Brooklyn had always been NYC’s No. 2.

It was for hipsters. It was for broke young people. It was for those who “gave up” on Manhattan.

But the pandemic has finally changed that attitude, as thousands of life-long Manhattanites poured into spacious townhouses and amenity-laden new construction towers.

Tribeca residents Catherine, 40, and Ricardo McKenzie, 42, plan to be among those city expats soon.

After renting in downtown Manhattan for the past 11 years, they’re now looking to Brooklyn for a long-term home.
 
“Brooklyn feels like a new beginning, a new focus as we shifting our minds to be more about our family,” Catherine, who co-founded the handbag shop Min & Mon and whose two children attend school in Brooklyn, told The Post. “Living through the pandemic in Tribeca made us realize that we don’t want to feel like we’re in the heart of things anymore. While [downtown Manhattan] does feel like home, there’s now this idea of feeling more exposed by being in Manhattan.” 

Brooklyn brokers were the first to experience the influx of families, like the McKenzies, who were crossing the East River.

A row of unique townhouse apartment buildings with stoops on New York Ave. in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.
A row of unique townhouses with stoops in Crown Heights.
Alamy Stock Photo

“We’re seeing a big uptick in Brooklyn, in both rentals and sales, because of that community feel,” said MaryElizabeth Smith of Corcoran, who is representing the McKenzies in their ongoing Brooklyn home hunt. “There’s a small-town vibe in many neighborhoods in Brooklyn that isn’t as common in Manhattan.”

In the first quarter of the year, Brooklyn saw 2,822 sales, up 11.8%, year over year — the highest Q1 total in 14 years, according to Douglas Elliman.

The median sale price during that period reached $900,000, an increase of $100,000 from the year before.

Meanwhile, the number of new lease signings in the borough surged five-fold, year over year, to 2,175 — the highest number ever recorded, according to the Elliman report. The median rental price was  $2,730 during the same period.

For many Manhattanites edging to make a play in Brooklyn’s real estate boom, those numbers beg the question: is it better to rent or to buy?

Aerial view of downtown Brooklyn New York with the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
Brooklyn saw its highest Q1 sales total in 14 years, according to Douglas Elliman.
Getty Images

Of course, it depends, said Corcoran agent Vicki Negron, who works with both rentals and sales properties in Brooklyn. 

“The good news is that you can get what you want on both sides of the equation right now,” she said. “You just need to search for it.” 

For those looking for a sweet deal, renting is the way to go, she added, noting that there is a “hyper-supply of rentals” on the market pushing down rents.    

“The power has really swung in favor of the tenants’ side of the market, which means it can be a good time to rent right now,” confirmed Jim Kerby, a broker at Douglas Elliman who specializes in Brooklyn. “Landlords have had to lower their rents, and many have gotten rid of the various transaction fees, too, like the first month’s security deposit.” 

A skyline of Brooklyn.
In Q1, the number of new lease signings were the highest ever recorded.
Getty Images

It means that many renters are currently able to upgrade from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom with a large outdoor space — a la the “Girls” episode where Hannah hangs out at that rich dude’s brownstone and they grill in his sweet backyard.

“Ultimately, it comes down to spreading out a bit,” Negron said. “At this time last year, we were in hunker-down or leave mode, and now we are in recovery mode, which calls for people to think about expanding their living spaces. Now that we know that many people can work from home, it’s about making room for home offices and home gyms that may stick around for a while.” 

‘A big thing we’re seeing in the market right now is people putting in offers without any contingencies to protect themselves. They want the property so much that they’re not as risk-averse as they should be.’

Compass agent Shii Ann Huang

But for those with serious money in the bank, it’s not a bad time to make a lifetime investment in the city’s most populous borough — just don’t expect a discount.

“Interest rates are low, and home prices are likely going nowhere but up,” said Shii Ann Huang, a Compass agent who works in Brooklyn. “We hit rock bottom last year, and now we are already coming out of the bottom — so homes are likely only going to get more expensive.”

It’s a perfect storm that is leading to bidding wars and above-ask deals.

“People saw the lower pandemic prices and thought, ‘Wow, this is such a great deal,’ and then the number got jacked back up because there were multiple bids,” Huang said. “While we saw decreased prices across the board in both rentals and sales last quarter, we’re actually seeing a big shift now. And that’s going to keep happening.” 

But a word of caution: While it may be tempting to snatch something up now, it’s important to not let the frenzy — or what Smith referred to as the “ ‘Hunger Games’ of real estate” — impair your judgment.

“A big thing we’re seeing in the market right now is people putting in offers without any contingencies to protect themselves,” she said. “They want the property so much that they’re not as risk-averse as they should be.”

Ricardo, left, and Catherine McKenzie, by vacant storefronts near their home in TriBeCa.
“I want a place that will feel like a home, but I don’t want something at any cost,” according to Catherine McKenzie.
Stephen Yang

Her advice? Slow down.

That’s precisely the logic that the McKenzies have adopted in their search.

Though they’ve lost out on a couple great homes in bidding wars, they’re still hopeful that the right Brooklyn home will find them — on their terms.

“I want a place that will feel like a home, but I don’t want something at any cost,” Catherine said. “I want the right place at the right cost because ‘winning a place’ is not me. I won’t be able to be at peace with myself if I win something that wasn’t wise.”  

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