Condo Shame: Hipsters Hear Siren Song of Shiny, Well-Priced Apartments

condoshame Condo Shame: Hipsters Hear Siren Song of Shiny, Well Priced ApartmentsNicole Ferejohn, 27, was paying $1,200 per month to rent a walk-up apartment on Avenue A and St. Marks about a year ago when she decided that it was time to own, invest, reduce the tax load a bit. She was thinking brownstone, original moldings, maybe some brick or a tin ceiling, a quirky layout.

“But then I started looking and I was like, ‘Holy bejesus, they’re all like a million dollars!’” said Ms. Ferejohn, who works at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

She never before would’ve considered the glossy new condo developments in various Brooklyn neighborhoods that advertise stainless steel appliances, doormen, contemporary sinks and globular light fixtures. But the market had faltered, they were suddenly in her price range, and hell, what’s so wrong with nice views anyway? 

Ms. Ferejohn looked at one-bedrooms around $600,000 in the Satori development and the Mill (a conversion), both in Carroll Gardens. The spaces were large, affordable and remarkably pristine, but Ms. Ferejohn had trouble picturing her antique wooden furniture there. And there was something else.

“When my friends and I first started seeing the buildings going up, we used to make fun of them! We were like, ‘Oh great, these yuppies are moving into town,’” she said. “It was like, ‘Do I really want people to know that this is what I think is O.K.?’ I like to cook dinner and have people over and I wouldn’t be able to do that because I wouldn’t want anyone to see it.”

Ms. Ferejohn was experiencing Condo Shame: a toxic combination of desire and repulsion toward reasonably priced postwar creature comforts.

Every time her friends came over, Ms. Ferejohn imagined, she’d be apologizing. Please excuse the doorman. Please excuse the building’s silly name (Forté, NV, the Pad, etc.). Please excuse the Zen garden and the movie theater and the rooftop cabanas. It’s not me. It’s an investment. I’ll only be here for a few years.

“You’d always be like, ‘No, dudes, I’m far more interesting than this apartment, I promise!’” said Ms. Ferejohn. “I just thought, that could never be me because I’m too … I’m too full of character to live in a place like that!” She laughed—it sounded forced. “I know that sounds so silly, but I just couldn’t do it.”

‘SWALLOWING PRIDE’

A surplus of new developments has changed the up-and-comer’s complicated calculus of where to live in this city. The residents of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Fort Greene—where many of the glassy new condo buildings have sprung up—are hardly bohemians. (See: Marc Jacobs bags, iPhones, speakeasy bars, $200 jeans, well-behaved Puggles, anything “farm-fresh,” Baby Bjorn, Mad Men.) And yet to them, the condo yuppie is a different, more dangerous breed—even though his cash outlay may be lower, his purchase more practical.

It’s a delicate balance of sensibilities. “I mean, I know I’m a yuppie, too. I work in finance,” Ms. Ferejohn said. “I like my cute coffee shop, but I’m not so crazy that if there’s a Starbucks, I’m not going to get a coffee there. But I go to see bands all the time and all of my friends are artists, musicians, journalists.”

‘I naïvely had this idea that gentrification was inconsiderate and ruining old Brooklyn, but it wasn’t a well-thought-out position.’—Kendall Turner, new owner of an apartment in the Ikon

Ultimately, her anticipation of condo shame was so crippling that she found another rental in Cobble Hill (a brownstone!) for $1,400 per month. And now that some of her friends have purchased in new developments in Williamsburg, she’s joined the shaming brigade.

“I just feel bad for them. I think they’re all just swallowing a bit of pride while doing it. I really do,” she said. “I remember them saying, ‘Well, you know, we’re going to change the paint in here and make it warmer,’ and I was like, ‘Dudes, it’s not the paint that’s going to do it. It’s an office building!’”

Kendall Turner, who is 23 and also works in finance, was not so paralyzed by Condo Shame. In March, she closed on a $449,000 one-bedroom in the Ikon building on McCarren Park in Greenpoint. Due to the deteriorating condo market, the developer paid her legal fees and taxes, reduced the price (down from a little over $500,000) and, most importantly, since her apartment was a model unit, allowed her to keep all the Ligne Roset furniture and the already-installed washer-dryer. 

“I naïvely had this idea that gentrification was inconsiderate and ruining old Brooklyn, but it wasn’t a well-thought-out position,” Ms Turner told The Observer.

Ms. Turner did not set out to find a condo. She was living in the West Village with two roommates, paying $1,450 a month, when she began her apartment search. She looked at a one-bedroom on Horatio Street that had a large living room and built-in bookcases for $600,000, and a ground-floor apartment on West 16th Street with a garden for $599,000. The first smelled of cats, the second wasn’t spacious or light enough.

The Ikon place “was much larger and cheaper than anything I had been looking at,” Ms. Turner said.

Sure, she got teased a bit when she moved in. In fact, she often doesn’t even tell friends that she owns her apartment.