Brooklyn Real Estate: University Towers

This is a review from earlier this year, when I sojourned to my neighbor University Towers. I’d been itching to see a unit here since I learned that they were in fact coops, and not what I had initially thought, more projects. The unit I was viewing was being billed as a newly renovated gorgeous 2 bd / 2 ba sponsor unit, that wouldn’t require board approval. And I have to say I was mildly surprised. The outside, we’ve already discussed a bit dated. But once you’re inside, it’s pleasant. The security desk was manned by someone who was paying attention, the lobby was clean, the elevator comfortable,  and the hallways a bit utilitarian. There is a gym on premise, but not in the building, you’ll have to jump to the sister building 191 Willoughby to get your work-out on.

The unit itself was newly renovated and it showed. It was spacious, light, and had an interesting layout that allowed you to do laps around the living room / dining room / and kitchen. The details were nice, new appliances – kitchen aid fridge and silver stone counter tops, semi-crown molding, deep soak tub and solid white oak floors. Nice.  Yet, there’s no denying that the building / apt is old(er). The air unit is in a slightly obstructive , the windows are not over sized, though they do get good light, and the ceilings are a tad low. The finishes while new and good quality I expected more for the the $567k price tag. I suppose all of this is made up by it’s location — it’s well situated in Downtown Brooklyn, near all the subway lines, jumping distance to Fort Greene.

Checking streeteasy it appears the unit sold for ~$537k, not a bad price by any means for the location, the space, and the amenities.

Disclaimer: These reviews were written before I was a real estate agent, and reflects my previous opinions solely as a buyer.

Chez Lola Croque Madam

Hola Lola

Chez Lola Croque MadamChez Lola will entice even the hardest of hearts. I practically ran across the street to check it out. It’s all ooohh ahhh, how DO they combine a Frech bistro with 1920′s Shangai chic? They do. And that isn’t all. There’s something to look at, at nearly every crevice of this neighborhood staple. Plus there’s a garden, simple, sweet, and seemingly fresh air. What’s not to like? The food and service. Alas. We ordered the house cured salmon eggs benedict and the croque madam – and were underwhelmed. It’s heart breaking because I wanted to like this place SO much. In fact my enthusiasm for them will likely result in a second trying later in life. But for now, I gotta say there was nothing special about the food. The eggs benedict had bland / non-existent Hollandaise sauce, calories without flavor UGH! The croque madame egg was shriveled until {hand to heart} it was little more then yellow carbon.

Last, they really must fix the draft. We weren’t seated THAT close to the door, and it was a really warm winter day (50s) so the draft shouldn’t be that bothersome, unless there’s a lot of it. There was. Here’s hoping for second chances.
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Fisherman’s Dawta Taking over!

Long time readers will remember my gushing review’s of Loretta Coffee and Tea. It found the perfect balance between cafe, restaurant, urban sanctuary, coffee, milk and of course price. I was horrified to see in my recent Boeurm Hill visit that it’s been torn out from our neighborhood, and replaced by an equally cute soon-to-come “fisherman’s Dawta”, type cafe. I peered behind the coming attractions posters and saw they hadn’t even changed the layout. Basically it looks exactly like Loretta’s Coffee and Tea except it’s been painted light blue. Is that going to work? Are people going to all of a sudden flock here now because there’s light blue paint. How much can they possible optimize on Loretta’s that would make them think they can stay in business longer? I guess we’ll soon find out!


Food Rally

Grand Army Food Rally

Spreading the vending truck fever Prospect Park Alliance let loose this weekend some of the finest vending food fares. What better way to spend the weekend than testing out my insatiable appetite. That is until I saw the lines. Saying they wrapped around themselves would be kind. Plus some of the best fare, like the lobster truck ran out of food. For shame! Faced with standing in line for well over an hour for food, and paying about $1 per dumpling for the privilege of eating it in the chilly afternoon air, I decided that my vending food fever only went so far.

Next time Prospect Park Alliance, chairs, more food, and more trucks please.


Dispatches from DoBro

Just about every denizen in DoBro has said something about the weather — which is nothing new, and in about another month we’d have been well on our way to collective amnesia “what snowstorms?!”, were it not for the unplowed streets that make this years flurry batches unforgettable. A close second though has got to be the ensuing trash — immortalized here by AOL’s

And if that wasn’t enough trash talk for the Toren, DoBro’s zebra tower, they’ve also been recently stripped of their crown as best selling building in DoBro.

I think we all secretly knew that Be@Schermerhorn with its drop dead prices was out selling the Toren, we just opted not to say anything about the “accounting” error.

The neighborhood while still in the throes of construction and snow-trash appears to be selling well, according to property shark data, which shows that most sales in the $500-$1,000 SF range were in DoBro or Park Slope, so take THAT Williamsburg! We may show you yet!

81 Willoughby was named Brownstoner’s “Building of the Day” for February 10th.  Which made me stop and actually take a look at that building. For the entire 6+ months that I’ve been living in the neighborhood I never paid attention to that building, it has students congregating on its steps, so when I usually pass it I’m actually pushing through it. But truth be told, it IS quite nice.

Brooklyn Gold which we covered last year in October is having a moment, only 4 units left from the sponsor according to Brownstoner, who featured this unit as their Feb. 3rd “Rental of the Day”. While the complex is a strong rental I’m not sure about this $1,999 for a one bedroom. I mean the W/D is *clearly* in the kitchen. You would think that would impress the multi-tasker in me, but it doesn’t.

The Brooklyn Burger Bonanza can probably thank the Shake Shack for the moment the burger is experiencing. But really, how many of these things can we eat, and how often?

Smash burger:

Chee burger:


Brooklyn Real Estate: The Robert Livingston

There were quite a few open houses the day I went to check out the Robert Livingston, unfortunately for me I only had time to check out only one. The chosen one was a one bedroom on the 7th floor, ~ 650 sf, listed by BellMarc for $315k.

The Robert Livingston is well located on the border of Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill. Very accessible to all subways and unlike much of Downtown Brooklyn nearby neighborhood charms and conveniences. The lobby is unexpectedly opulent, channeling old-world appeal. Even the elevator had a certain aged elegance, arriving with a sense of purpose. But where the lobby seemed appealingly old, the rest of the building was a bit neglected. The hallways were dark with worn carpet. The unit itself, echoed the sentiment. The kitchen appeared to be the strongest feature, having been recently renovated. The bathroom was a good size and had modern finishes. The windows were generous throughout and light easily streamed in.

I wasn’t a big fan of the darkish parquet flooring, though this is more personal preference as the ones here were in decent shape.The layout also seemed reasonable for a one bedroom, though there is an awkwardly placed closet in the living room with accordion doors. The furniture could have been better optimized to showcase the space.

I didn’t get a chance to checkout the building amenities, but I was told there was 24hr doorman, live-in super, laundry, bike racks, storage, and  a health club next door.  All good things. Still the $315k seemed a tad bit high for the unit, especially if I’m going to have to pay for my own health club membership, and the W/D was in some communal space rather than in the unit itself. The apartment also wasn’t in the best shape possible (though not bad), and $315 isn’t too pricey and depending on how much you like the location might actually be fair. The monthly maintenance of $787 is shockingly steep, and I can’t imagine why it’s pegged so high given the limited amenities. This is a co-op however so the monthly structure is worked out differently from a condo, so possibly hard as it is to imagine this might be reasonable.

Disclaimer: These reviews were written before I was a real estate agent, and reflects my previous opinions solely as a buyer.


Brooklyn: Snow storm central

It seems like we’ve been bombarded with snowstorms this year, and even when it’s not an official snow storm it still FEELS like it. The last snow storm ~ 2 weeks ago – January 25th – 27th hit us with what looked to be nearly two feet of snow, and endless puddles that were better described as temporary ponds for days after. During the height of the flaky down pour we saw cabs skidding sideways along Flatbush Extension because they couldn’t get any traction, helpless drivers get out and try to push trapped cars, and accidents in slow motion as cars slowly slid towards each other.

It was so harrowing it go it’s own wikipedia entry, and Mayor Bloomberg declared NYC in a state of weather emergency. Some photos below.


Blue Sky Bakery

Brooklyn Cafe: Blue Sky Bakery

During the last blizzard – that turned out to not be a blizzard — schools shut down, people “worked from home”, and generally holed up in their habitats. I was planning on doing the same when my midtown appointment suggested that “since we both live on this side of the bridge … ” why not just meet here?” YES, I agreed. And then she suggested a place she describe as having “the most delicious muffins EVER”. Tall order indeed. I’ve had my share of muffins, coffees, the whole bakery thing, and my standards were pretty finicky. Plus I’ve never been partial to muffins, since I never eat the bottom half, and sometimes just annoyingly nibble around the “top” eating only the crust but never the “cakey” part. But She hadn’t steered me wrong thus far, so I was optimistic.

Blue Sky Bakery is a sliver of a bakery, long and lean, it manages to pack quite the quaint, retro, quirky punch, complete with a shoebox diorama! And true to my friend’s word they served up just about the most delicious muffins I’ve tasted. Not only was baked to perfection, but the bottom part is also crusty! For the first time, I didn’t just nimble around the top. I actually finished the entire muffin and wanted more. It was a crustly, fluffy, velvety delight. And I can’t wait to go back.


96 S Oxford

Brooklyn Real Estate: 96 South Portland Avenue

I didn’t want to like this place. Really. I’m a fan of new developments in a big way. But I liked this place the minute my eyes clapped on its rustic entrance. With its ambling path leading to a bricked entry, surrounded by aimless vines, it’s like something straight out of my child hood coloring book. Somehow, the signs of its age didn’t bother me, instead I found them charming. The chandelier and the paneled doorway of the entrance punctuated its charm. Not even the garbage / recyclables tucked around the corner detracted me, nor did the stairs leading to the unit — usually a red flag in my “strongly prefer new developments” book, but not today.

Upon entering, it pretty much is what you’d expect from a prewar co-op. The floors sag here and sigh there, I briefly wondered what happened to the floors but decided to be happy  that they seem like they’re in decent shape after (what looks like) 100+ years of wear. There are odd “mini-steps” separating each room, which perhaps was my biggest pet peeve with this place since it meant I was constantly looking down anticipating a surprise step.  The unit gets plenty of light, which the owner has expertly highlighted with their choice of flowy white curtains in the living room. The agent mentioned that the new owner could probably open up the already lengthy living room and put a direct archway to the kitchen. This would create the feeling of additional space, maybe even enough to section out a small second bedroom (from the living room), and make this place into a “charming” two bedroom. It might work.

The master bedroom was not so well decorated, it looked dark, dreary and grim. The agent later mentioned the owners (a couple) were getting a divorce. Not surprising. But it had good space, light (when the curtains aren’t dark grey and drawn), and nice bones. The one bathroom was a bit odd, it looked like the owners had started a renovation, but then changed their minds. So the shower area has modern looking glass panels, but the rest of it looks old. The kitchen, optimizes the space nicely, but it’s probably worth revisiting the look.

The location is excellent. Practically in the heart of all the places you want to visit in Fort Greene, and near enough subways to make it accessible. The unit’s view in fact looks out into some prime Fort Greene real estate. All that said, I’m not a fan of the price. $399k seems to be a tad too high for a unit that clearly has age. But the $649 in monthly maintenance is what really sets it apart, given there are no amenities or common areas to speak of, it’s tough to justify the high monthly charge.

Interestingly enough, other units in the condo are up for grabs too, units #8 and #5 both are selling for a higher price tag, and probably have more stairs to traverse, but (based on their photos) seem to be more updated. That would have to be weighed against what are probably very motivated sellers for unit #1. Yet, I can’t help but want to check those out as well … maybe next week.

Disclaimer: These reviews were written before I was a real estate agent, and reflects my previous opinions solely as a buyer.

163 Wash

Brooklyn Real Estate: 163 Washington

Those of us in the neighborhood have been watching 163 Washington go up for some time. It’s been slowly dominating an otherwise remarkably flat skyline.  The press has been unclear about this building, what with the website — alarmingly comic-inspired (Lichtenstein) and sparse on the building details (i.e. no amenities listed) I half expected a repeat of 96 Rockwell. But I was wrong. There are agents there, and they were very friendly, even better, they were knowledgable — what kind of wood was used (ash), the finishes, the neighborhood and how much wiggle room there is in the prices.

The first 2 BD/2BA unit (8C) was ~966 sqft with a nice 40 sqft balcony off the living room. The view from the balcony is a non-descript Brooklyn view, but having been balcony free now for ~ 3 years I sorely miss it, and this one was nice. The lay out of the unit isn’t great, the bedrooms are railroaded together, a detail you might almost miss thanks to the snazzy  interior design of the model unit, and the finishes are pretty strong. I noticed the custom cabinets, Liebherr fridge, Faber range hood, and spa-like bathroom. Too bad the unsightly air unit is also strong. There’s one in the living room, and each of the bedrooms, not great.  8C wasn’t actually on the listing — but the unit just below it (7C) was at $545k, with $310 common charges. Not a bad price.

The second unit 9A was head and shoulders better. Approximately 1,154 sq feet the added 188 sqft allowed it that much more room to have a very compelling layout, and it’s got two balconies giving it 80 sqft of outdoor space. Plus, this unit had small touches like a pillar here and there, detailed tile work in the bathrooms, HIS and HERS shower heads, and a window in the master bathroom — all yum! Best of all, it’s got a Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn view! It’s a stunning unit, and at $650k and $386 in CCs yes … I’m a little jealous.

The building’s common areas are not not finished but seems to have promise:  a 5,000 SF “yard”, a 530 SF zen garden, gym, and a lounge / common area with a fire place. What it won’t have, is a door man. Which you might not miss since this neighborhood (despite what you may have read on the various threads) is a heartbeat away from Pratt, hardly dangerous grounds. It is however, hopelessly far from any subway station, even the dreaded G.  Still, with FHA loans approved, and a 15 year tax abatement in the works, maybe a bus-to-subway lifestyle isn’t half bad.

Disclaimer: These reviews were written before I was a real estate agent, and reflects my previous opinions solely as a buyer.

Living the fabulous A-List Life in Downtown Brooklyn