Clinton Hill/ Fort Greene

It’s cheaper to commute from Cleveland than buy a BK condo

This is what $500,000 gets you, folks.  (via NYT)
This is what $500,000 gets you, folks. (via NYT)

I recently received a Google news alert, i.e. an ad, for a condo in Clinton Hill. I’m not in the market, but something struck me about the property. Not its precious name (Aperture 538) or the severe appointments, but its price tag: a staggering half-million dollars for a 533 square-foot studio. That is sheer lunacy — why would anyone pay that much for such a tiny space? Yeah, yeah, location, location, location. The ad says, “Clinton Hill is an ideal neighborhood to call home…”, which is true if you have no concept of the value of money. But I do; so I wondered if that cash would be better spent buying somewhere less desirable and simply visiting Brooklyn every weekend.

I love living in New York, but with work, commuting, and sitting around afterwards griping about the two, I don’t have much time to take advantage of the city during the week. A half-million dollars is about 1/74th of the GDP of Tuvalu — way too much just to watch Netflix in an overpriced mausoleum on weeknights. With those kinds of bucks I figured it could be saner to buy a similar condo in another city, say, Cleveland, and use weekends to fly back to the borough. But would $500,000 be enough? And how long could I keep that up? To answer these questions, I did some research.

It was actually hard to find a place in Cleveland as small as the above decadent shoe box. In fact, finding a 500-square-foot studio was nearly impossible — it’s as if people in Cleveland appreciate “living space” and “bedrooms.” I did find this place, a little bigger at 768 square feet with a little patio, a bathroom, and a bedroom. It doesn’t have chichi Cervaiole marble slab countertops like the Clinton Hill condo, but this is the Rust Belt.

It lies in a so-called hipster part of Cleveland, Ohio City, where they’ve got similar “emerging shops and restaurants” hawked in the Clinton Hill ad. It also has a gym and washer/dryer, which are worth their weight in gold and conspicuously absent in the Brooklyn condo. Though the two places aren’t identical, I’m calling it even. The price: only $124,000.

For simplicity’s sake, assume I have a half-million in cash (haha, yeah…), because that’s the only way to buy real estate in Brooklyn nowadays. Buying the condo in Cleveland leaves me with $376K in the bank.

Ohio City. But does it smell like Brooklyn? (via Wikimedia)
An Ohio City street. But does it smell like Brooklyn? (via Wikimedia)

Airfares to Cleveland are surprisingly cheap. I found upcoming round-trip flights from $190 to $360. Frequent flier miles and fare fluctuations will likely cancel each other out over time, so I’ll take the average of these two, or $275. I figure travel time would be around six hours every week, which is plenty of time to trade stocks, laugh mirthlessly, or whatever the hell it is rich people do in their spare time.

Without a place of my own in Brooklyn, I’d have to find an Airbnb to stay Friday and Saturday nights. The life of a weekend nomad will be lonely, so I’d only need accommodation for one. Airbnb says the average price for a single private room in Clinton Hill is $116/night. With the normal service fee it comes to about $250 for weekend accommodation.

Add $200 for cab fare on both sides and it’s $725 per weekend trip to New York, or 518 possible trips with our leftover cash. Divide that by 50 weeks in a year (two weeks saved for a real vacation, duh) and you have enough money to buy the condo in Cleveland and visit New York City every weekend for ten years. All for the price of one tiny studio condo in Brooklyn.

Would I miss New York during the week? I’d miss all-night bodegas and limitless dining options, though I imagine getting used to 7-11 and… sausage? That’s what they eat in Ohio, right? I might miss the MTA, but probably not. Worse, though, is I’d be the snobby guy in the office that always skips happy hour because I have to fly off to a better city for fun. But the whole arduous plan would be worth it because in reality I’ll never be able to afford a home in Brooklyn.

Ten years feels like just enough time to grow sick of the Big Apple anyway. My peers will be old and boring by then, what with knee problems and children. Plus, if the Post is to be believed, second-term de Blasio will be personally arming criminals with handguns and telling them “Gotham is yours.” More likely, though, I’ll be the lame one, complaining about the noise, the price of real estate, and how small restaurant portions are compared to back home in Cleveland.

But if I do want to keep the party going well past my prime, I’d take public transit to the airport and find a very, very accommodating friend with a spare couch. That way I could theoretically keep up the scheme for 23 years, or until New York is swallowed by the sea and Cleveland becomes the new Brooklyn. Then I would sell my tiny Cleveland condo for a million 2038 dollars and fly back every week from my new home in Tulsa.


  1. Rob Welter

    After learning that there are all kinds of restaurants popping up in Cleveland, and you want to go to 7-11 for dinner? Ohio City is just the tip of the culinary iceberg.

  2. Zaidi

    I still can’t figure out why they call Millennials the ‘Ben Franklin Generation’, when Ben was frugal, and these ‘millies’, with their life-long college student loan debts, are the ones buying up these walk-in closets to live in. The ‘Delusional Generation’ would be a more apt description for them!

  3. Krissie

    The author is being cheeky. I’m sure he’s aware there more to eat in Cleveland other than sausage. Worst thing about Cleveland: people who can’t take or spot a joke. SMH. -trendy Cle neighborhood resident. Smh.

    • Conal Darcy

      I think you mean “wurst thing about Cleveland.”

      And don’t worry. For every indignant commentor there’s 10,000 pleasant Clevelanders who got the joke. :)

  4. This seems to be getting more press in CLE than in Brooklyn. :). I’d echo some of the above posters that I think you’d find yourself happy to flee back to the CLE after a week in NY. Don’t take that the wrong way. NYC is an incredible city, unlike any in the world. But for a small city, CLE has an incredible food and arts scene. Sports are painful (except for the Cavs) but loyal diehard fans. There are 60,000 acres of parkland surrounding the city. A national park just 30 minutes away. You can bike, hike, sail, kayak, paddleboard or run trails. And you can actually get to everything.

    As for that Ohio City historic neighborhood: it features the oldest public market in the U.S., a gem where you can find food of every kind. It’s the anchor of a neighborhood that features amazing restaurants. Michael Symon (Iron Chef; The Chew) has three restaurants within 10 mins of OC. Jonathan Sawyer (Beard Award winner) has three. And they are the tip of the iceberg. That same neighborhood is home to three breweries (including Great Lakes Brewing Co., winner of multiple Great American Beer Festival gold medals), etc.

    Why are there so many great chefs here? For the reason your essay points out: a restauranteur can actually afford to open one here.

    But you missed the best thing about CLE. The people.

    So come visit!

  5. David Crook

    Interesting. You’ve caught me in a cranky mood this morning. So I did some quick research and found 245 studios or one bedroom apartments currently for sale in New York City for under $150,000. Most are in the Bronx or Queens, but I see 49 in vaunted Brooklyn as well. None in Manhattan and just four on Staten Island. So our writer could actually save even more money and time, and keep a New York paycheck, without the social or psychological issues associated with a move to Cleveland. Not that there’s anything wrong with Cleveland. Or any other city that isn’t New York. But, cue up Sinatra, it looks to me like there’s still plenty of room in the city that never sleeps. (And alas, 7-11s are taking over here, too.)

    • Wait, but…what’s your job? Are you a freelancer working from home? In that case yeah, good plan, but I have to show up at this office in DUMBO, like, every day.

      • and why did this post under this dude’s post, gah, sorry dude.

        but in reply to this dude: Brooklyn is the third-largest city in the US and you found 50 apartments under 150k? FIFTY? You’re not actually helping your case here, dude.

  6. jermaine

    “With those kinds of bucks I figured it could be saner to buy a similar condo in another city, say, Cleveland, and use weekends to fly back to the borough.”

    This is not commuting from Cleveland. This is living and working in Cleveland and flying back to NYC for weekends.

    This also assumes you’re making the same salary in Cleveland as you do working in (I assume) Manhattan. (You cite your super stressful, super time consuming commute so I’m assuming you’re commuting from a far flung part of Brooklyn to Midtown or something?) Average weekly wage of Manhattan workers is $2,749. In Cleveland it’s $987.

    You also have to buy a car in Cleveland. Anyone who’s at least middle class has one, because public transit is horrible. Your super “stressful” transit commute is now a fun driving commute in the snow, or learning to actually miss the MTA!

    In short: delete this post with its clickbait headline about “commuting” from Cleveland wherein you describe a life of drudgery in NYC commuting but as soon as you move to Cleveland you somehow don’t have to commute and somehow make your Manhattan salary without commuting there or something.

    • Wrong.
      And wrong decade.
      From Ohio City (and from the building I believe I recognize in the photo), a resident is a single block from an RTA rail station, which goes underground to Tower City (with a 24/7 classic Jewish deli) or to the airport.
      From there, a commuter can connect to free trolleys, the Blue, Green and Waterfront lines (and a just-opened station in Little Italy) — plus a gold-standard BRT system — taking you anywhere in Cleveland.
      Cleveland, may be the East Coast, but, considering it’s about a two hours’ drive from the New York state border, it ain’t Kansas, either.

  7. Kitten

    Author, you are way off base with your comments about 1) food in Cleveland. We have a ridiculous bevy of top tier chefs (no, I’m not thinking of Michael Symon) and unlike NYC, you don’t need to know somebody to get in on a decent night at a decent hour. 2) Cleveland becoming the new Brooklyn after NY is swallowed by the sea. Fortune magazine’s senior editor, Leigh Gallagher, declared Cleveland the new Brooklyn almost 2 years ago. However, in between bites of sausages, we politely declined.

  8. Kevin E. O'Brien

    Cleveland is a great city. Period. It stands on it’s own. It’s true that NYC (and the outer boroughs) is pricey, but that has always been the case in world class cities (London, Paris, Tokyo, NYC…). Land in high demand and in short supply has value.
    Access to the housing markets of those cities is perilous for most home owner aspirants (as well as renters).

    The only difference in

  9. Brittany

    It gets even better. If you only visit New York once a month, you’ll have enough money to pay for a friend to come with you! Maybe even a few friends.

  10. Matteus

    I actually do live in Ohio City and my response to these posters… lighten up Clevelanders and take a joke!! haha this was a funny article. We have the same mentality of a close family – we can make fun of our own but if you join in… we’ll kick you a$$. I’m just glad I don’t live in Tulsa (queue up the Tulsa residents)…

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