When I took my friend Debbi to see the house I’m buying in Brooklyn, NY, she said: “I don’t know why you’re making such a big move at 69!”
I’ll tell you what I told Debbi in a moment, but first let me give you the details: I’ve owned a wonderful, 1,300-square-foot apartment (plus outdoor area) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan since 1992. I’ve loved living here, and if the walls had ears and mouths, they would tell you some pretty wild and wooly things.
On the less racy side, I remember the Christmas dinner buffet party I threw for about 100 employees. The weather was especially mild that year, which allowed guests to gather in the outdoor space, where the bar was set up. I hosted my own 50th birthday party at the apartment, surrounded by the people in my life who were the “most fun.” I vividly recall returning home late one evening from an exhausting European business trip and locking myself out within minutes. I remember welcoming a never-ending stream of my son’s friends, who would often gather here since it was close to their school. I loved making them meals. To this day, they call me “Godmother Brin.”
I always thought this would be where I’d live for the rest of my life, but I started to change my mind a couple of years ago, for two major reasons:
First, the maintenance on my apartment keeps rising, and is now $3,500 a month, which is pretty steep for a co-op of this size. The maintenance covers costs including the doormen salaries (I could care less if I have a doorman); redecorating the lobby and the hallways when the “board” decides they need to be redecorated (even if they don’t need to be decorated); replacing two elevators for $250,000 each that should have been replaced 15 years ago (for far less); Christmas parties with absolutely horrible food; Thanksgiving decorations for the lobby (usually tacky). These monthly costs rise every year.
When you live in a co-op, you don’t actually “own” the apartment; instead, you own shares in the co-op, which is set up as a corporation with a board. Co-op boards also have to approve most every single thing a tenant wants to do in his or her apartment, from painting to installing a new bathroom sink, from putting up a new wall to tearing down an old one. When I wanted to install central air and heating four years ago, my entreaty was flat-out rejected because two other tenants were fighting over a noisy air conditioner one of them had installed. It didn’t matter that my proposal had nothing whatsoever to do with the neighbors’ argument. In fact, the central AC/heating unit I wanted to install is far quieter than traditional ACs. (BTW, I installed the unit anyway, which eventually caused me grief, but I’ve enjoyed having a superior AC and heating system). Oh, and when you sell your apartment, you also have to turn over 2% of the sale to the building. That’s called a flip tax.
Co-op boards have horrible reputations throughout Manhattan. Most board members get all mixed up and actually start to believe they’re powerful and important people because they have some “control” over their neighbors’ welfare. Thankfully, new buildings rising all over the city now are condominiums, which are far less restrictive.
Reason #2 I’m leaving: Although I’ve loved being a Manhattan resident for the past 48 years, I crave a new adventure. Becoming a Brookynite will indeed be an adventure. I’ll be the owner of a real home, with back and front yards; gas and electric meters, and a enormous heating unit in the cellar, not to mention my own laundry equipment. I’ve never owned a washing machine or dryer; I’ve only used communal equipment in the buildings where I lived.
The 1899 house has a cellar and three floors.
I’m converting the garden level into an apartment that I plan to rent, and using the two levels above it as my home and office. That will make me a landlord, another new adventure. I’ll have a spacious deck right outside my kitchen, where I’ll be able to barbecue, which is verboten on my Manhattan outdoor space. I’ll also be able to do my exercise sessions outdoors, when the weather is nice. Never did that before! And, it will be a treat to look at the charming old tin ceilings before I retire at night and when I wake in the morning.
Although the area in Brooklyn to which I’m moving–it’s called Bedford Stuyvesant–is thriving with restaurants, shops and services, I won’t have everything practically right outside my door, as I do on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I’ll actually have to walk about three blocks to the drug store and drive to get to the kind of grocery stores I like. That’s another adventure. I haven’t owned a car since my college days. I’m also looking forward to taking excursions around the different neighborhoods of Brooklyn, which all are metamorphosing. My parents wouldn’t recognize the Brooklyn where they were born and raised.
Yet, Manhattan is only a 15-minute subway ride away. It actually will take the same time to reach downtown Manhattan from my new home as it does to get there from uptown.
My last day as a Manhattanite is next Wednesday, but I won’t actually be moving into the house that day.
I’ll be subletting an apartment nearby for six weeks, so I’ll be able to see how the renovation is moving along. I look forward to sharing news about my new old home with you as it shapes up. And, if you plan to visit New York, please stop by!