When a "for sale" sign went up on the building where Susie Mann and her husband John were renting, they decided to buy—and realized there were more affordable options on the UWS than in their Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. They're thrilled with their quiet, low-key building. Here's their story.
I was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida and so was my husband, John, but he moved away our freshman year of high school and considers New Orleans home. We have lived in three cities together while married and for the past six years we were in an apartment in Brooklyn Heights, right by the entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park. That was the longest we have lived anywhere.
We lived with our two adopted pups, Ella and Lego, in a two bedroom that was more like a one bedroom with a second, tiny room. The unit was a 700-square-foot garden apartment in the bottom of a 200-year-old brownstone with a washer/dryer, dishwasher, Viking stove, and fireplace. The monthly rent was $3,900.
I'm a freelance photographer and do a ton of work in Dumbo and throughout Brooklyn as well as Manhattan. My husband is in tech—he worked in Dumbo initially—we rented that apartment so he could walk to work. He then began working in Soho and took the R train there. The great thing about that location is that we had all the trains we could need: the N, R, 1, 2, 4, and 5. I tend to use Uber a lot because I have to lug all my camera gear.
The apartment was tiny for the four of us, especially when the pandemic hit. Initially, we loved the location but because it was by the park, we had lots of street noise. We enjoyed having a garden space even though we had to share it with our upstairs neighbors, who were also noisy. At times it felt we were in a dark cave. Being in an old building meant there were the typical leaks and quirks. Still, it was cute and quaint. The fireplace was cozy in the winter.
[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 a historic neighborhood reminiscent of Europe, with cobblestone streets and old brownstones. It was a great place to be during the pandemic. We always felt safe there and everyone knows everyone. It's like a real-life version of the NYC neighborhoods you see in the movies—especially at Halloween! The streets are packed with children in costumes trick-or-treating. We passed out rubber ducks every year and I put a fairy door in our front patio garden, so we became known as the “The Fairy Door” house.
It's unlike any Manhattan neighborhood I have ever lived in. Even movie stars (Matt Damon, Kerri Russell, Peter Dinklage, Ben McKenzie, and Morena Baccarin) live there. Some of the older residents who have been here forever aren't very open to newcomers, but over time we came to know all our neighbors and were active in the community.
Best Cleaners on Henry Street was an amazing dry cleaner with greats prices and great work. Pet's Emporium on Montague will be missed. Sam, who has owned the pet store for 30 years, is by now our friend. The UPS Store (also on Montague) is the best! I avoided the post office at all costs.
Buying a place—and surviving the co-op approval process
About two years ago the owners decided to sell the entire brownstone so we decided we wanted to buy our own place rather than look for another rental.
Initially we planned to stay in Brooklyn Heights, but finding a real two bedroom there was difficult, as was finding something for $1.5 million or less. I tend to do a lot of work in Central Park, so we decided to expand our search and began looking seriously on the Upper West Side in the beginning of 2022—and to move asap due to rising interest rates.
We connected with Fainna Kagan, a broker at Corcoran. She is an UWS guru! We told her we wanted a real two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit with an open layout, dishwasher, and washer/dryer, preferably on the ground floor. It also needed to be pet friendly.
From January to June, we saw about 12 properties and lost out to a higher bidder on one apartment before finding another one we liked—a large two bedroom on West End Avenue near Riverside Park. It is in a low-key, non-doorman, 45-unit co-op building that was listed for $1.225 million and had been on the market for over three months. It lacked a washer/dryer and fireplace, but it ticked most of the other boxes.
Fortunately for us it went on the market in December and was likely overlooked during that lull time. I like to think it was just waiting for us to find it!
The board approval process was grueling, like getting a colonoscopy of your life. We each had to submit three letters of recommendation from our business life along with five personal letters for us as a couple. Plus, we needed to provide bank statements and our tax history. It was stressful, but Fainna prepared us well and it went smoothly in the end.
Fainna also helped us negotiate the price—we bought it for $1.19 million. So we now have a monthly $4,800 mortgage payment. It feels amazing to be investing in our home rather than paying rent to someone else.
Loving the quiet neighborhood—and easier access to theater and restaurants
Thankfully the place we chose was move-in ready! Our kitchen has beautiful marble countertops as well as a half bath, where we plan to put in a washer/dryer. In the meantime we are using the laundry machines in the building's basement. As a gardener I miss having a patio space for hydrangeas and ferns, but I'll be buying houseplants soon! I brought one potted succulent with me, and it is loving its new spot in the kitchen.
The location is amazing. So far, the word I would use to describe it is: quiet! I can step out of my door and not have to wait for foot traffic to pass when taking the dogs out.
I love being close to the park and connecting with new families on the UWS. I didn’t take as many clients on the UWS while living in Brooklyn due to the long commute.
We have so many more options for food, too. We love Five Napkin Burger, French Roast, and having easy access to countless other Manhattan restaurants. My husband is a fan of Marks Off Madison and we can now take delivery from there.
Food shopping here is tricky. Fairway is 10 blocks away and Zabar's doesn’t have everything, plus it's costly. The Gristedes that was near us on 86th Street. closed, so we could use a new grocery in the area.
We are avid theatergoers so it's great being closer to all the theaters—and to be near my actor friends who live in the area. We are also excited to be near a Redeemer Presbyterian Church location, which was a long trek from Brooklyn.
My husband still commutes to Soho, which is slightly harder to do from the UWS than our old nabe. He takes the 2 to Times Square and transfers to the R. I am about to encounter my busy fall season, so I anticipate navigating everywhere just as I normally do (by Uber).
All in all this was a great move! Friends and family notice how gorgeous our apartment is and how much natural light it gets. Also, how quiet it is! We feel we are exactly where we are supposed to be.
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