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For some New Yorkers who have been priced out of New York City’s real estate game, pooling resources with friends and siblings has become the quickest path to homeownership. And while sharing a front door can put even the best relationships to the test, some are finding it’s worth the risk.
For Laurie Savage, a writer and restaurant server, and her husband, Garette Henson, a filmmaker, both 36, the arrival of their son, Fox Henson, almost 2, sparked the idea of buying real estate with a friend. That friend was Alix Frey, 37, whom they had met when they were all students at Sarah Lawrence College.
The group recently moved into a three-story two-family townhouse in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Ms. Frey, the director of the Blum & Poe gallery in Manhattan, occupies the top level while the couple have the lower level, including the basement and the backyard. The parlor level is divided between the Savage/Hensons and Ms. Frey.
For assistance in their search for a place to buy, the three, who had rented apartments in the same brownstone in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, for eight years, turned to Marina T. Schindler, a saleswoman at Compass real estate and one of Ms. Frey’s close friends.
“It’s a really good way for people to work the system,” Ms. Schindler said. “Not everybody has that money for a down payment. They realize if they team up, they get more bang for the buck.”
It’s a complicated process, she added, “because they’ve got to have an agreement between each other, they have to trust each other, but it’s a great way for young families to make a bigger, better investment.”
The friends had originally looked at properties separately, almost immediately concluding that they were priced out of Fort Greene. As they expanded their searches to Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, the numbers still seemed shocking. “Alix was looking at a one-bedroom for $750,000. She wanted a two-bedroom for less than that,” Ms. Savage said.
“We realized we can get a better space if we buy together,” she said. “The apartments priced at what we’re each getting our units for were like tiny boxes. It was startling, the difference in the quality of what we could get. So very quickly we said we’re open to it.”
She declined to say what the three ultimately paid, but the median price for two-family houses in the Bed-Stuy area is about $935,000, according to the appraiser Jonathan J. Miller.
The most difficult part was getting a mortgage together, which required the friends to be totally open about their finances. They have a single mortgage, with the payments based on the percentage of property owned. The Savage/Henson living space is bigger than Ms. Frey’s, so the couple pay a bigger share.
“For us, it was about getting comfortable with that transparency,” Ms. Savage said.
Having already lived in the same building made the prospect of buying together almost a matter of course. Ms. Savage said she feels a sense of pride that they were able to pull off homeownership.
“People have asked me if it’s less exciting because you’re sharing with someone,” Ms. Savage said. “It’s actually quite the opposite. No one expects anyone to want to share; that’s not the way our society is built. We feel really proud of what we did in finding a way to make it happen.”
Over in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, a pair of enterprising siblings and their families had the same idea when it came to finding new digs.
Jonathan Blyer, 34, a custom bicycle fitting specialist and the owner of the Acme Bicycle Co., is excited that renovations have finally begun on the four-story limestone that he and his wife, Adriana Pezzulli, 39, bought with his older sister, Raina Blyer, 39, a freelance tailor, and Luis Cornier, 45, a master coach for Precor, a fitness equipment manufacturer. The target move-in date is early 2017.
Mr. Blyer and Ms. Pezzulli, the director of development at the Lower Eastside Girls Club, have a daughter, Eva Newman, 9, from Ms. Pezzulli’s previous relationship, and a son, Noah Blyer, 9 months. Ms. Blyer and Mr. Cornier have three children — Chloe Cornier, 8, from Mr. Cornier’s previous relationship, Rumi Cornier, almost 3, and Shai Cornier, 8 months.
“We’ve been very open and communicative about things,” Mr. Blyer said. “At the end of the day we don’t want to ruin our relationship with each other.”
The two families looked for property independently but quickly realized that if they could agree on a neighborhood, they’d get more for their money by going in together. In their chosen Flatbush, Mr. Miller said, the median price for a two-family house is $562,000.
“It made sense to do it together — to have one contractor, one set of plans,” Mr. Blyer said. “It seemed a lot simpler than dividing our family resources to do it.”
Misha Chiporukha, a salesman with Douglas Elliman Real Estate, helped the Blyer siblings and their partners find their home. “Buying together was the best option that they had,” he said. “In the past year, I’ve met several buyers who were not able to afford a townhouse on their own, but with friends and family, it becomes possible. Plus, you get more square footage, family gatherings are easier, and with sharing child care expenses, it’s a no-brainer.”
The couples plan to convert the property into two condos. Mr. Blyer and his family will have the top two floors, while his sister and her family take the bottom two, including the backyard. They will live by certain boundaries. As Mr. Blyer pointed out: “Of course, she says, ‘You can use it anytime you want,’ but I’m not just going to walk through her house at any given moment that I want to get a suntan.”
Finances will also be handled formally — a joint bank account has already been set up to handle the upkeep of the house. But more than just a sound financial decision, living in the same home will provide a sense of community for the two families.
“Our son is going to have these cousins that are going to grow up kind of like brothers — that’s really special to me,” Mr. Blyer said.
New York City isn’t the only place where friends and relatives have realized the advantages of banding together.
In January, Marc Aschoff, 25, a financial adviser in New York who lives in Hoboken, N.J., and three childhood friends from the Jersey Shore threw their money in a pot and paid $240,000 for a single-family fixer-upper in Springfield, N.J.
“We were looking for a place to purchase to live together,” Mr. Aschoff said. “Our thinking was, find a place, live there for a year or two, fix it up and resell it for a profit.”
Mr. Aschoff’s partners in homeownership are Michael Carbonara, 26, an electrical engineer who lives outside Philadelphia; Michael Zonin, 25, a staff engineer at Langan Engineering in New York; and Chris Sorrentino, 25, a Realtor at Keller Williams City Life in Hoboken.
The men had some previous experience as property owners, having purchased three houses over two years near Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and rented them out to students. When they embarked upon that venture, it seemed that everyone was skeptical of the idea.
“At that point, most of us were living with our parents,” Mr. Aschoff said.
Mr. Carbonara said: “We bought the first one and everyone was on edge. Then we bought the second one and we were addicted. My mom was like, ‘This kid’s for real.’ ”
Even so, their stint as landlords may not have prepared them for the Springfield house, which is in need of a great deal of work, much of which they are undertaking themselves. They have argued about money spent and time dedicated to working on the house. And they have encountered the odd renovation surprise, such as a new stairwell installed too close to the front door.
“We started ripping down all the plaster, and we could see there were things wrong internally,” Mr. Aschoff said. “Now we’re down to the frame of the house. We didn’t want to get this deep.”
They’ve put their blood, sweat and tears into the place — Mr. Sorrentino received a dozen stitches between his eyes after he was struck by a wayward wheelbarrow careening off the side of a dump truck.
The house is still uninhabitable, although the men have undeniably added value to the neighborhood. “Before we were here, the whole yard was overgrown,” said Mr. Carbonara, the de facto project leader. And ever since Mr. Sorrentino power-washed a neighbor’s deck, she has regularly treated the men to homemade lunches of chicken parmigiana and meatball sandwiches.
And as the house has tested their tempers, it has also tested their initial resolve: Whether the buddies will move in together, or resell the house when it’s finally done, is up in the air.
Buying a place with other people has predictable pitfalls.
“When people purchase property together, they become jointly liable for all the expenses,” said Jaime Lathrop, a lawyer in Park Slope, Brooklyn, who handles real estate litigation and transactions. “If one person wants to sell, then they can force a sale, with very limited exceptions. If people go in on loans, it’s a great way to wreck your credit. Each person should retain their own attorney to advise them on their rights and responsibilities.”
Stuart Berg, a partner in the real estate department of the New York firm Kurzman Eisenberg Corbin & Lever, said it’s essential to map certain things out in advance of a group purchase.
“Decide how the property will be owned. Will it be owned by an entity such as a limited liability company or individually?” he said. Owning under an L.L.C. can protect buyers from personal risk and may offer certain tax benefits.
“It’s essential to determine up front the financial arrangements of each party and whether each party will be entitled to the full use and enjoyment of the property,” Mr. Berg added. It’s also important to put in writing what would happen “if one party cannot meet his or her agreed-upon financial obligations.”
Ms. Liu and her sister, Christy Liu, 34, a creative strategist at Facebook; Evan Schneyer, 33, the founder of Living Breathing, a digital product, marketing and strategy collective and Christy’s partner since their freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania; and David Kenji Chang, 34, a friend who works in asset management, purchased land in Narrowsburg, N.Y., in November 2014 and built a house from the ground up, for a total of $374,000.
The group reached a new level of closeness when they took out a mortgage together. “It came out to $30,000 apiece, all in,” Mr. Schneyer said. “The down payment was $19,000 a head. And then the other 10 or 11 thousand covered H.V.A.C., furnishings, everything. That’s not a trivial amount, but it’s on par with what other people are putting in mutual funds and things like that. It’s just a different type of investment.”
Lindsay Liu didn’t think twice about turning to her sister and Mr. Schneyer when she and her boyfriend, who does not wish to be named, started looking for a new place to live in Brooklyn.
“I started talking to these guys about it and said: ‘Why don’t we do it? It’s going to give us the ability to look in a higher price range,’ ” she recalled.
In August 2015, Christy Liu, Mr. Schneyer and Lindsay Liu and her boyfriend purchased a one-bedroom duplex in Williamsburg for $839,000. The apartment is occupied by Lindsay Liu and her boyfriend, who pay rent. “If we were to sell today we’d make a profit,” she said.
To avoid problems, the team has created an agreement for housing that’s very much like a prenup.
“The key factor is having these discussions upfront,” Mr. Schneyer said. “It’s not that you have to figure every possible scenario, but it’s about talking through them and building the possibilities into the operating agreement.”
Potential scenarios: What if one of the couples breaks up? What if someone runs into financial difficulty and wants to withdraw? “Even if it’s your spouse, there are the same risks,” Mr. Schneyer said. “It happens all the time, people split up and you have to figure things out.”
As for home design by committee, they figured that out, too. For the Catskill house they use a shared Pinterest account to “upvote” and “downvote” furnishings, including everything from sofas to doorknobs.
“Most people use Pinterest to fantasize about their dream house. We’re actually using it to create the real thing,” Lindsay Liu said.
While group home-buying ventures may seem novel to these forward-thinking friends, the blueprint is tried and true.
For the Blyer brother and sister team, friends and family going in together on property is nothing new — their parents paved the way. Linda and Al Blyer purchased their home in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn in 1981 by pooling funds with one of Mr. Blyer’s fellow workers. The two families still share the two-family house, these days with visiting grandchildren often filling the backyard with activity and laughter.
“It was the same thing back then, they were young professionals with families and they couldn’t afford to get something on their own, so they went in together,” Jonathan Blyer said. “And here we are, 35 years later, doing the same thing.”
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