Two years after we moved to Houston, we found ourselves in a bit of a pickle. My husband had been laid off from his job and it wasn’t clear that there was going to be a pickup in the local economy, at least not in the sector that we worked in (oil and gas). We had also just had Emi, and being far from our family and friends was beginning to take a toll on us. People visited us often, but it just wasn’t the same as being a subway-ride or car-ride away from our support network.
A few weeks after I returned from maternity leave, my group head spoke to me about an opening on a different sector team at my firm’s New York office, where the company is headquartered and where I worked before moving to Houston. Was I interested? I was going to miss my team and coworkers, but I felt like it was the right time to move back home.
The process went quickly, and before long, I was slated to relocate back to NYC. Because I was returning to my hometown, and most likely for good, I knew that I wanted to purchase an apartment, as opposed to renting. During the lulls of my maternity leave, I had spent time looking at listings of potential pied-a-terres, thinking that I would buy a second home for our frequent visits back to NYC. I had reached out to my high school classmate, who worked as a real estate agent, to help me look for a small studio apartment that was under $175k. When the job opportunity became more formalized, I quickly pivoted and started looking for a larger place for our little family of 3.
I had broadly been searching in Brooklyn and Queens, preferably by Prospect Park (Brooklyn) or in Forest Hills (Queens). While casually searching one day, I happened upon a sponsored sale for a fairly sizable 1-bedroom apartment in a building located a few blocks from the largest cemetery in Brooklyn, Greenwood Cemetery. Certainly not a park, but a green space nevertheless.
Real estate in 2016 was frenzied and I knew that it was a relatively good deal given it was a sponsor sale, located in a transitional but mature area adjacent to a family-friendly and gentrified neighborhood, and had great access to the subway. As a result, I did the only logical thing. I told my agent to make an offer immediately, at ask, sight-unseen. I had already been pre-approved for a mortgage, and combined with my offer at ask, on the day the listing was posted, my offer was accepted.
I can’t say I would recommend buying a home based only on grainy photos without making an actual visit. However, I was disadvantaged by the fact that I was purchasing in a different state and it was an extremely strong seller’s market. It ended up being the right move to make for me in my situation, but certainly not something I intended to do again.
The sponsor sale aspect is an unusual concept, even in NYC. The building was a cooperative (coop) building, a structure I was familiar with. An apartment is “sponsored” when it is owned and sold by the original owner when the building first converted to a coop. The owner of many of the units of the building had been renting the apartment as a rent-controlled apartment. Given the strength of the market, when the tenant moved out, the sponsor decided to sell and cash out. Sponsors are limited by the terms of his or her original coop contract and cannot sell above the price specified on the contract. As a coop, the apartment was assigned a number of shares, and the price limitation was on a per share basis. The sponsor had listed the apartment at the maximum price, which I gladly paid, because market prices were actually substantially higher.
Sponsor sales have other types of quirks. In our case, the sponsor was allowed to install a washer / dryer, literally unheard of in most coops and apartments in the city. Even though there was a common laundry area in the basement, we negotiated the washer / dryer clause into our contract, because we knew it would be added convenience and because it would only contribute to resale value.
Other than the washer / dryer, we had few other asks. We were buying as-is and we knew it would have to be substantially renovated, so we even bypassed having an inspection, which is actually not that common for cooperative buildings. Within 2 months, my mortgage commitment came through, and we were ready to close.
Ken and our daughter, Emi, moved back to NYC at the start of November 2016. In mid-November, he did the closing, while I stayed behind to wrap up loose ends at my job and manage the actual packing and physical move of all our possessions to NYC. And by the end of 2016, a few short years after I bought my first little studio apartment, my husband and I became the owner of our second piece of property in Brooklyn.
You can read about my first Brooklyn property purchase here!