A Savvy Couple Zero In on Brownsville

“You can be in a quiet residential area with access to the train, but not be too deep into Brooklyn,” said Mr. Morris, 28, a graduate of Columbia University who also has an M.B.A. from New York University.

“Brownsville is a quintessential example of a transitional neighborhood,” he said. “I have Christine to thank for knowing the option to have a three-bedroom for half a million even existed.”

A year ago, the couple began investigating the area’s housing stock — primarily two-story, three-bedroom rowhouses. “It was a date type of thing,” Mr. Morris said. “We would go to open houses, go have brunch somewhere and share notes.”

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There was a lot to like about a house on Legion Street. But it was the house that got away.

Credit
Stefano Ukmar for The New York Times

Mr. Morris drives to work at a technology company in Long Island City, so he wanted a parking spot. Ms. Williams, a graduate of Howard University who has a graduate degree from Teachers College, Columbia, wanted a yard so they could adopt a dog. Brownsville’s rowhouses had both.

Last summer, they visited a house on Legion Street, flipped by a developer, for $489,000. It included something scarce — a finished basement.

At that point, Mr. Morris’s reserves had been depleted by the Danbury purchase, so they did not bid. (He was familiar with Danbury, having worked at Duracell in nearby Bethel.) “I knew how much money we needed to save to do 10 percent down, and we weren’t there yet,” he said.

Months later, the house returned to the market. “I look at Zillow, StreetEasy, Redfin, Trulia and Realtor every day in the markets that I have properties in,” Mr. Morris said. “I do it out of passion, and I feel it is a duty of mine as a passive real-estate investor.”

By now the couple were able to make a offer. They eagerly offered the asking price, which had dropped to $475,000.

“This is high anxiety,” Mr. Morris said. “We went from not even thinking we were going to get a home to thinking we might get the home we were drooling over.”

To their dismay, the sellers went with someone on a waiting list — for $475,000.

“I was a little put off that there was no bidding war,” Mr. Morris said. “We were willing to go higher if given the opportunity, but we were told flat-out no. We might have gone to $505,000 or $510,000 for this house. We mourned that.”

Mr. Morris was motivated by the loss. He immediately lined up several places to see.

One house, for $450,000, on Thomas S. Boyland Street, lacked a basement and was easily dismissed. “It had something to do with bedrock,” Mr. Morris said.

The couple initially liked a rowhouse on Powell Street, for $429,000, with an open layout on the main floor. Then they realized a kitchen renovation had eliminated a half-bathroom.

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The lack of a basement took a house on Thomas S. Boyland Street out of the running.


Credit
Stefano Ukmar for The New York Times

One bathroom is common in three-bedroom city apartments, but in a two-story house, “that is a completely weird layout choice,” Mr. Morris said.

Ms. Williams was put off by the clutter in the house and its unfinished basement. “They had a lot of stuff,” she said. “And finishing a basement is an expensive project.”

Another, similar rowhouse was also priced at $429,000. Many of the rooms had wood paneling. “That is not a common New York City aesthetic at all,” Mr. Morris said. “I’ve seen log cabins with less wood.”

But “we could get everything we liked about Legion Street for less, and Christine didn’t take a lot of convincing.”

In the winter, the couple bought the house for the asking price. It had been built in the mid-1980s as part of the Nehemiah program, which constructed houses on vacant city land.

They thought the wood could be removed easily, but every plank was securely nailed, so they painted it instead. On the main floor, they added beams and recessed lights to the ceiling.

Mr. Morris keeps his drum set in the finished basement. He is happy for a place to leave it out, increasing the likelihood he will play.

“We have so much space I can’t find anything, relative to everything being within arm’s length before,” he said.

He is thrilled to no longer be a landlord renting from a landlord. “I finally own the place I live in, and I share it with Christine,” he said. “It is something I dreamed about. This is home now, and will be for a long time.”

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