AX THE DRAPES; MOVE THE STUFF
It took Ali Newman and Desmond Curran two tries to sell their two-bedroom one-bath co-op in Kensington, Brooklyn.
The first try was in February 2007. They listed the apartment at $335,000 — they had paid $190,000 for it in 2005 — and one month later accepted an offer of $330,000. But the deal fell apart. Very shortly after that, Ms. Newman learned she was expecting a second child.
They had long considered leaving the city, but the pregnancy caused them to postpone the search. They took their home off the market.
A year later, now a family of four and feeling the crunch of apartment living, Mr. Curran, 42, a special education teacher, and Ms. Newman, 33, a high school guidance counselor, put their apartment back on the market, listing it at $365,000 on the advice of their broker, Jan Rosenberg of Brooklyn Hearth Realty. This time, the road to a buyer was much longer.
Mr. Curran and Ms. Newman had updated when they moved in: stripping wallpaper, refinishing floors and installing new kitchen cabinets. Now their biggest challenge was to contain a mass of toys and baby gear.
To prepare the apartment for open houses, they moved their bicycles and a baby swing to a storage space in the building’s basement. Ms. Newman said she considered redoing the bathroom, which is entirely pink — sink, toilet and tub — but Ms. Rosenberg disagreed.
“We were advised not to put any money into it,” Ms. Newman said. The broker thought that a bathroom renovation would not pay off.
Among those who attended the open houses were Briana Maley and her husband, Neal Cohen. They had been living for three years in a one-bedroom rental apartment in Windsor Terrace. With the birth of their son, Ezra, in 2007, they were looking for something larger, in either Kensington or Ditmas Park.
From the start, they were less than impressed with the property. “The building itself didn’t seem well maintained,” said Ms. Maley, a grant writer for New York University, recalling peeling wallpaper in the hallways.
And they were turned off by several aspects of the unit itself. “The kitchen was dark, and the fire escape led into the children’s bedroom,” she said. “The pictures on the Web site made it seem a lot more spacious and airy.”
In the end, Ms. Maley and Mr. Cohen, an assistant district attorney in Staten Island, abandoned their Brooklyn search altogether, as Mr. Cohen accepted a job in Washington.
Ms. Rosenberg, the broker, grew frustrated. Despite several open houses, there was not a single offer.
In April, Ms. Rosenberg enlisted the services of Chris Houghton, the owner of Trailer Park, a furniture store in Park Slope. “It wasn’t so much the price — the apartment itself needed tweaking,” Ms. Rosenberg said.
Mr. Houghton suggested replacing the heavy drapes with curtains that would let in more light, and also rearranging the furniture. Ms. Newman had a home office in the master bedroom, and Mr. Houghton moved it out, setting it up in the large living room.
Ms. Rosenberg described the living room back then as “kind of a hodgepodge,” and thought potential buyers might see it as too open and unmanageable. Placing an office in the space showed that the area could serve multiple functions, she said.
She also found that most visitors, like Ms. Maley, expected the apartment to have more light, based on the listing photos. She had the photos darkened to more accurately show the actual light the apartment received.
Meanwhile, Jenny Offill and David Hirmes were renting two floors of a Park Slope brownstone on 10th Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. The apartment included a basement and backyard, where they tended a vegetable garden. They couldn’t imagine giving up these assets — until their landlord delivered some bad news. In the four years they had lived there, the monthly rent had risen from $2,400 to $2,600; now it would be $3,000.
Ms. Offill, a writer and creative writing teacher at Brooklyn College and Columbia University, began combing the Internet for listings. She and Mr. Hirmes, a Web director for Channel 13, the public television station, capped their price range at $350,000. They had heard good things about Kensington from friends who had moved there.
The co-op was the second apartment they saw, and in the months that followed, Ms. Rosenberg walked them through it several times, even though it cost more than they had budgeted. After several disappointing visits to apartments within their price range, they decided to raise the cap to $450,000.
Nevertheless, when Ms. Offill saw that the price for the Curran-Newman apartment had been reduced, which the broker suggested after the staging, she knew it warranted another look. She arranged with Ms. Rosenberg to see it again, and found the apartment — newly decluttered, newly curtained and newly arranged — much improved.
Ms. Offill, 39, knew others would be impressed, too. “I was afraid someone would recognize it for the deal it was,” she said. She and Mr. Hirmes, 37, made an offer of $325,000, and accepted Mr. Curran and Ms. Newman’s counteroffer of $345,000.
“I feel like we did a very un-New York thing by buying at the bottom of our price range,” Ms. Offill said. The couple, with their daughter, Thea, 3, moved into the apartment in August.
By then, Mr. Curran and Ms. Newman were living in Buffalo. In February, before selling their apartment, their offer of $270,000 for a three-story Victorian in that city’s Elmwood section, listed at $279,000, had been accepted.
They closed in July, with Ms. Newman’s father co-signing the mortgage since the sale of their Kensington apartment had not been finalized. Mr. Curran gleefully listed the house’s features: four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a cellar with a laundry room, a fireplace and stained glass windows.
“We just could not believe how far our money would get us here,” Ms. Newman said. “It was like some weird alternate universe.”