Tips on Buying a House in Brooklyn Part 2 / by greg brophy

Armed with the knowledge of FHA's and what we can afford we went to see a few places with the broker. Most were around $800,000 in Bedstuy and not exactly the beautiful brownstones we were seeing everywhere. They were crappy wood frame houses. We were basically looking for a place with a full finished basement so I could use it as a darkroom and Eni to sell antique furniture from. We needed at least a two bedroom and a rental apartment above. Eni started calling other realtors and really digging through sites to find places. Eni would call to talk to the broker, but a lot of times they did not take her seriously or were very rude with her. Mostly we think because English is her third language and she is a woman. When I called they were all polite and accommodating. Eventually she made an appointment with a realtor I shall call Samuel. I don't want to use his real name and it will become evident later why. He had 3 places to show us in Bedstuy. When we met with him, I had an uneasy feeling and did not completely trust him and neither did Eni. We looked at what he had and they were much better, but still not right. Sam suggested another place in the Flatbush Ditmas Park area. We were hesitant because we had not really heard much about that area. The next weekend we went and saw two places. The first one was very big, but not the prettiest place I have ever seen so we went to the other place. This house is a Limestone townhouse that when Eni walked into, she fell in love. It had everything we wanted. It was fully renovated and had access to the backyard from outside the house and so we made a bid. The price was $800,000 but put a bid in at $750,000. They countered with $775,000, which was in our budget so we accepted. Then the real fun began.


I knew nothing about closing on a house so I asked a few coworkers for recommendations on a lawyer. There is an old joke that goes “What’s the difference between Linda (the lawyer that was recommended) and a junk yard dog? Lipstick.” Well that summed up our Lawyer pretty well and we were pretty confident with her that we would not get screwed. They sent over the first contract and she basically laughed at it. Basically they wanted to sell as is with no warranty or guarantee on anything with the house. This is actually normal with developers who renovate and flip a house in two months. She asked about permits. Their answer basically was “Permits? We don’t need no stinkin permits” this is Brooklyn. Ok what about Certificate of Occupancy? “What you actually want to live there?” What I basically learned was that nobody gets permits in Brooklyn (or at least in places like Flatbush, Bedstuy, Crown Heights or Bushwick) there is no way you could buy renovate and sell within two months and get permits which is what they all basically do. Now when buying a house the two most important sites you can use are: for finding out about permits and violations and for months I lived on these sites researching everything about the house down to who owned it in 1905 by pulling up images of the original contracts. Even my agent was amazed (and pissed) at how much research I had done. The house had a few minor violations but nothing serious that wasn’t going to be cleared by the time we closed. As for the permits, everybody told me not to buy a house without permits, but we could not find a single house under 2 million that had them and wasn’t located in Park Slope. Just to check, I went to the house while another agent had an open house and pretended like I had never seen it before and asked about permits. Same thing, no permits in Brooklyn.


Ok so we said it is a risk we will have to take in order to buy a house, but lets at least get it inspected before we sign anything. I found a good inspector named Zack (real name) and he was great. He spent 3 hours and was very patient. Well while we where there the roof started to leak much to the embarrassment of the agent. Next thing he noticed was termites. They tried to hide it but it was still slightly visible. The biggest problems with these houses that they flip is that if it has a basement and it is sheet rocked, they are not doing it to make it better or more valuable, they are doing it to hide problems with the pipes, beams or termites. We were actually shown a house that had such a bad termite problem that they had eaten through most of the beam and I thought that if I touched it, it would collapse then and there. They wanted 1 million for that house. Armed with the report with the inspector with went back to negotiate. To say they were less than willing to negotiate is a huge understatement. They were so hostile and nasty that they actually cursed out my lawyer for wanting them to fix things like a leaky roof and termites and give a warranty. Two things sellers really hate, warranties and escrows. The real estate agent told us that our lawyer was being too tough. I responded great I don’t want a push over for a lawyer; I want someone who is willing to fight for our own best interests. Eventually the real estate broker offered to fix the roof out of his own pocket to close. Well as we tried to finish up the details our lawyer went on vacation and when she got back their lawyer went on vacation so that was 3 weeks of stress about whether we would close before someone else came along with a better offer. Now they are both back and we are trying to get them to agree on the final contract and the seller’s lawyer stops responding. Not a good sign. They told us eventually that they no longer thought it was worth their time to deal with us and that we were not serious about buying the house. In reality they got a cash offer for $740,000 and they took it. We were livid. I was so angry and sick to my stomach. Eni just keep saying it was not meant to be and we will find something better, but at this point the prices of the houses were going up by $50,000 a month and were quickly going out of our price range. Depression set it and if I heard one more person say you will find something better, I was not only going to punch them in the face but their Grandmother as well.


Afterwards I said to Eni I need a week to just rest. I had been dealing with constant phone calls between the lawyers and agent and fighting everyday and I was just emotionally exhausted. Three days late my persistent wife arranged to see some more places. I was reluctant to look and we did for months. We even looked out as far as Cypress Hills, which has some beautiful homes, but they are just too far from any meaningful transportation. Then as we were giving up hope of ever finding a place our agent took us too Crown Heights.