1BR; Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

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  • Photograph: Cinzia Reale-Castello

  • Photograph: Cinzia Reale-Castello

  • Photograph: Cinzia Reale-Castello

  • Photograph: Cinzia Reale-Castello

  • Photograph: Cinzia Reale-Castello

  • Photograph: Cinzia Reale-Castello

Photograph: Cinzia Reale-Castello

Dan Starobin, 29, IT manager for city government; Bianca Taylor-Starobin, 31, law-school admissions officer
Rent:
$2,100
Broker's fee: 12% ($3,024)    
Broker: Candice Vilaire, Brooklyn Heights Real Estate (917-405-7342, candice@brooklynheightsrealestate.com)
Moved in: July 2010

The search: "We were in Prospect Heights for a year and then three years in Brooklyn Heights," says Starobin. "We used Candice to move both times. Both times we were expecting to be able to do this on our own with Craigslist. I think it's possible, but it's very time-consuming. We sort of stumbled upon her and she just worked her butt off. She took the time to listen to us and what we needed and basically came to us with a bag of stuff and said, 'Let's look.'"

The area: "We like [Cobble Hill] because it's generally pretty quiet and family-friendly; there are a lot of babies in the neighborhood, and we knew we'd be having a child in this apartment," says Starobin. "It's safe, pretty close to transportation, close to good restaurants, close to the waterfront and the new greenway that's being constructed all the way down to the Verrazano. It also happens to be close to my parents, who live a mile away. We wanted a whole floor; you can get a floor in Cobble Hill, but you can't really get one in Brooklyn Heights—the buildings in Brooklyn Heights are subdivided to a greater extent."

The broker: "We found that half the brokers that we located online were very flaky and [we] had bad experiences with setting up appointments and them not showing up," Starobin recalls. "In one case, a woman who called us didn't know how to pronounce Joralemon Street. But Candice was very obviously a very hard worker and interested in doing business with us in the future, so she gave us really good service and it worked—she's the first person who popped into our heads when we decided to move."

The apartment: "We were like, Crap, it's big!" says Starobin with a laugh. "We were living in a 400-square-foot studio in Brooklyn Heights, and before that a 350-square-foot one-bedroom in Prospect Heights. As soon as we saw this place—650 square feet with a hallway that's maybe another 80 square feet—it just felt huge. A lot of light, eastern and western exposures, a new bathroom."

The perks: "There are four units in the building, and the landlord lives in the ground one," says Starobin. "He gives each tenant a $200 paint allowance and they can paint the apartment any way they want. And he was open to any improvement. Replacing doorknobs, switch plates—he said we should give him the receipts and he'll knock it off the rent. I built a custom closet and we just took it off the rent. And then we had a massive leak that destroyed the kitchen, and the landlord decided to gut it and give us a brand-new one. They found brick behind one of the walls, so they left that. It turned out really beautiful. So it's really worked out well for us."

Tips for apartment hunters: Starobin notes: "Up front, a broker's fee might look like a big cost, but you have to decide how long you think you're going to stay in the apartment. If a broker charges 12 percent of a year's rent, calculate what that is and average it out over 36 months. You have to think about the overall impact on your life. And brokers sometimes have access to places that are better than what you'd find on your own."

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