During the Pandemic, Her $600,000 Went Further. Which Apartment Did She Choose?

On the day she was to sign the papers to buy a one-bedroom condominium in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Anna Lee learned she was being laid off.

That was two years ago. Ms. Lee, who had been a design producer at a television network, was at a crossroads. She could use her savings to buy a home as she had planned or she could invest in a long-held dream: developing a collection of handbags made in Italy, sparked by a quest to find a simple, high-quality leather bag.

“It had to be one or the other,” said Ms. Lee, 47, a Columbia University graduate whose family immigrated to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, from South Korea when she was a child. Her mother once had a handbag store in Midtown, so Ms. Lee was familiar with the industry.

She cancelled the purchase of her $600,000 condo and remained in her South Williamsburg one-bedroom, where the rent was $2,800 a month.

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But as she worked on her bag business, Ainsley New York, she never lost her desire to pay a mortgage rather than rent.

“Not having a dishwasher was an issue for me,” Ms. Lee said. “I wanted to install one, and the building wouldn’t allow it. There’s dishes piling up. I needed to get amenities that could save me time and effort.”

Last year, as she resumed checking out listings, she realized that the pandemic had dramatically changed the game. No longer did she need to put 20 percent down — developers were more open to negotiation. And interest rates were temptingly low.

“I got more information on mortgages, and then I went full steam ahead,” Ms. Lee said. “I was able to afford a one-bedroom with a minimum down payment of 10 percent.”

With her $600,000 budget, she went looking for a new and relatively small Brooklyn condo building, with a good design and high-end finishes. “As a designer, I gravitate toward that,” she said.

The borough’s new condo buildings were similar, with boxy one-bedrooms of around 600 square feet. The differences, she found, were in the details.

Among her options:

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