“If something is in really bad shape, most buyers won’t go for it, and that’s where the opportunity for value is for us,” said Mr. Haralabides, 41 and an architect. Mr. Haralabides, who is a native of Greece, owns Rebuild Workshop, a design-build firm that specializes in brownstones. He viewed a renovation project with gusto.
“If we put some money in and fix it, we will have a great house,” he said. He and Ms. Chou had a budget, for everything, of about $2 million.
They wanted a “diamond in the rough, and that’s hard to find in brownstone Brooklyn these days,” said their agent, Kirsten Syrett, who works as a team with Sarah Chamberlin. (They were at Halstead Property then, and are now at Compass.)
Mr. Haralabides and Ms. Chou, finding little they could afford, decided to partner with their friends, another couple also searching for a Brooklyn home. One prospect was a charming but decrepit — it lacked running water — three-family house on Sixth Avenue in Park Slope, an estate sale asking $2.3 million.
The idea for both families to purchase something together was short-lived; both wanted the top floor and the garden. “We were going to flip a coin,” Ms. Chou said. “We saw obstacles brewing.” Nobody wanted to risk their friendship if the deal soured.
Mr. Haralabides and Ms. Chou’s friends ended up buying a condominium in Clinton Hill. The Park Slope house — too expensive to go it alone — later sold for $2.2 million.
At around the same time, Mr. Haralabides and Ms. Chou saw a small two-family — just 15 feet wide — on busy Ninth Street in Park Slope, asking $1.5 million.
It faced a 24-hour CVS Pharmacy. In their price range “they weren’t going to get a beautiful tree-lined block,” Ms. Syrett said.
The couple were less bothered by the traffic than with the unappealing view. The house was in terrible condition, which for them was a plus.
“The termites had chewed through the plaster,” Ms. Syrett said. “It was like lace. They were fearless,” she said of the couple.
Mr. Haralabides and Ms. Chou offered the asking price, but were outbid by a buyer offering $1.55 million.
Weary of continuing their search, they briefly considered a just-renovated Prospect Heights two-family for $2.3 million, where they could move right in.
This idea, too, was short-lived. “We wanted to take advantage of our skills and our vision,” Mr. Haralabides said. He also worried about the quality of construction in a house redone by somebody else. Besides, “if we bought something like that, I would miss all the fun,” he said.
An unappealing listing appeared on Eighth Avenue in Park Slope — a modest three-family rowhouse for $1.6 million. At one point, the stoop had been removed, and a front extension built, which had been home to a deli.
The interior of the house was rundown and the backyard held an aviary.
“It was really ugly,” Ms. Chou said. “We knew our competition might be low because of how bad it was.” They soon learned that a developer was interested, but the sellers preferred a family and were glad to disclose that the developer had bid $70,000 over the asking price.
“I said, ‘Let’s not game this — $70,000 doesn’t make a difference,’” Ms. Chou said. “Themis was hyperventilating.” The price — considering the work needed — was already uncomfortably high. They increased their bid to $1.67 million, matching the other offer.
The house, in the Park Slope Historic District Extension, was just 16 feet wide. “We did quick sketches to see how many rooms we could fit inside,” Mr. Haralabides said. “To put three bedrooms and two bathrooms, it is a little bit like a Swiss watch. Everything is small.”
They bought the house last spring, using all of their savings and borrowing from their retirement funds, and set to work. “Demolition is an understatement,” Mr. Haralabides said. ”We left brick and some of the joists.”
They chose two small bathrooms over one large one, and added noise insulation between rooms, ceilings and floors. “It costs very little, but developers don’t do it,” he said. “It is hard to fix once you move in.”
The house, which includes a rental unit on the ground floor, is now nearly completed. The family arrived in late December and immediately installed baby gates for Olivia, who is eager to explore the stairs.
“It’s very rewarding to go through all this effort,” Mr. Haralabides said.