By Joyce Cohen
AT first, Anthony So and Diana Tran, childhood sweethearts, thought their first home together would be in Brooklyn, where both grew up and where, with a budget into the high $400,000s, they could afford a two-bedroom home.
It didn’t occur to them that Manhattan was within reach. “My perception when we started was that no one could ever live in Manhattan unless they were a millionaire,” Mr. So said.
The two, both 28, met as sixth-grade classmates and attended Midwood High School and Baruch College together. Both lived at home with their families in Bensonhurst. A year and a half ago, Mr. So joined Miss Tran in the basement of her parents’ attached row house, and they began hunting for their own place to buy.
“All of our friends live with their parents, so for us, moving out was kind of a big deal,” Mr. So said. The couple preferred not to rent if they could instead invest their money in a purchase. Without unlimited funds, “we prioritized,” Mr. So said.
They decided that buying a home was a more important first step than a wedding.
The first-time-homebuyer tax credit made buying appealing, even though “I didn’t really think prices had plunged,” Mr. So said. “I still thought prices were unreasonably high.”
Their first concern was their commute. Both work near Herald Square, Mr. So in Internet marketing and Miss Tran for an apparel company. The trip from Bensonhurst, via the D train, took an hour each way.
A Brooklyn location closer to Manhattan was the obvious choice. They found affordable two-bedroom condominiums, but were rarely keen on the interiors. “After a while they all started to look the same,” Miss Tran said. “It got really generic for me.”
Layouts sometimes confounded them. “What would make them design it this way?” Miss Tran said. “In the middle of the room there would be a pole or some kind of wall sticking out. It would be space that you can’t work around. We learned what would or wouldn’t make sense for us. We wanted something simple and easy.”
In short, they wanted to be able to envision “where you are going to put your TV and your sofa,” she said.
Last November, they became serious about a two-bedroom place in a new building on 60th Street in Sunset Park. But a percentage of the building was to be commercial space, which made it tough to get a mortgage. They withdrew their offer of $480,000.
Then they noticed that studio and one-bedroom co-ops in Manhattan were within their budget. A Midtown location would mean savings on MetroCards. Maybe they could live in Manhattan after all.
They could easily buy a $265,000 studio at 433 West 34th Street near the Lincoln Tunnel, a building where a colleague of Miss Tran’s lived. Maintenance was less than $500. Friends had warned them a Manhattan home would most likely be small, and it was. “I am so easygoing it didn’t bother me,” Mr. So said. “All I need is a TV and a bed.”
But Miss Tran couldn’t see the two of them cramming into one room. She preferred a spacious one-bedroom co-op for $425,000 on East 36th Street near the Queens Midtown Tunnel. The problem there was, it required either a circuitous subway trip to work, or a long cross-town hike.
The two were encouraged, however, by seeing so many affordable places. “Every unit was unique,” Miss Tran said.
They spotted a co-op listing in Midtown off Fifth Avenue near the Empire State Building. “The fact it was described as a duplex really caught my eye,” she said.
They were surprised to find that the ground-floor location didn’t bother them. The place wasn’t what they had envisioned for themselves, but they liked it.
“Sometimes it is just more about feel,” Mr. So said. “It could meet every single criterion, but you just don’t love the place.”
It was larger than they expected, with a practical layout and a wood-burning fireplace. Miss Tran liked the stairs, which suggested a house rather than an apartment. “If we have kids, running up and down the stairs would be kind of fun for them,” she said.
When they drove by on a Friday night, the neighborhood seemed quiet. “How noisy can it be?” wondered Miss Tran, whose family’s Bensonhurst house was on a two-way thoroughfare, not far from the above-ground D tracks.
The apartment was listed for $449,000. “The same apartment on a higher floor would have gone for much more,” said the listing agent, Jenet Levy of Halstead Property. “I think it’s unusual for a young couple to buy their first place. Usually they rent for a while.”
The couple agreed to a price of $431,500. Just before signing the contract, they learned that the monthly maintenance, listed at $1,060, was rising to $1,140. “We were blindsided,” Miss Tran said. “It would have been nicer if they told us. We already had a budget set.” But it didn’t stop them.
When the two arrived in April, they had no bed, so they camped out in the living room, and were roused by the roar of garbage trucks. Trash pick-up seemed to occur all night every night.
“It literally felt like the garbage truck is coming into our apartment,” Mr. So said. They moved to the downstairs bedroom, which is quieter. Soundproof windows are now on their list of home improvements.
Meanwhile, the two are decorating and furnishing. After spending hours assembling three big pieces of furniture from Ikea, Mr. So said, “I prefer furniture to be premade.” But Miss Tran found that “putting it together was a good learning experience” and “pretty satisfying.”
The two revel in the convenience of their location, walking to work through throngs of Midtown tourists. “I didn’t realize how great not commuting was until I got here,”
Mr. So said. It seems to them that they are about 10 minutes from everywhere..
Some nearby stores are open 24 hours, so midnight munchies are easily satisfied.
The snack aisle at Duane Reade is a favorite. Miss Tran, whose company closes early on Fridays in summer, loves to spend that afternoon reading in Bryant Park.
“It’s what every New Yorker should do,” she said. “Every Friday, that is exactly my ritual.”
Tuesday, June 29, 2010