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

Moving Time

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. They come and pack everything and move everything supplying boxes and all. We were not crazy about the idea of other people packing our stuff and we were not in a rush so we decided to do it our selves. Packing yourself really doesn’t save you much money, but I just don’t like the idea of someone else packing my things. While at work I was talking to a coworker who had recently moved and told me about Papi Moving, basically a Guatemalan family with some big trucks. I called but the person who answered only spoke Spanish so I had Eni call. Out of all the moving companies, they were the only ones who wanted to see what we had. The person came and quoted us half the price of everyone else. I say the Van they were using and they seemed to have their act together so we choose them.


Before we moved in, I had to show the apartment we are renting to an agent. That night the weather dropped significantly to a frigid 6 degrees. I got into the house and it was freezing cold so I turned up the temperature. I showed the apartment and the agent was surprised when it was a real two bedroom and not a 1 bedroom split in half.


A week later we moved. Everything went well and nothing broke. We had fun with the movers and they worked very had and were very pleasant. The first week we are in the house and we are getting settled in. The weather dipped really low again and we turned up the thermostat and went to bed. The next morning we wake up and Eni tells me we have no water and the house is freezing, yup, all the pipes froze. The water and heating pipes are both frozen. I call my father and he tells me to get a heat gun and warm them up. I call the inspector and he suggests a plumber and I call the agent. I manage to get the water pipes unfrozen, but we had no heat and we are breaking weather records. The plumber can only come the next day and the agent can’t come until the next day as well. I got to Target and buy 12 space heaters and put them throughout the house and on all the pipes.


My father comes the next day and checks things out with the furnace. Everything seems to be working and then the plumber shows up. I will call him Andy. Andy looks at it and immediately notices a lever that he turns on. The lever controls the water to the furnace and during warmer weather you don’t need it turned fully on in order to conserve water. Being that it was December – January it needed more water in order to heat up the pipes. Basically the seller never turned the heat fully on. Ok great easy fix, luckily none of the pipes had busted…yet. Andy was there all day trying to get the heat up but to no avail. He came back for 3 more days trying to get them to work. What a pain in the ass. The both of us could only think how much a plumber on the weekend for 4 days is going to cost us. He was ready to start cutting open walls and cutting pipes when viola, it worked again. Andy was great and he saved us. Fearful of the bill, he told us a number that made me almost pass out, but only because it was so low. Our first child will be named Andy. The agent showed up a few times and I read him the riot act, but ultimately once you sign those papers, all the problems are yours whether it is their fault or not. That was the last time we saw the agent. Andy basically told us that one of the main problems we have is that there is not insulation at all in the house and that they would keep freezing until we get the place insulated at a cost of $4500.


A week goes buy and the heat is at 100% but we are still having a problem with the water pipes in the kitchen freezing. The temperature of the house never really goes above 65 degrees and the house next door where the pipes share the same wall is unoccupied and has no heat. I call Andy and ask him to take a look. He seems to think the water pump is too hot and working too hard but not really doing anything so we replace it. Well that doesn’t work, things are still the same and every morning I am waking up and heating the pipes so that Eni can make breakfast. Andy comes back again and after a day of trying to figure it out, he tells me that there must be a block in the water pipe. The water is not fully circulating, therefore not really heating the house. The pipes are hot, but not really enough. Andy suggests we wait until it’s warm out and then try to find the block but in the meantime keep the thermostat at the highest temperature.


This sucks. I paid an inspector to check all of this out, but it was warm out. The pipes were too hot to touch so how can you really tell that it is not hot enough. On top of trying to deal with all of this, the idiots hooked up the thermostat for the 3rd floor apartment to the actual furnace in the basement. Upstairs was 90 degrees and the heat was running all the time because the thermostat in the basement is reading 50 degrees. The agent told me it was a wireless system with a sensor upstairs to regulate the heat, but it did not connect to the main thermostat. Again, the room is warm and the heat is working, but it is working too much. It turns out that you need about 2 or three more items for the thermostats and sensors to actually communicate. I tried buying them but the whole wireless thing wasn’t working. I even had Andy look at it and he gave up so we had to run a wire to the actual basement in order to get it to work. Talk about high gas bills!


What the hell else could go wrong, how about the sewer pipe backing up and flooding the basement ruining a lot of what we had there? Mind you all of this is in the first month of being there. We are bleeding cash. It turns out that when they were fixing the house, they just pushed garbage and debris into the open toilet holes. Things like scrap tile and wood. Andy to the rescue again.


Ok that must be it right? Wrong, when we went through the walk through we noticed a gas smell. The agent pretended like he didn’t smell it, but it was there. He told us it was fixed, but I had their plumber come 3 times to fix it. Do you think they fixed it? Nope, Andy again. When we originally had Andy come to the house and fix the pipes, he gave us a really low price. I said to him “are you sure?” He replied, don’t worry I will be back.


Now at this point it’s the coldest winter in the history on NYC. We are wearing coats to bed. I am waking up to heat the pipes every morning. It’s windy as hell and the heating pipes from on me again. Turns out the pilot light on the hot water heater went out while we were at work. I am getting to be an old pro at this. I turn the pilot light back on and we are good. Two days later the pilot light went out again. I ask Andy why and he tells me it’s because we don’t have a chimney cover and the wind blows it out. Ok so I buy some covers, but I cannot go on the roof. It is covered in snow and I have to wait.


Why escrows are bad

During this whole time, one of the main things in the escrow was to remove all trash in the backyard. I show the backyard multiple times to the agent and he says well they cleaned most of it. I told him the contract says all of it. All of it included tree trunks, old fencing, lots of wood branches and cinderblocks as well as assorted trash. He kept telling me he would ask the owner. After may calls to the agent and getting the run around I told him to get it done now or I will call the lawyer. Well you guessed it I had to call the lawyer because the agent stopped taking my calls.


I talk with the lawyer and he tells me he will reach out to the sellers’ lawyer. He responded that his client had cleaned up the backyard and will not do anything more. Now I am pissed beyond words. We take photos and send it to them. Our lawyer sends it to their lawyer. Nothing, the sellers’ lawyer will not even take our call. “Trust me” right. “My word is not good enough” right. Here’s the problem, it costs more than $1000 to sue him and a dumpster costs about $500. There were also some other fixes the seller was supposed to do and refused to do as well. The moral of the story is that if you are going to do an escrow, get one big enough that they will want to finish the work and not go to court. Otherwise don’t do an escrow and make them finish it.


We are finally settling in and working almost everyday on the house. We still have some major problems to fix but we are getting there.


To wrap up this really long series, here are a few things to remember:


1.     A renovated house in Brooklyn has only been renovated to hide the problems and they all have problems. How could a 100 year old house not?

2.     Beware of termites. They are a real pain to get rid of and I have seen a lot of houses with beams decimated by termites. Homes that cost 1 million. To replace a beam you are looking at $10,000

3.     Check out the heating system fully; maybe even get two different inspectors to check it out. Spend time with them and ask to come back on different days to make sure they still work.

4.     They all take the shortest, cheapest way out to fix the house.

5.     Be careful of homes without permits

6.     Ask about insulation, it’s about $2,500 per floor.

7.     You may want a plumber to come and check all the pipes as well

8.     DO NOT use the agents’ lawyer/banker/ whatever else. They all know each other and will make a lot of money together with other deals; they will only make money with you once and never see you again. Who do you think they are going to screw over first?

9.     Ask the Mortgage Broker if they will be carrying the loan throughout the entire life of the loan. We signed with one bank that I checked out, read reviews and researched. A month later they sold it to some company I never heard of with terrible reviews.

10. Never trust anyone.

11. Never Trust anyone

12. Get everything in writing in the most detailed way possible. Imagine you are describing it to a 3 year old in lots of detail with specifics.

13. There are no real rules in areas like Crown Heights, BedStuy, Flatbush or any other depressed area. If they tried pulling this crap off with houses in Park Slope, the neighbors will be calling 311 about permits the minute they see a Mexican. Whether he is there to deliver pizza or gut the place.

14. Don’t do escrows unless they are for a lot of money. They need an incentive to finish the work.

15. Did I say never trust anyone?

16. If you have the money and time, buy and renovate it yourself.

17. Don’t get too attached to any one house.

18. Research the house like a pro. I literally went and read through every mortgage document from the previous owners I could find. and ACRIS are your friends. You can find out so many different things there. Also check Google maps, you can see what the house looked like sometimes up to five years ago.

19. Zillow and Trulia are always wrong. If it is on Trulia, it’s probably sold. These things take time to update. Find a good broker who has connections in the neighborhood you are looking at.


Oh and never trust anyone. Did I say that yet? Also go with your gut. If something feels wrong it most likely is. Don’t feel pressured into choosing a place that is not right for you. I am sure the story is not over and I will be updating this.