Brooklyn Bridge: Buying & Renovating in Greenwood Heights

Not all buying journeys are alike—in fact, each deal has its own set of obstacles that will inevitably rear their ugly heads at precisely the worst possible time. That’s why we are bringing back our Brooklyn Bridge Blog Series. In this series, our past clients share their experiences so you can get a real sense of what the New York home buying journey is like—and this time, we spoke to Realty Collective client Rebecca. Below is her story of purchasing and renovating her family’s home in 2022, right in the chaotic aftermath of the pandemic.

Buying & Renovating in Greenwood Heights:

The two-family rowhouse in Greenwood Heights that Rebecca first laid eyes on in 2021 was not her dream home. It wasn’t even one of the first offers she made on a place in Brooklyn. But she and her husband had been renting for years—and like many others—they quickly found that a cozy apartment becomes cramped and claustrophobic when dealing with a global pandemic, especially while parenting a young child.

Tired of being shut inside, the family would set out most weekend mornings on their bikes to ride all over Brooklyn, looking at homes for sale. But they weren’t having much luck. Realty Collective founder Victoria Alexander regularly rallied the family’s spirit, keeping them from losing faith in the process. The pandemic also added an extra level of difficulty. COVID-19 precautions meant queueing up outside listings in all weather and putting in offers that were regularly trumped by other buyers. If you were in the city then, you’ll likely remember that it was a scary and stressful time.

So it was against this backdrop that Rebecca and her family set out to become homeowners. We got the sense that they liked a challenge.

If at first you don’t succeed…

What happened when the family put in that initial offer? They got turned down. It was back to schlepping the whole family into bikes and tooling around the entire borough. Rebecca joked that by the end of the process, their 6-year-old son spoke in “realtor talk,” once lamenting that a home they looked at didn’t even have a “real bathroom.” It was a tough lesson to learn, but good to get over with early. Two more months went by. More biking, more offers, more turndowns. Until Rebecca noticed that the 1910 rowhouse was suddenly back on the market. She and Victoria lept into action — and this time, her offer did the trick.

At the time Rebecca’s family was going through the buying process, the interest rates were fluctuating, meaning that once the opportunity presented itself, they had to move fast, dealing with an extremely accelerated closing. But whether it was the stress of house hunting, parenting during a pandemic, or maybe just all the biking, the family pulled together and got it done.

Now what?

Though the house was now theirs, it still wasn’t quite in move-in condition. But this is where Rebecca was finally able to exercise some control over the decisions being made. She and her husband spoke to their new neighbors. They got a recommendation for an architect who specialized in Brooklyn rowhouses needing extensive renovation. They worked tirelessly to bring their vision to reality, but Rebecca stressed that it was vital to know one’s budget, stick to it, and to put in the work to find contractors one can work with. Supply shortages meant delays beyond their control. Still, the family rolled with the punches.



Kids Room. (Photo courtesy of Keller Williams Realty Empire)

Master Bedroom. (Photo courtesy of Keller Williams Realty Empire)

Powder room. (Photo courtesy of Keller Williams Realty Empire)



Now look at their kid’s bedroom! It’s infused with much more color and personality!

The new and improved master bedroom.

The new powder room.

For her part, Rebecca acknowledges that budget limitations meant choices were made that her family is still not in love with. And they may stay that way for some time — at least until they can upgrade in the future. “Money doesn’t appear magically,” she cautions. “It’s exciting to think about customizing something, but it’s very hard to do on a low budget.”

Yet the family is also thrilled to have more space, to live on a street they’ve since fallen in love with, and to be in a home they can finally call their own.

Renovation Takeaways: 

Contrary to what’s shown in an hour-long home improvement show, renovations are hard work. And there are months and months of it. Rebecca shared that she and her husband now know so much more about the process of buying and renovating a home than they did before (though she joked that she’s going to die there because she’s never doing it again). That said, her experience offers plenty of key lessons for anyone thinking of taking on a fixer-upper.

For one thing, the family was resourceful. Biking all over Brooklyn was surely not the kind of experience they expected, but their keen sense for the market (and desire to make things happen) certainly helped.

Secondly, reno is pricey — but there are ways you can work some of the cost into your mortgage. We even created a guide to help you through it.

Finally, we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to stay as flexible as possible during the process of home buying, as Rebecca and her family did. Your first offers may be rejected, and your list of must-haves might get whittled down by reality, but sooner or later, you’ll own a piece of New York City (and you can go back to biking through it just for fun).


If you’re interested in learning more about the buying process, download our free Buying Into Brooklyn Ebook. We share a ton of valuable resources to demystify the buying process and help you become a Brooklyn homeowner.

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