Have you ever dreamed of renovating your own brownstone? The Nichols family is doing just that with a 100 year old home on Prospect Avenue, and they’re chronicling the journey in their blog, Brownstone Cyclone.
Andrew and Angela recently sat down with us to share a bit more about their blog, and the renovation roller coaster that often goes along with owning an historic brownstone.
SSN: First, tell us a bit about yourselves and about Brownstone Cyclone.
BC: We have lived in Brooklyn for 12 years coveting other people’s brownstones. We were recreational real estate lookers for years, never thinking we could afford to buy a whole house until we found our one hundred year old two-family brownstone in South Park Slope.
We started our blog for fun. We faithfully read The Insider and the blogs on Brownstoner.com, but there were few other blogs we could find with people doing what we were doing on a budget. We thought others would appreciate learning from our mistakes and triumphs. We dreamed a big company would contact us and sponsor the whole project.
Why did you choose the name Brownstone Cyclone for the blog?
The cyclone is a reference to the fact that renovating is like riding a roller coaster: exhilaration and nausea at the same time.
What is it about owning a brownstone that had you so smitten?
After living in tiny NY apartments for years, more space was our main goal: a basement to put all your junk in; a second bathroom. Also we dreamed of a backyard for our dog and daughter with flowers and vegetables.
When did you finally decide to take the plunge?
We decided to take the plunge when we saw this house and did the numbers. We qualified for an FHA loan which allowed us to put a lower down payment and have money left over for renovations. We will also have rental income.
Did you always have your eyes on something in South Slope, or were you looking at a number of different neighborhoods?
We first looked around our current neighborhood because we love our daughter’s elementary school but could not find anything that we could afford. We expanded our horizons but also needed somewhere that a) had good middles schools and b) we could commute to work and school easily. We love South Park Slope because it is less pretentious than other neighborhoods (not naming names).
Was it love at first sight when you found the brownstone you purchased?
We first went to see our brownstone out of curiosity. It is across from the highway so we never thought we would actually buy it. We looked because it had what we wanted: a rental unit, a big yard, fireplaces and some period detail. When we walked in we could really feel good energy in the place. It had not been updated in years but it was the first house that we felt had potential and we barely noticed the highway noise.
What do you know about the history of your home?
The house was owned by the same family since the 50’s. The sellers told us a lot of their growing up stories. We have also uncovered artifacts like newspapers and notes from the (now grown) children tucked into the walls. We’d like to know more.
Did you know from the get-go that you would need to put a lot of work into the building?
Yes, we knew right away that we wanted to tear down the old wood frame extension in the back and put a new one with big windows and doors. We did not realize that it is much more difficult and expensive to try to restore a house rather than gut it and put everything new.
How much of the work are you guys doing yourself?
We hired professionals for our duplex and we are doing most of the work on the rental unit ourselves, mainly cosmetic work. Right now it is on hold because we haven’t had running water in the house for months.
Has the process been more intense than you imagined it would be?
This is one of the hardest things we have ever done. Even though you hire professionals you have to do a lot of ground work yourself. You think you know exactly what interior doors you want until you realize there are 10 different types of doors.
Does it look like you’ll be able to make your estimated move-in date?
We are already past our move-in date of March.
What would you say to anyone thinking about purchasing an old brownstone?
Read our blog to find out what mistakes not to make. Accept that renovations are going to take longer than they say and cost more. Make sure your relationship is strong. You will argue a lot.
If you had the chance to do it all over again, would you?
It depends on the day you ask us. If it was the day the wrong doors were delivered after a two month wait, the answer would be no. Today we are having a good day so, maybe.
Photos via Brownstone Cyclone