image of buying a condo in Brooklyn

Buying a condo in Brooklyn can be difficult. Here’s how one couple went from renting in Philly to owning in Bed-Stuy.

Common real estate wisdom in New York City holds that you should rent before you buy. It takes a unique combination of confidence and financial stability to leap from renting in Philadelphia to buying a condo in Brooklyn, but that’s what 32-year-old Evan Clinton (name changed for privacy) decided to do. Eventually, Evan, his girlfriend Rachel, and their Labrador, Gabriel, did succeed in getting a place in Bedford-Stuyvesant — but not before getting burned a bit first.

How did you end up buying a condo in Brooklyn?

I had been renting in Philly for several years, but Rachel was living in Brooklyn. Like everyone else, we looked briefly in the West Village, and quickly realized we couldn’t afford it. The maintenance and management fees were absurd. Ultimately, the prices were better in Brooklyn and we really liked that it had more of a neighborhood feel.

Is Brooklyn as competitive as Manhattan?

The competition was totally dependent on weather. On sunny days, it was really competitive and the open houses were packed. If it was raining, you could get a shot on goal. It really pays to go out days when other people won’t.

So you leapt feet-first into the buyer’s market? What about renting?

I never considered renting. I’d saved enough money to buy a place working in Philly but what I saw there was pretty lousy. The prospects were so much better in New York City, and financially it made more sense to buy here now. I was really conscious of rising interest rates.

What were you looking for?

For starters, a dog-friendly apartment — for Gabriel  — was a must. We honed in a 1-bedroom, because that made sense financially. And while we liked the idea of a garden apartments, we ruled them out because of rodents and flooding. In the end, we prioritized condos, but we didn’t want one with a doorman or excessive amenities.

Why a condo?

Two big factors appealed to me — tax abatements and more flexibility. The cost and pain of buying and selling a place are significant, so whenever we do decide to trade up, I’d rather not have to go through it all again. I’d rather take advantage of a condo’s flexible subletting policy to hold onto the investment and rent it out. And then, who knows, maybe in 30 years, sell it. If I did that, I’d want to represent myself.

It sounds like you know a lot about the market — especially for a renter coming from Philly. How’d you get so savvy?

Well, it helps that my mom was a broker for many years, but for better or worse, I am overconfident in most things. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have had to use a broker, but found sellers’ agents were hostile when we showed up without one. Over the process, we got really good at asking questions and cutting through their nonsense.

Did you have any bad experiences with sellers?

We did — we got burned pretty badly. It was on our first offer  — a place near Crown Heights. The sellers immediately accepted our offer, and we went through the whole process of getting approved for a mortgage, and having our lawyer go through all the paperwork. We were literally days from signing the contract when the sellers pulled out and went with an all-cash buyer. I’m pretty certain they had been negotiating with us in bad faith. It was entirely unethical and really jaded me.

Did you work with a broker after that?

In general, I am very skeptical of the middleman – in large part because they add unnecessary cost. We ended up hiring a friend who is a broker, and since we were doing all of the legwork already, they represented us and shared the commission.

How much work were you doing?

A lot. It became a part-time job. We saw at least 50 places, put offers in on four. We created our own comps using StreetEasy and called 20 banks to get the best mortgage rate.

Sounds stressful. Was it?

Getting all the moving parts lined up was stressful, but the soothing voice of a broker wasn’t going to make a difference for us. Once when we had an accepted offer, we spent hours every night reviewing the various contracts and paperwork.

So what’s your place like?

We got a 1-bedroom in a recently constructed condo in Bed-Stuy. It had what we wanted, and most importantly, didn’t have what we didn’t want. We didn’t need anything too fancy that would increase the common charges. As an added perk, the unit came with a parking spot. Since we don’t have a car, we can rent it out.

How did you know the place was for you?

We spent an afternoon and evening in the area and liked the vibe. We read up on local businesses. There was one negative comment on Yelp that described loud street music on Saturday nights. That concerned us, so we actually did a stakeout, but we found nothing.

Sounds like you are pretty happy.

I am happy to not have to move every year. And while we like the place a lot, I am not the type of person to get sentimental about homeownership. Maybe later in life I will feel that way, but for now it’s just nice to be over with the process.

Do you have any tips for first-time buyers out there?

If a place has been on the market for a long time, there’s probably something wrong with it. Ask about both the things you see and you don’t see: assessments against the building, water stains, whatever. Those are things the sellers won’t reveal, so you have to ask. And don’t expect necessarily to get a straight answer.

Hey, why not like StreetEasy on Facebook and follow @streeteasy on Instagram?