stores on the weekend, like Sephora and Ann Taylor Loft. Neiman Marcus Last Call was my favorite, although it’s now closed.
I wasn't the biggest fan of some of the dining options near my apartment, although there are better options close by in Cobble Hill. I liked to get brunch at Maison Kayser and Le Pain Quotidien. They’re now closed. Teresa's, a Polish family-style restaurant, was one of my favorites but it had closed when the owners decided to retire. The deli Lassen & Hennings was my go-to for quick meals. I did much of my shopping at Trader Joe' s nearby and a Key Food down the block. For Middle Eastern food, I really liked Sahadi's and Damascus Bakery on Atlantic Avenue nearby and will definitely miss those stores.
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There’s lots of transit options in Brooklyn Heights so I had alternatives in case of transit delays or issues. I work in FiDi as an attorney and my commute should have been 15 to 20 minutes, but for some reason always seemed to take longer, especially if I took the notoriously slower R line (which leads right to my office).
Brooklyn Heights is a really family-centric and dog-friendly neighborhood. The streets are often shut down for local events in the summer, and the Promenade is very popular, even with tourists. But the neighborhood shuts down around 10 p.m. at night, and there isn’t really any night life.
As much as I liked the area, the pandemic changed everything for me. It pushed me to move because I was home 24/7 in my small apartment and there were lots of problems with it. And Brooklyn Heights was no longer the same since so many stores closed permanently—much of what I liked about Brooklyn Heights was gone. I needed a fresh start someplace new.
I decided to explore my options as a buyer. At first, I considered Weehawken, New Jersey, but I then came across One Sixteen, a new condo development in the Rockaways. The building features Manhattan-style amenities at a good price point, which was very appealing. [Editor's note: Prices for current available apartments start at $525,000 for a one bedroom and $850,000 for a two bedroom.] My mother lives in the Rockaways and she told me about the building. I went to see it alone and ended up buying it without a broker. This was the only apartment I saw in person and the buying process was pretty much me just winging it myself. I was lucky to find something I loved right away, although I also looked at a few apartments in the same building. One and done!
Closing took about seven months and I had to change lenders midway. Since it is new construction, banks require a certain level of sales before they will lend. I was kind of informed about the sales situation late and Chase was the only lender approving loans for the condo building. Fortunately, I had a good experience and the lead loan officer at Chase, Justin Keesey, was great.
My new apartment is a spacious two bedroom overlooking 116th Street and I have a balcony. I now have a lot of light thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows. Since it’s only a year or so old, everything is new and the design has a clean and modern aesthetic.
I don't know that I ever really knew the square footage of my previous apartment, but my unit seems to be twice the size. And now I have lots of amenities: A gym onsite, laundry in my unit, a part-time doorman, lounge, and the roof deck. The lounge, which I never got a chance to see when I initially looked at the apartment, has an amazing view, so does the roof deck.
In terms of what I pay each month, my mortgage (excluding property taxes, insurance, and common charges) is only about $150 dollars more than my previous rent. With the additional expenses, I pay about $1,500 more. I expect some of my other expenses to be lower here, like groceries.
The neighborhood is a mix of different cultures and communities. I do see some of the effects of the pandemic here. But there’s also a lot of new development and one of the reasons I chose to move here is because the neighborhood seems to have potential.
I am very familiar with the Rockaways since my family lives here. I know the beach crowd arrives on Memorial Day weekend, which makes it harder to park here, so I’m glad I have on-site parking. I think the Rockaways needs more flexible parking options for residents.
I also dislike the bad rap the neighborhood gets. The Rockaways is a collection of neighborhoods and just like in any other area you will have pockets or areas that are worse.
The Rockaways have more of a local vibe than Brooklyn Heights. One of my favorite things is to take a short break when I can (and if work is not too busy) for a walk near the beach and something to eat. I’m Italian and Jewish so a good bagel and slice of pizza is important. I like Cuisine by Claudette, Ciro's has good pizza and I also like Whit's End. Boardwalk Bagel & Delicatessen is also my choice for pizza. They are a little farther down, but Bar Marseille has great French food. Fat Cardinal bakery also has amazing baked goods. La Brisas has very good and reasonably priced Spanish food.
I am still working remotely, but my commute is going to be over an hour once there is a return to the office. I have ventured to Midtown a few times and the commute is an hour and a half. I knew there would be a trade-off—for me becoming an owner outweighs having a short commute.
Moving was pretty uneventful but because of the pandemic, there are shortages and delays and it’s taking a long time to get some of the new furniture I bought. I am still waiting for a bed and couch, so I have been living with my mom in the meantime.
I'm new at owning, but so far I am enjoying having more flexibility to do what I want with my own property. There is definitely greater responsibility as an owner, but I think that also creates a deeper appreciation of your home and the space you create.
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