The first time Jenn Leyva moved to New York, it was to start college at Columbia University. After graduation, the San Diego native headed to Seoul for a two-year stint teaching English and then returned to the city in 2015 to pursue a career as a public school teacher. But she was short on funds, so a friend offered to sublet her a room in a house in Midwood, Brooklyn, where she would have six housemates.
Ms. Leyva, now 32, jumped at the chance. By 2021, she was a middle-school chemistry teacher in Manhattan, still living in that Midwood house. She took Zoom calls in a corner of the communal living room and made sure to always wash her dishes.
“I shared a bathroom with two other roommates,” she said. “Our kitchen had two fridges, and we had a six-burner stove where two people could easily be cooking at the same time.”
All the while, she was tucking money away in a savings account, hoping to amass a down payment for a place of her own. She figured she could spend up to $2,000 a month on a mortgage, which, with her savings, would allow her a budget of around $350,000 for the purchase. As the pandemic began to wane and interest rates crept up, she decided the time had come.
“I wanted to at least start looking and see if there was anything I liked that I could afford,” she said. “And if there wasn’t, I figured I could wait and keep saving money.”
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She was pleasantly surprised by the options she found online: a handful of studios for less than $400,000, just south of the Brooklyn Bridge, in the corner of the borough where leafy Brooklyn Heights meets Dumbo and Downtown Brooklyn. And all of the apartments met her criteria: They were within walking distance of multiple subway lines, had a bathtub as well as a shower, and had a separate kitchen space where she could enjoy her elaborate baking projects.
It felt too good to be true. “Studios were cheap, because everyone was still working from home and wanted a one-bedroom with a separate sleeping space and work space,” Ms. Leyva said. “But my work space is in Manhattan.”
She teamed up with Leora Blumberg Rubinstein, a realtor with Douglas Elliman, who approved of her strategy. “Sometimes when you have a really lovely neighborhood that’s also super expensive, it’s worthwhile to look at the fringe to find something that meets your budget,” she said. “Jenn was very open-minded.”
Among the options:
Studio With Renovated Kitchen
This studio in a doorman co-op complex had track lighting, good closet space and plenty of light. Ms. Leyva liked the tiny, windowed kitchen, which had been renovated with new cabinets and stainless steel appliances. But there was a Murphy bed, which gave her pause. And despite the apartment’s charm, it had been on the market for more than a year, which made her nervous. After a recent price reduction, it was offered for $349,000, with about $800 in monthly maintenance.
Studio With New Floors
Although there wasn’t much natural light in this co-op unit, it had beautiful new floors, and Ms. Leyva was impressed by the full-service doorman. The windows looked out onto the New York City Department of Education building, where she had spent many an unhappy afternoon filing paperwork for her job. There were perks like an in-unit dishwasher and a gym in the building. The asking price was $325,000, with monthly maintenance of about $725.
Studio With Investment Potential
The $299,000 asking price for this co-op studio was enough to attract Ms. Leyva — although when she saw the aging carpet and broken kitchen cabinets, she understood why the apartment wasn’t more expensive. But it had promise. It faced east and got lovely morning light. It overlooked a courtyard rather than a busy street. And there would be money left over for renovations. Also, the building had a gym and a roof deck. Monthly maintenance was about $830.
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