New York City

Behind the Photo - Ali by greg brophy

One of the first people I photographed in Willets Point was Ali. Ali is from Afghanistan and came here after his brother Frank moved to the United States where they started the New Mustang Auto Parts store in Willets Point 15 years ago.

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Behind the Photo - Junk Yard Dog by greg brophy

This is the first post in a series where I explain the backstory of the photos from The Iron Triangle.

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Tips on Buying a House in Brooklyn Part 5 by greg brophy

We had not really packed anything until the final contract was signed and we had keys in our hands just in case something happened or we would jinx it by packing before we signed. I started to look around for some moving companies, I have heard of some horror stories. Most won’t tell you on their website and you have to call. When you do call they ask how many rooms and give you a price of about $1500 for a one bedroom. 

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Tips on Buying a House in Brooklyn Part 4 by greg brophy

When it was time to get a mortgage, our agent suggested the company we used for the mortgage. It was The Federal Savings Bank. The Broker was a little pushy, reminded me of Joe Pesci, and we went to his office to start the paper work. We had talked to him many times before that, but had never seen him in person. The office is so far out there in Queens, I thought I would be flying back home via JFK. It was a small dingy office from the 80’s, just like you would see in movies.

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Tips on Buying a house in Brooklyn part 3 by greg brophy

How do You Say FU in Brooklyn or Learning the Local Vernacular

It a cold winter night and our broker shows us a few houses in Bedstuy and Crown Heights. The first two house we really no good and the Agent turned to us and said “I have a house, it’s still being renovated and is not on the market yet but will be soon.” They key to finding a good place in Brooklyn is having an agent with connections in the neighborhood. Our Agent went to the same synagogue as the seller of the house. We pull up to the house and it was promising, three stories with a basement. The outside was in ok condition but we were told they would be redoing the outside of the house as well. It was a fake red brick. We walked into the second floor where the master bedroom would be. It was covered in a pink shag carpet and looked pretty bad. Eni gave me this look like she wanted to just leave, but I said wait, lets see. We walked through the house and saw 3 bedrooms upstairs and a huge open living room and kitchen downstairs. There was very little there, just a large empty hole. Next we went to the basement, which was a little short but had cool brick walls and we were told they were going to finish the ceiling with sheet rock. It can be very helpful to see a house in this stage before they are able to hide all the problems. I looked at the beam and it seemed like it was in pretty good shape. I could see the pipes, but it did not mean much to me at the time. We finally went upstairs and saw the two-bedroom apartment. It was a pretty good size and very nice, or at least better than what we were currently living in. 

I managed to get a minute alone with Eni to ask her what she thought. She was not very impressed with the place, but I told her to wait and lets see what it would look like done. I could visualize what it would look like and saw the potential based on all the other places we had seen. The next day, the agent took us to a place the seller had also renovated in Bushwick and it was ok compared to the other houses we saw, usually they use the cheapest appliances and cabinets from Home Depot. To give you an idea, if we were to do the kitchen ourselves, we would spend $25,000-30,000 at least. Most renovated houses look like they spent $10,000.

Eni was convinced and we put in an offer without seeing it fully done. Our agent told us that the seller wanted to wait for the place to be fully done before he accepted any offers. This is a good and a bad idea. Good because sometimes it’s the only way to get a place in a competitive market like Brooklyn. Bad because the seller has not incentive to make any more upgrades to the house and will finish it off as cheap as possible.  The other important thing we learned about biding on houses is that if the seller is asking for $800,000 he really wants $850,000. They hope that by offering it at a low price (I know, the irony is not lost on me) that more people will bid on it and raise the price. When it can time to make an offer, we bid on what the seller asked for, the agent was not very enthused. In the meantime while we waited for the house to finish; approximately two weeks, we looked for other houses. After about 5 more houses, we were still convinced that the one in Crown Heights was for us.

Finally the house is pretty much done and the broker submitted our bid. He came back saying that he really wanted $50,000 more. We were very disappointed because it was out of our budget and we really liked the place. I actually was pretty pissed off that the agent did not tell us this before. He said if he is going to have an open house next weekend and if he doesn’t get any offers he might sell to use. I believe they just suspected that we would say ok. The next day after talking it over with Eni, we told the broker thanks but no thanks. He was also pretty disappointed but I did not like the idea of not being taken seriously and being someone else’s backup plan. So I asked the broker to see more places. The next week we went to see three more places in Bedstuy and Crown Heights, two of which I found myself and forwarded to the broker. We saw all three of them and well surprise; all three were actually pretty good and all in our price range. So while discussing the places we found, the broker told us that the seller of the house we liked in Crown Heights would agree to our offer if we upped it 25,000 more and decided now. He would also not have the open house or accept any other offers. At that price, the place was now again within our reach and we said ok.

The next day I called Zack, the inspector to come and look at the place on Saturday. He gets there a little earlier than us, but I was surprised by the fact that they were still having an open house. Something the seller said he would not do. That should have been my first hint that the seller was less than honorable. Well we can play dirty as well. To begin with the two other real estate agents there were not happy that we had an inspector there during the open house, but they were not the brightest agents I have ever met either. We were upstairs with the inspector when a couple came to look at the house. Eni acted like she had never seen the place before and said to me in a very loud voice “Greg did you see how bad that leak is?” “This place has lots of problems!” and other similar comments when other buyers were around. Eni moved downstairs and heard one of the agents say to the couple ”Well these guys already have an inspector here and the deal is almost done.” What agent says that to people? What a dumbass. The couple was pissed and said to the agent “Why did you have us come here then?” We were all downstairs in the kitchen and the agent was eating fried chicken. The whole place smelled of greasy food. Not the kind of scent you want in a house you are trying to sell. Eni turned to him and said “You should pay me for letting you eat in my Kitchen.” The look on his face was priceless. She said I am going to buy this place and if you sell it to someone else I will kill you. When anther couple came in they had their back to Eni and the Real Estate agent was facing Eni. She made a motion across her neck like slitting a throat. I don’t think he knew what to do with us.

The inspector was finished and we went over his finding. The good news was that there were no termites he could see and no major problems. Most of them were pretty minor and what wasn’t, we asked the seller to fix. He agreed to most of the fixes. The only main problem was that the heating system had not yet been turned on and we would have to come back to check that. Two days later we went back for a final review and signed the papers. I gave him a check and told them that the money is being transferred from one account to the next and to wait a two days before cashing the check. 

This is a pretty long series, but I feel that it is important other people know what is happening so they don't get ripped off too. The other two parts are written and I will post them next week.

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.



Daily Pics October 20th, 2014 by greg brophy

I don't remember when I took this, but it must have been a long time ago because I took it with the Digital Medium Format Camera I used to use. Obviously it is not a Blockbuster with only two people there. I believe this is in the Bronx

Blockbuster Video

Daily Pics October 5th, 2014 by greg brophy

The last in a series of Factory Doors from Greenpoint Brooklyn.

Daily Pics September 15th, 2014 by greg brophy

My wife and I are looking to buy a house. While checking out one in the Flatbush Brooklyn area I came across the Nostrand Donut Shop. There is something that I just love about old signage.