The Definitive Guide to Buying Your First Home

How this New Yorker saved to buy her first Brooklyn apartment at age 25

Jackie Goldstein in her apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Source: Jackie Goldstein

This story is part of CNBC Make It's new millennial home-buying series. If you're interested in being featured, email reporter Alicia Adamczyk at

New York City is it for Jackie Goldstein. The 31-year-old has lived in the city her entire life, save for her four-year stint at Emerson College in Boston, and she has no plans on leaving.

"I'm so in love with New York City," Goldstein tells CNBC Make It. "I knew I wanted to live here forever. I wanted to own a piece of the city."

The city's high prices didn't deter her. The median price for a one-bedroom co-op or condo in New York in the first quarter of 2019 was $800,000, according to a report by Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel. But for buyers outside of Manhattan and certain parts of Brooklyn, there is less expensive inventory available.

Goldstein's piece of the city ended up being a one-bedroom co-op in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which she bought at the end of 2013 for $280,000. She was just 25, four years out of college, and making around $30,000 a year as an editorial assistant for the Curbed Network. She was able to save as much as $2,000 per month, she says, because after graduating in December 2009, she moved back in with her father in the Manhattan apartment where she grew up.

She enjoyed living with her father in the heart of the city and appreciated that it enabled her to save so much. Without a rent bill, student loans or other day-to-day living expenses to worry about, she began dreaming of a place of her own. Many of the friends she grew up with were also living back home, as they looked for jobs and tried to save in the midst of the recession.

"I was very, very fortunate," says Goldstein. "After a year or two of living with my dad, I realized how much I was saving. I mapped it out and found I could save for a down payment if I lived with him for another year and a half."

Living at home was, of course, central to her ability to stash away money for a down payment. But she says her parents instilled in her a saver's mindset from an early age.

"Our family just does not spend that much," she says. "My parents were good at saving and were good at spending on the right things, and not spending in a willy-nilly way. I found myself in this very lucky position and took advantage of it," she says. "I had very low expenses and no debt, so I had to make it happen."

I feel a lot more secure knowing I have this asset, which is massive.
Jackie Goldstein

With a plan in mind, Goldstein began scouring real estate listings on sites like Zillow and StreetEasy. She had a general sense of the neighborhoods she could afford and went through a mortgage pre-approval process that gave her budget cap of $300,000.

At first, her heart was set on the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, but that proved to be too expensive: The median sale price for one-bedroom condos and co-ops in Prospect Heights at the end of 2013 was $410,000, according to data provided by Zillow, well out of her price range.

She eventually shifted her focus to nearby Brooklyn neighborhoods like Park Slope and Crown Heights. After missing out on two apartments, one of which was scooped up with an all-cash offer, she offered over-asking price for a one-bedroom in Crown Heights, which was accepted.

The neighborhood had a lot to offer: Plenty of restaurants, cultural attractions like the Brooklyn Museum and Prospect Park within walking distance, and many of her friends lived there, too. It turned out to be a perfect fit.

"I was very gung-ho on the apartment," she says, which was well within her price range. And "the neighborhood keeps getting more interesting."

Goldstein offers these three additional tips for first-time home buyers.

Find professional help

Goldstein says a few key professionals helped her navigate the market and make the most of her homebuying experience. She worked with a real estate agent to help her find a place, and then hired a lawyer, who was recommended by the agent, to handle any issues that came up throughout the buying process. Because she was so young, Goldstein says, it made sense for her to hire people who knew what they were doing.

"My lawyer walked me through everything and explained everything I was signing and what it meant," says Goldstein.

Self-made millionaire: Don't buy a house before you ask yourself this question

Her mortgage broker, too, was a helpful resource. At the beginning of 2015, the broker contacted her to let her know that interest rates were lower than when she bought the apartment. Goldstein was able to refinance, and her bill dropped from $1,185 to $1,020 per month.

Goldstein also routinely sees a financial advisor, who has helped her plan for the future. After her mortgage payments decreased, Goldstein says she decided to keep paying the higher amount each month to pay her debt off faster. But her financial advisor cautioned against that given the low interest rate, advice that she's thankful for now.

"She said I'd be better off saving that money, I don't really need to give the bank extra money right now," says Goldstein. "So I went back to paying the normal amount."

Consider the long-term investment

Goldstein says she liked the idea of buying something that could become income generating if she needed it to. And now that she's moving in with her boyfriend, she's embracing potentially becoming a landlord.

"I feel a lot more secure knowing I have this asset, which is massive," she says. "I paid $280,000 for the apartment, and I could probably sell it now for $480,000 or $500,000. It's appreciated a lot, which is incredible."

In fact, in the six years she's lived in Crown Heights, the median cost of a one-bedroom has increased from $319,000 in 2013 to $680,500 today, an increase of 113.3%, according to data provided by Zillow.

Goldstein has also continued to be a careful saver. Her salary has increased over the course of her career — she's now vice president of commerce at the New York Post — but she still saves as much as she can each month. She doesn't yet have a plan for that money, but says she likes the security of knowing it's there, and the options it gives her.

One thing she's considering: Buying a bigger place with her boyfriend. Goldstein is excited and anxious to experience the buying process at such a radically different point in her life than when she first bought six years ago.

If you can make it work for you and budget it, real estate is such a good investment.
Jackie Goldstein

"I was so young and had nothing going on, but now I'm older and thinking about more serious things," she says. "It's interesting to think about buying from a completely different life stage."

Regardless of where you are in your life, make sure you set a realistic budget so that you have enough money leftover for other expenses. Goldstein enjoys collecting art and taking in all of the cultural events the city has to offer. She wouldn't be able to invest in and enjoy those hobbies now if she bought an apartment she couldn't truly afford six years ago.

"If you can make it work for you and budget it, real estate is such a good investment," she says.

Don't let an expensive market dissuade you

For young buyers in cities like New York, patience is key. Goldstein searched for apartments for seven months before she made her first offer. And she missed out on two apartments before the deal went through for her one-bedroom in Crown Heights.

"If it's a nice apartment in your price range, probably 100 people or more will also see that apartment. Be patient," she says. "You might not get the first apartment."

And make sure to account for expenses beyond the down payment, like closing costs, repairs and new furnishings.

"I think I was a little bit naive in general," she says. "I didn't really think of the other costs, like moving, and I had literally no furniture because I was coming from my dad's apartment." She paid her lawyer a flat fee of $1,900 for her services, and in addition to her monthly mortgage, she pays $600 to $700 per month in maintenance costs to the co-op.

Goldstein admits she was lucky with the timing of her apartment purchase. Her advice to younger people currently in the market is to embrace living at home to save money if that's an option.

"I understand I'm in a unique boat, and a lot of people don't have the opportunity to live at home," she says. "But for people who do, even if you have loans, you can save a lot of money and do smart things with it."

Don't miss: How a 25-year-old used $40,000 in down-payment assistance to buy her first house in Atlanta

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