Sizing Up to a House in Jersey City: How Much Work Was Too Much?


October 2020 was a big month for Emily Oppenheimer and Julian Agin-Liebes. They were married in a park in Jersey City, N.J., before a handful of close friends and family. Dr. Agin-Liebes, a neurologist, learned he had been placed at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center for his fellowship training. And the couple, now armed with extra cash from their scaled-down pandemic wedding, decided it was time to put down roots.

Ms. Oppenheimer, 35, and Dr. Agin-Liebes, 34, had moved to Jersey City from Harlem in 2017, renting a two-bedroom downtown. They loved the building’s rooftop garden and the proximity to the PATH train. Ms. Oppenheimer, a program manager for a New York City public-health center, had discovered her green thumb when she moved to New Jersey, taking on the role of gardener for the building. Then the pandemic turned the communal space into a restricted one, with time scheduled in advance.

“As much as we loved sharing, during Covid everyone got a little possessive about their outdoor time,” Dr. Agin-Liebes said. “And we were both working from home, sharing this one desk.”

They hoped to find a home with some character, but were initially discouraged by what they found for their $750,000 budget — too many examples of the so-called “Bayonne box,” the chunky, often vinyl-clad multistory condominium buildings common in Jersey City and neighboring Bayonne, N.J.

“No shade, but it wasn’t quite what we wanted,” Ms. Oppenheimer said. “It has a garage and it’s perfectly fine, but it’s all that was available in our price range.”

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They didn’t want to stay in downtown Jersey City, which, despite its convenience, had begun to feel too congested. They hoped to buy in or near the Jersey City Heights neighborhood, where they liked to go out to eat, visit their favorite bike shop and take in the Manhattan skyline from Riverview-Fisk Park.

“We were like, ‘Why do we keep coming here to do the things we want to do? Let’s think about living here,’” Dr. Agin-Liebes said.

Through a mutual friend, they connected with Katrina Spiratos, a real estate agent with Corcoran Sawyer Smith, and spent several months scouring the area for homes in their price range with the right mix of character and outdoor space.

Among their options:

Find out what happened next by answering these two questions:

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