Last fall, Anna Dougan and her roommate put in an offer on an “amazing” Bushwick rental.
“It was stunning,” she recalls. “It had a view from one of the bedrooms that overlooked the entire city, and then on the other side was a rooftop where you could have a barbecue and things. It was just a really bright, lovely flat.”
There was just one problem: the commute. At the time, the looming closure of the L train threatened to turn North Brooklyn into a real-life version of “Escape From New York” — and Dougan, 28, wasn’t much interested in playing Snake Plissken.
A research consultant working out of Union Square, she dreaded the idea of heading to the office every morning via an overstuffed J or M train.
“I have a high-stress job and long hours,” she says. ”The last thing I wanted to do was have a 50-minute commute with people crammed in.” And so she pulled out of the deal for the Bushwick pad and found a place on the Upper West Side instead.
About a month later, on Jan. 3, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the L train would not, in fact, have to close for repairs, reversing the original plans to shut the line between Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn and First Avenue in Manhattan for 15 months starting in April.
“The day they announced that, I was kicking myself,” Dougan says. “But,” she adds, “I love the UWS, and ultimately it’s all worked out.”
She’s not the only New Yorker who made real estate commitments as a result of the shutdown scare.
Roughly 400,000 people ride the L train on a given weekday, with some 225,000 of those using it to cross between Brooklyn and Manhattan. And since the MTA declared back in April of 2016 it would need to close the line for an extended period of time for repairs, those straphangers — along with business and property owners along the route — made plans to cope with the disruption.
Some, like Dougan, passed on otherwise perfect apartments. Others took advantage of closure-related discounts to snag what now look like amazing deals. According to numbers from listings website StreetEasy, since the shutdown was first announced three years ago, rents have declined 1.5 percent in North Brooklyn but rose by 3.3 percent across the rest of the borough. Had the area seen the same price increases as Brooklyn overall, renters signing leases in 2018 would have paid an extra $26.5 million.
Bargains were available to home buyers, too. At the end of last year, Damon Zhuang, an architectural designer in his late 20s, bought a one-bedroom apartment at Adam America and Naveh-Shuster’s 45-unit Williamsburg building 308 N7 at 308 North 7th St. Developers were selling condos at a discount of around 10 percent. Units there are currently available from $842,000 to $2.5 million.
When he spoke to The Post in December, Zhuang said that the closure had helped him negotiate a good price but acknowledged that the lack of service would be a hassle in the short term.
“You gain something, you lose something,” he said.
Speaking again the shutdown’s reversal, Zhuang’s situation sounds less like a trade-off and more like a score.
“When we heard, it was like a painkiller,” he says.
For theater producer Gabrielle Brechner, 42, the bag was a little more mixed. She and her husband bought a three-bedroom condo along the East River in the aftermath of the 2008 housing collapse.
“We got a very good deal then, and our property value has increased,” she says. “So we thought that if there was going to be another downturn [due to the closure] we could leverage some of the equity in our home to buy another place and rent it out as an investment.”
But making monthly expenses add up was a delicate balancing act. Williamsburg sales prices were falling — making units more affordable — but so was the rent the couple could expect to charge. At the same time, their apartment, which they planned to refinance to buy the second place, had dropped in value by about $100,000, Brechner says.
When the shutdown got canceled, the couple canceled their home-buying plans as well.
“I did all this work and all this research, and now I’m just going to take a breather,” she says.
Brechner adds she and her husband are still considering purchasing an investment property, but not in Williamsburg.
Since Cuomo’s decision to fix the L train on nights and weekends, Williamsburg’s previously frozen real estate market has seen a rapid thaw, according to David Maundrell, Citi Habitats’ executive vice president of new developments in Brooklyn and Queens. For example, the three-building rental complex at 420 Kent (which Citi Habitats represents) rented 18 apartments the weekend after the announcement. Rents start at $2,380 and go up to $5,862.
The CEO of real estate firm MNS, Andrew Barrocas, likewise noted an uptick in activity at Douglaston Development buildings 1N4th (rents from $2,756 to $7,000) and Level (rents from $2,843 to $8,312); MNS markets both towers, located along the Williamsburg waterfront.
“We’re seeing more than twice as many visitors to both buildings,” he says. “We have people walking in saying, ‘Hey, I had an application in on an apartment in Soho, but I prefer to live in Williamsburg. I heard the announcement. I want to live here.’ ”
Pedro Cabassa, 40, a director of operations at a tech startup, and his girlfriend Daria Marcial, 33, an art director, were looking to move from their Nolita rental to Williamsburg last year but couldn’t bring themselves to pull the trigger given the looming shutdown.
They were considering a rental in the Financial District when they heard about the reversal earlier this month.
“We immediately emailed [420 Kent] and put in an application,” Cabassa says. “There’s an artistic community and galleries and a lot of amazing restaurants [in Williamsburg], and obviously the views of the city are great.”
Andy Fisher, 46, who works in advertising, and his partner Ruby Yocum, 47, who works in finance, made a similarly rapid course correction upon hearing the shutdown was off. The couple had been looking primarily in Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City but toured Level on Jan. 2, Fisher says, “just as kind of a lark.” They loved the building but considered it a no-go because of the L. Cuomo made his announcement the following morning, Fisher says, “and we moved on [a three-bedroom] immediately.”
Level and 420 Kent have largely kept their pre-Cuomo announcement rents in place, but some Williamsburg sellers and landlords are raising prices, says Triplemint agent Hila Peled, predicting that inland developments more dependent on the subway will see the largest increases.
Of course, says Fisher, with the MTA, you never know what could happen. In his opinion, shutdown reversal aside, “this L train situation is not a done deal.”