Just the Right Amount of Space in Williamsburg


Kenneth Buchanan grew up in Virginia Beach, Va., and lived for three years in the Washington area, before landing in a small one-bedroom in a new midrise building in Arlington, Va.

He didn’t know New York well, but he and his friends visited on occasion. Last fall, he went on the hunt for an information technology job in New York — and an apartment, too.

He had heard of a few neighborhoods, including Williamsburg in Brooklyn, which appealed because of the food scene. A friend who’s a chef gushed about it.

Mr. Buchanan, 26, had a budget of up to $3,000 a month. He needed little space – a one-bedroom or studio would do.

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SOUTH WILLIAMSBURG A location near the Williamsburg Bridge was a turnoff.

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David Dee Delgado for The New York Times

When he followed up on listings, he was often met with silence. He estimated that just 40 percent of the agents he contacted got back to him.

On several trips to the city, “I did a lot of walking around Brooklyn,” he said. “I had no idea where I was.” Technology notwithstanding, it was easy to get lost.

“There are bugs in Google maps,” he said. “I would set a destination, and it would be the same building number but not the street I was looking for.”

Besides, Williamsburg was changing so rapidly that street pictures were quickly outdated.

Mr. Buchanan encountered a one-bedroom for rent in a South Williamsburg condo building, Williamsberry, on Berry Street, but was deterred by its location, near the base of the Williamsburg Bridge.

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EAST WILLIAMSBURG A one-bedroom was unnecessarily big and expensive.

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David Dee Delgado for The New York Times

He liked a new rental building, 456 Grand in East Williamsburg, but the smallest apartment available was a one-bedroom for a bit more than $3,000. “This one-bedroom was way bigger than I needed,” he said. “I couldn’t really justify the price. That might sound like a couple of extra hundred bucks, but that stuff adds up.”

He contacted the Ice Cream Factory, a 23-unit rental building on Berry Street that opened over the summer, and heard from Charles Fontana Machado, a salesman at Citi Habitats and a leasing agent there. Mr. Buchanan was unaware of the building’s location near the Brooklyn Bridge, just across the street from Williamsberry. But the location was moot — the building’s four studios had long since been rented, and the last one-bedroom had just been rented, too.

Mr. Machado, however, offered to line up some similar options.

By now, Mr. Buchanan knew that a one-bedroom was unnecessary. In his Arlington apartment, which rented for $2,100, “I was always in my bedroom,” he said. “I would never go out to my living room.” He knew that New Yorkers managed in one-bedrooms with spouses and children. “I see other people — all I need is a studio.”

So he declined a $3,000 one-bedroom for rent in a small, boutique condominium with no amenities.

Mr. Machado also suggested the 82-unit Williams on South Fifth Street, a new building not unlike the Ice Cream Factory but bigger and with more amenities. The local subway stop was the Marcy Avenue station on the J/M/Z line, rather than Williamsburg’s popular L train, which is facing a shutdown for construction.

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SOUTH WILLIAMSBURG A new building offered a view and amenities galore.

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David Dee Delgado for The New York Times

So a J/M/Z commuter would not face a change in route, Mr. Machado said, except for a more crowded station.

Mr. Buchanan picked a studio with a great city view. Having heard horror stories about renting, he came prepared. “When I was asking about documentation, he started pulling things out of his backpack,” Mr. Machado said. By the time Mr. Buchanan signed the lease, for $2,765 a month, he had landed a job in the Financial district.

The building came with one-month-free rent on a 12-month lease and carried no broker fee.

Even though he has his own stacked washer/dryer, he especially likes the big machines in the building’s laundry room. “For your comforter in the winter, that is really helpful,” he said. He uses the residents’ lounge for meetings with his business partner — their start up, DevOpsLife.io, teaches techniques for software development and information technology operations, known as devops.

Mr. Buchanan finds the neighborhood somewhat remote, with an odd mixture of new buildings and abandoned ones.

“The food scene is awesome,” he said. “There’s tons of restaurants, but as far as needing to go out and get some groceries, that is still a challenge. There’s always delivery service, but I am the kind of person who likes to go out and get his stuff. Sometimes bodegas don’t have everything you need. At least, the ones near me don’t.”

Except for some new-building glitches like finicky heat, he is happy in his home. His solicitous building staff “is unheard-of in D.C.,” he said. “It’s like the cherry on top.”

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