I Paid $300,000 For My NYC Studio—Here's What It Looks Like

In Refinery29's Sweet Digs, we take a look inside the sometimes small, sometimes spacious homes of millennial city dwellers. Today, 30-year-old Julie Leung shows us around her 700-square-feet lofted studio in downtown Brooklyn.

In New York, locals like to say they're constantly looking for a significant other, an apartment, or a job. In her 20s, author and marketing director, Julie Leung happened to always be looking for an apartment.

"Basically, once every six to 10 months I had to find a new place. I was either getting priced out or I moved in with a boyfriend and we broke up," she says. "My parents got so tired of it." So the family hatched a plan; while many might think of home ownership as something that comes after a wedding, Julie decided to jump ahead and become one of the lucky New York City homeowners as a single woman, landing an efficient 700-square-foot studio in downtown Brooklyn.

As life would have it, Julie met Kyle a month or so after moving in. The OkCupid date eventually led to marriage, and once Kyle moved in, the apartment needed a transformation. One extra person meant a need for extra storage, requiring creative solutions to the open layout to make room for the books, gear, and clothes he brought in. With a little help from Ikea mirrors and room-dividing bookshelves, the little studio turned into a spacious-feeling Brooklyn oasis, thanks in part to its tall ceilings, large windows, and lofted bedroom. Which is all to say, Julie's search for the New York City trifecta might just be over.

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What is the worst apartment you've ever lived in?

"When I first moved to New York I was living in a place in Bushwick for $900 where we basically had a pet mouse. It wasn't a mouse that we wanted; it was a mouse that just ran around the walls and I named it Ivan. It was the only way for me to adapt to living with rodents. We also overflowed the toilet a few times; one time we had to hand scoop out the water. It was so awful. Again, nothing bad in the apartment; it’s just when you’re really poor and living on assistant-level pay in New York, you just kind of deal with a lot of things. So many things would be leaking, there were furry centipedes that would crawl up the walls. On the second floor there was always a couple fighting really loudly, John and Chelsea, and you could tell because they would yell each others' names. So we would always be like, oh John and Chelsea are fighting again."

So now you own your place. How did you find the spot?

"I found it in the weirdest way. I actually looked in the window of one of the real estate offices that litter downtown Brooklyn and saw it, and then I called in about it. It took me two months to find the spot, but the process of buying took many more months. It was a four month process to get all the paperwork in order and go through the board interviews.

Did you negotiate at all?

"We were able to negotiate the price down just a little. I think the original owner was really looking to move, so we were able to take around $10,000 off the listing price. Again, this was in 2012 before Brooklyn real estate got out of hand, so we got it down to the $280,000 to $300,000 range."
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How did you get the money for the downpayment?

"My parents had been saving up for many years to send their only child to, you know, Harvard, and I ended up going to state school and becoming an English major, to their disappointment. So the money that they saved for me to go to an Ivy League college eventually went to the down payment for this particular unit."

Was there anything surprising that struck you about the buying process?

"I think the most surprising thing is just the competition. Even back in 2012 when it wasn’t so hot, there were still a lot of people in the open houses. You feel this pressure to make a call. Luckily I didn't spring on anything I later regretted, but I can see how people feel pressure to move fast, because there are so many other people looking. The other piece in terms of home-buying is just how the board goes through every statement, every part of your financial history, and it can feel a little invasive. But they are looking closely to make sure that you're going to be able to pay for this."
Etsy Handmaids Tale Cross Stitch, $5.77 Buy
Any decorating tips for small spaces?

"You know how those restaurants have a mirror and you think it’s a huge place? That trick completely works in a small space. We bought a giant mirror, turned it horizontal, and put it up in the dining room area. It opens the space a lot more and it’s super cheap to do. The mirror itself was like 99 bucks at Ikea."

How do you stay organized?

"I think we’ve had to deal with a lot of donating and paring down. I don’t think we’re perfect at it quite yet, but we’re forced to pick our darlings when we’re living in such a small space. We can't put everything up because then they'll just detract from each other. So we always ask, how much do you love this thing versus how much do I love this thing? Between Kyle and me, we both have a lot of things we're fighting for."
Ikea NISSEDAL Mirror, black, $49.99 Buy
Like what?

"One of the things we are consistently having to do is cut back on our Funko dolls. I feel like if we lived in the suburb we’d have, like, an entire cabinet full by now, but we’ve managed to keep ourselves down to four Funko dolls and no more.

Sometimes we’ll bargain. If I get to keep my Westworld figurine up then I have to also put the Attack on Titan thing next to it. Luckily, we tend to end up on the same things often."

Anywhere that doesn't apply?

"The kitchen. This is where we draw battle lines. Our rule is, if you brought the most stuff in, it's up to you to organize. So since he brought the most stuff into the kitchen, that's his domain. He has to figure out places to put things, especially since there are a lot of places I can't reach, with high shelves."
Etsy Vintage Mayflower Ship Model - Detailed Mayflower Ship With Wood Base - Vintage Model Shops - Mayflower Figurine, $32.00 Buy
Want more Sweet Digs? Watch another episode here.
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