In the early months of 2021, Brooklyn’s daughter Lisa Willis drove to her home in the suburb of Cleveland, where she lives. After a few days of visiting the home Ms. Willis bought in 2015, her daughter Libby got back in the car to head back to New York. This was the first time they had seen each other since the pandemic began, and saying goodbye was particularly challenging.
Ms. Willis leaned into the car to give her daughter a last hug, then watched her pull out of the driveway. “She stuck her head out the window,” Ms. Willis recalled, “and said, ‘If you just moved to New York, we’d never have to do that again.’
The testimony was a turning point for Ms. Willis, now 60, who had long considered moving to the New York City area to be closer to her children. At that point she said, “You start thinking, what do I have to do?”
When her children were young, Mrs. Willis and her ex-husband would often take them to visit New York. “It was my fault that the kids fell in love with New York City,” she said, laughing. “We’d say, ‘Maybe one day you’ll live here!’ But a lot of parents say, ‘Maybe one day you’ll be president,’ and the kid never becomes president.”
Their son Dieter, 36, moved to Queens for a college internship in 2008 and now lives in Nyack with his wife and baby; Libby, 32, moved to Queens in 2014 and now lives in Brooklyn. For the last ten years, they hoped that their mother would join them. But when Ms Willis bought her home in 2015, the prospect seemed less likely. “They had told me they wanted me to move here and I just wasn’t ready for various reasons,” she said. “One of the main reasons was that it’s very, very expensive.” Mortgage and property taxes on her home in Ohio were $1,500 a month; Rent in New York would require many times that amount.
Still, the pandemic had underscored how distant Ms Willis was from her children. The three have always been close, and she missed Sunday lunches, which were so important to her family that they all got matching silverware tattoos on their arms.
“I really started to reconsider what was important to me,” Ms. Willis said of that time. Realizing that spending time with her kids was a top priority, she “I decided to spend money now to live that lifestyle instead of saving money and being far away.”
Last May, Ms. Willis visited her children in New York, and they came up with a plan: “They said, ‘You have to move here and we’ll help you find an apartment and a job.’ She recalled. “And I said OK.” At the time, Ms. Willis was working in a living kidney donor program at the Cleveland Clinic; miraculously, a few weeks later, a friend recommended her a job as a clinical analyst at CareDx, a transplant-based company in California that allows remote work.
$4,650 | Fort Green, Brooklyn
Lisa Willis, 60
Profession: Senior clinical analyst at a medical transplant company
Budget views: Their large windows overlook adjacent walls, but “if I could see anything else, my rent would be an additional $12,000 a year.”
Kitchen Must-Haves: “I had to have a gas stove so I could light my double boiler – canning is a big deal for me. I’ve been pitting cherries we picked in Newburgh all week for bourbon cherries and whitecurrant jam.”
The next step was selling the house, which turned out to be shockingly easy. After Mrs. Willis decided to sell, she told her neighbors as a courtesy; They decided to buy it, so the house didn’t even go on the market.
In Brooklyn, Libby took on the difficult task of helping her mother find a place to live. Ms. Willis found entries, planned visits, and put them on her daughter’s Google Calendar; then Libby left the restaurant she ran to look at the apartments. She soon found a promising option, but Ms. Willis, who had never applied for apartments in New York before, didn’t have all her paperwork ready and missed out. Other times, Libby would call her from the sidewalk outside an apartment and tell her the location wasn’t right.
The rental market recovered from its Covid slump and finding a place that fit Ms Willis’ criteria – big enough for her dining table, space for a dresser in the bedroom, a second bedroom for visiting family, laundry in the building – always became more difficult. She had originally hoped to find a two-bedroom apartment for less than $3,000, but soon found that with New York’s skyrocketing rents, that was a long shot. On Labor Day, she said: “We almost threw in the towel. I was starting to think maybe that has to happen next year.”
Then she stumbled across two offers at a former Fort Greene candy factory. The apartments were still being renovated, but Libby saw the huge windows and open plan living area and knew it was right. She told the agent showing the apartments her mother’s story and they immediately applied for one.
The rent was well above the rosy target of $3,000: at $4,650 it would require a significant contribution from Ms. Willis’ savings, a decision she didn’t take lightly. “The truth is I have to spend a lot of my life savings to live here. But at some point you have to make a decision about what you’re doing right with your savings,” she said. “Do I just stack it up and let it sit there? Or use it to live the life I want now?” The latter option has prevailed; She and her two dogs moved in last October after the renovation was completed.
The bright, open plan apartment has turned out to be perfect for Mrs. Willis. The open-plan living room is big enough for her beloved couch, which is “suitable for the whole family”, as well as a teak dining table that can be expanded to seat 12. A small corner off the living room is the ideal home office. The previous tenants left behind a small butcher block table that doubles as a kitchen island and storage space; They also left a large closet system, a bonus for this dedicated homemaker.
Mrs. Willis has also come to love her neighborhood. When she moved in, “I ran and left because I didn’t want to go back in — it was so beautiful,” she said.
One day last fall, she passed a bike ride while walking the dogs. “The leader said, ‘This is Fort Greene, one of the most prestigious and beautiful neighborhoods in Brooklyn,'” Ms. Willis recalled, “and I just waved, ‘Yes, I live here!'”
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