When Sally Jones, a Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn home renovation blogger who writes Renov8or, started looking to upgrade from a one-bedroom (pictured above) to a two-bedroom apartment, she quickly realized that the neighborhood, and even the borough she had long called home, was no longer in her price range. Here’s her tale of finding her new home.
You know the neighborhood in Brooklyn that everyone loves right now — the one near Prime Meat and Buttermilk Channel and Black Gold and Trader Joe’s and Fairway? The one with all those brownstones with front gardens and bathtub madonnas? Yeah, Carroll Gardens. That one. I’m moving out of that neighborhood and I’m heading for Queens.
It’s not that I don’t love Carroll Gardens anymore. It’s not the much-discussed-among-the-natives “French” taking over the hood thanks to the immersion schools (though my friends with kids tell me that’s a real game-changer). It’s not even the much-maligned “hipsters” moving in. I welcomed the great restaurants and food shops and vinyl record stores, hey, even the hipsters. Live and let live.
It’s not any of that. To paraphrase a failed candidate for governor: The rents are just too damned high!
And as rents climb, purchase prices follow. A good thing for me The Seller. For me The Buyer, not so much.
I moved to CG in 1998, when anything south of 4th Place was verboten. Really. It’s hard to believe it now, but as a single woman buying her first apartment, I was warned against anything south of the “Place” streets. And my friends in Manhattan — they had to think twice about attending a party if it meant crossing a bridge. But, long-time renovation junkie that I am, raised at the heels of parents who upgraded every home we lived in, I recognized the potential of CG south of the Place Streets (then still called Red Hook) and I honed in. Price per square foot? Check. Proximity to Manhattan? Check? Ethnic diversity? Check. First rung on the property ladder.
None of which, by the way, is true of the nieghborhood today. For someone looking to buy their first apartment right now, Carroll Gardens is not your right place — unless you have a trust fund or a guarantor.
My first purchase in Carroll Gardens was a walk-up one bedroom in a sponsor controlled co-op on Clinton Street and Luquer Street. (I later learned it had been the home of playwright laureate Tony Kushner, who lived there with his sister). There was a slight risk for my investment. The co-op had no board in place — we newcomers had to form a board and wrest control from the sponsor. But, just $13K down got me in. And I ran with it. With a few minor upgrades — I installed upper cabinets in the kitchen while my dad tiled over the old checkerboard linoleum, hung french doors, and put in a washer and dryer — I sold that apartment a few years later for 3x what I had paid for it. (Thanks, Dad!)
That funded my next home, a one bedroom + garden in desperate need of a kitchen and bath reno. This one was beyond Dad’s help (he lived 1,000 miles away). But I found a great contractor in the hood, and we elevated that apartment to a grand level.
Fast forward to today and my need for space has changed. I met a guy and we acquired a cat — and now I need someplace to house all his guitars… some place that isn’t the living room. But when I looked around Carroll Gardens to see where I might next put my nest egg, it was with the sad realization that we are priced out. A one bedroom + garden, no matter how stupendous I made it, won’t cover the cost of a two bedroom.
So I started casting around for the next “real estate frontier” — and found it in Jackson Heights, Queens.
I know Jackson Heights well. My best friend in college lived in The Towers, and I was invited for all those holidays that I couldn’t make it home to see my family.
Thanksgiving, Easter, New Years. I have very happy memories of the neighborhood and the elegant apartment of my friend’s family. If you aren’t familiar with The Towers, it’s prewar luxury at it’s finest: Four bedrooms, formal dining room, fireplace, maid’s room, butler’s panty, private gardens. Through the years, I learned all about Jackson Heights history. It was the first planned garden community in New York City, and with the rise of the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan, just 15 minutes to midtown by train. Blocks and blocks of grand-scale prewar apartments that were built to house families, and with full-staff maintenance teams and co-op boards preserving and protecting these buildings throughout the ages.
What I still don’t understand is why these co-ops are so underpriced compared to Brooklyn — grand architecture, price per sq ft, lovingly maintained buildings, 7 stops from Manhattan. What more can you ask for?
Honestly, I have not paused to figure this all out. I simply saw what I wanted and snatched one up.
Last week my offer on a two bedroom, 1000+ square foot co-op apartment (pictured above) was accepted. I am already lining up my contractor, engineer, and inspector — and I will share my details as soon as I have the deal sealed — and plan to document every step of my loving renovation. This apartment is going to be a show-stopper!
My message to anyone looking to buy: Jackson Heights is the next New York City real estate frontier.
If you want to see for yourself, just follow my breadcrumbs…
Carroll Gardens photo: David Castillo/Blue Barn Pictures