The New York Times
For 25 years, Ivan Bodley lived happily — and cheaply — in a railroad apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Instead of a lease, he had a handshake agreement with his landlady and later, after she died, with her children. His starting rent was just over $600 a month.
By last year, when the owners decided to sell the building, Mr. Bodley was living there with his girlfriend, Julie McBride. The monthly rent had risen to around $1,500. “Brooklyn has become such a thing now,” said Mr. Bodley, a bass player known as Funkboy. “A good chunk of the borough is no longer affordable.”
Mr. Bodley, 52, and thrifty to a fault, had been saving his whole life. “No wife, no kids, no pets, no plants, no mortgage,” he said. But now, he finally had reason to buy a home. “For the money I would put into a rental,” he said, “I could do the same or better by putting it into a mortgage.”
Last fall, he contacted Adam Fischel, a salesman at Citi Habitats and a fellow musician, a drummer.
Mr. Bodley and Ms. McBride wanted a two-bedroom co-op so each could work and practice at home, within commuting distance of Times Square, where Ms. McBride, 36, works as a Broadway pianist and music director. The budget was something under $400,000.
“We had a wish list,” Mr. Bodley said. It included an elevator and a balcony. “But this stuff wasn’t practical or available. The wish list went out the window as soon as we got into the nuts and bolts of it all. There’s a finite number of properties that fit that budget.” A second bedroom was the first thing to go.
As a self-employed musician, Mr. Bodley was concerned about securing approval from a co-op board. “There is a prejudice against us crazy, longhaired types,” he said. Musicians, he said, are also often perceived as undesirable noisemakers, though he practices on an electric bass and Ms. McBride on an electronic keyboard, both virtually silent, thanks to headphones.
They liked a large one-bedroom with 900 square feet, on the ground floor of Hampshire House on 79th Street, a 1939 elevator building. The price was around $370,000, with monthly maintenance of just over $700. It felt charming and palatial.
But another buyer had gotten there first, and the seller went with that party’s cash offer, Mr. Fischel said.
They went to see another apartment at Plymouth Court, a 1917 building a few blocks away on 82nd Street. This one had a railroad layout covering 800 square feet and was on the third floor of a walk-up. “The third-floor walk-up thing is what we had in Williamsburg, although I do have to carry a bass and an amplifier up, so not having stairs would be nice,” Mr. Bodley said.
The price was $330,000, with maintenance in the high $400s. “They were calling it a two-bedroom, but you would have had to construct some walls and doors,” Mr. Bodley said. His offer of the asking price was accepted.
Unsure that they would clear the co-op board, the couple had been checking out Forest Hills, slightly farther into Queens.
“Forest Hills is not hip at all,” Mr. Bodley said. “Forest Hills is people who were born here. The hipsters in Williamsburg seemed to come from somewhere else.”
There, they found another ground-floor apartment, a charming 950-square-foot one-bedroom, in a 1940 building. “It had this sunken living room and this built-in bookcase in the wall, the kind of features that don’t seem to be prevalent in newer construction,” Mr. Bodley said.
The place was a sponsor unit, sold by an original investor and requiring no co-op board approval. The price was $368,500, with maintenance in the low $700s.
“I had to explain what a sponsor unit was,” Mr. Fischel said. “I said, as long as you can get the financing, you’re good to go. He had no debt, and he did it all playing the bass.”
So Mr. Bodley went with the Forest Hills sponsor unit, preferring to skip the risk of being rejected by a co-op board.
The couple arrived in the spring. “I realize that I’d been living in squalor before this,” Mr. Bodley said. His old place had not been painted since he moved in. The new place was immaculate. He decorated with his 18 guitars and his acoustic bass violin. His skull collection fills the built-in bookcase.