From Harlem to Central Brooklyn With $500,000: Would It Be Enough for a Two-Bedroom?

After nearly a decade of bouncing around rental apartments in Harlem, Blair Morgan-Reeves and Kyle Schnebel were ready for something a little quieter.

“Our very first apartment together, we had a pair of opera singers as neighbors,” said Mr. Schnebel, who worked nights as a security guard at the time. “They’d be practicing when I was trying to sleep, so I’d go over and ask them to stop. But they’d never answer. I’d bang on their door, and they’re in there singing arias.”

The couple moved to Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, in August 2022, for a change of scenery and to be closer to the public school in Brownsville where Mr. Schnebel, 31, is a teacher. They settled into a rental building wedged in among the Victorian and Tudor-style houses in the neighborhood. The rent was $3,250 a month, which was $300 more than the listing had asked for — they had overbid to fend off another prospective renter.

But after less than a year, the couple, along with their wire-haired dog, Rocket, started to think long-term. At first, they asked their agent, Daniella Browne of Hudson Modern, to help them look for land upstate, in the Catskills region, where they could build a small house to use as a getaway and an income-generating property.

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“We had always wanted a place up there, but still love the city, so wanted to keep a rental apartment down here,” said Ms. Morgan-Reeves, 30, a user-experience researcher for a financial tech company.

Ms. Browne knew it would be a heavy lift for the couple, but didn’t want to influence their decision one way or another. “I like for people to learn this process on their own,” she said. “So I wanted to see what sort of information they already had and how I could help build on top of that.”

The onerous financing requirements for a new build ultimately shut down the plan. “We were bummed out about it because we loved the idea so much. It was hard to pivot,” Ms. Morgan-Reeves said.

They refocused on buying a place in Brooklyn, hoping to find something not far from their rental. “I like being in Ditmas Park,” said Mr. Schnebel, who is from Long Island. “It’s quiet, which was so different than where we used to live. And I loved looking at all the nice houses in the neighborhood.”

With a budget of $500,000, the couple homed in on the nearby neighborhoods of Midwood and Flatbush, seeking a dog-friendly apartment with a reasonable commute to Brownsville and to Manhattan, where Ms. Morgan-Reeves works.

As they calculated what sort of mortgage they could afford, and whether a co-op or condo would fit the bill, they were also working against the clock: Their Ditmas Park lease was set to expire on July 31, and they didn’t have a backup plan.

Among their options:

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