The Hunt: A House and a Backyard, Without Leaving the City

The Hunt: A House and a Backyard, Without Leaving the City

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They decided against continuing to rent and buying a second home, which friends were doing. “With kids, they start to divide their city and country time,” Mr. Marks said. “I have never wanted to drive three hours every Thursday or Friday night to use my house, my porch or my backyard grill.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Marks was introduced to Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, while shooting a commercial. “The reason we were shooting there was we didn’t have any travel money in the budget, and we wanted to have a suburban feel,” he said. “I didn’t know Ditmas Park even existed.”

The couple found that they loved the area, filled with storybook streets and beautiful Victorian houses.

Last summer, they enlisted the help of a friend, Jos Mansell, a salesman at MDRN Residential, who formerly worked with them in advertising. They aimed for a house in Ditmas Park or nearby, with a budget of $1.5 million or more if need be.

DITMAS PARK A house needing work had absurdly squeaky stairs.

Credit
Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The houses they looked at “all had some level of compromise,” said Mr. Marks, 46.

They took a detour to Red Hook, which they knew and loved, visiting a lovely three-story rowhouse selling for $1.65 million.

“The interior of the house was Lilliputian,” Mr. Mansell said. “Going up the stairs, your shoulders would brush the walls.” The layout was hardly suitable for children. And on the waterfront, flooding was a concern.

Back in Ditmas Park, “the whole fixer-upper handyman quandary came into play,” Mr. Mansell said.

At one five-bedroom house for $1.825 million, “the stairs were the loudest stairs I’ve ever heard in my entire life,” Mrs. Marks said. “It was the noise of old stairs but dialed up to an absurd level.” The house needed hundreds of thousands of dollars in updates. “I am not very handy and don’t have much patience for a renovation,” Mr. Marks said. They were already above their budget, and didn’t want the children to live with noise and dust.

A house a block away, with eight bedrooms, was asking $1.829 million. The previous owner had kept an iguana in a cage. “When I was a kid I had an iguana, and something about their food has a recognizable smell,” Mrs. Marks said. (The current family pet is a cat, Delilah.) This house, too, needed updating. And it was far too big.

But another house was available on one of the neighborhood’s cul-de-sacs, which back up to the aboveground Q train.

DITMAS PARK A newly renovated house had three stories and a big backyard.

Credit
Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The house, three stories, had been recently sold, renovated and flipped. The family loved the open floor plan downstairs, with the children’s bedrooms upstairs and a master-bedroom suite on the top floor. The basement, half finished, held a laundry room, and the fenced-in backyard was bigger than most. It was listed at around $2.18 million, with taxes of around $3,800 a year.

This one, finally, felt right. They bought it last fall for $1.985 million.

“We learned to really appreciate our old super because now we are our own super,” Mrs. Marks said. “We are building a whole Rolodex of electricians and plumbers and tile people and yard people.”

With summer here, they are opting primarily for portable air-conditioners. “In the winter we can hide them in the basement,” Mrs. Marks said. “That way, you get your windows back.”

Their commutes to Midtown have worsened. Both have around a 45-minute ride on the Q train — a step down from their former ferry ride across the East River, a trip nice enough to attract tourists, Mr. Marks said.

Virgil, just finishing kindergarten, attends the local elementary school, whose pupils come from families speaking 33 different languages. Violet, 3, will enter prekindergarten.

Living on a dead end is ideal, Mr. Marks said. “We sit on our porch and watch our kids ride their bikes on the street, which I never imagined would happen in the city. I have found my oasis.”

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