The first time Jenn Leyva moved to New York, it was to start college at Columbia University. After graduation, the San Diego native headed to Seoul for a two-year stint teaching English and then returned to the city in 2015 to pursue a career as a public school teacher. But she was short on funds, so a friend offered to sublet her a room in a house in Midwood, Brooklyn, where she would have six housemates.
Ms. Leyva, now 32, jumped at the chance. By 2021, she was a middle-school chemistry teacher in Manhattan, still living in that Midwood house. She took Zoom calls in a corner of the communal living room and made sure to always wash her dishes.
“I shared a bathroom with two other roommates,” she said. “Our kitchen had two fridges, and we had a six-burner stove where two people could easily be cooking at the same time.”
All the while, she was tucking money away in a savings account, hoping to amass a down payment for a place of her own. She figured she could spend up to $2,000 a month on a mortgage, which, with her savings, would allow her a budget of around $350,000 for the purchase. As the pandemic began to wane and interest rates crept up, she decided the time had come.
“I wanted to at least start looking and see if there was anything I liked that I could afford,” she said. “And if there wasn’t, I figured I could wait and keep saving money.”
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She was pleasantly surprised by the options she found online: a handful of studios for less than $400,000, just south of the Brooklyn Bridge, in the corner of the borough where leafy Brooklyn Heights meets Dumbo and Downtown Brooklyn. And all of the apartments met her criteria: They were within walking distance of multiple subway lines, had a bathtub as well as a shower, and had a separate kitchen space where she could enjoy her elaborate baking projects.
It felt too good to be true. “Studios were cheap, because everyone was still working from home and wanted a one-bedroom with a separate sleeping space and work space,” Ms. Leyva said. “But my work space is in Manhattan.”
She teamed up with Leora Blumberg Rubinstein, a realtor with Douglas Elliman, who approved of her strategy. “Sometimes when you have a really lovely neighborhood that’s also super expensive, it’s worthwhile to look at the fringe to find something that meets your budget,” she said. “Jenn was very open-minded.”
Among the options:
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