A Three-Bedroom; Anywhere Is Fine

The New York TimesJune 01, 2012
IF they’d had two boys or two girls, Jon and Charlene Simonian might have stayed in their two-bedroom co-op on Sutton Place. As it was, the children shared a room until they were almost teenagers. Then the Simonians went on the hunt for a three-bedroom.

At that point, 15 years ago, two-bedrooms in Manhattan were selling in the $300,000s, while three-bedrooms ran twice that, Mr. Simonian said. “I just couldn’t get over the fact that an extra bedroom was going to cost us an extra $300,000,” he said.

So the couple sold their apartment at a small loss and rented a two-bedroom with a convertible dining room at the Brittany, a high-rise rental building on York Avenue. After some years there, with the rent rising and the children grown and gone, the Simonians moved to a three-bedroom in the then-new Hampton Court on 102nd Street and First Avenue. The apartment was slightly larger than their old one, with a big terrace and a rent three-fifths of what they would have paid farther south, Mr. Simonian said. (Three-bedrooms at Hampton Court currently rent for around $3,600 a month.)

The Simonians loved the apartment, where they grew flowers and vegetables outdoors, and the building, where services included a shuttle to the 86th and 96th Street subway stops. A few drugstores and delis were nearby. The dearth of restaurants was no problem. “We are not big ordering-in people,” Ms. Simonian said.

Nor did they mind that “there was nothing charming” about living in that particular area, with its littered streets and housing projects, Mr. Simonian said. The management company, Glenwood, calls the neighborhood Gracie Point, but others call it East Harlem.

The Simonians hunted off and on for a permanent home to buy. “We just didn’t feel that push to do it,” Ms. Simonian said. “We were always sort of open to things. It was an ongoing-saga kind of thing.”

With prices high, they considered leaving for Florida, where they had friends, or Westchester, where they play golf. “I like city life,” Ms. Simonian said, “though I’m a pretty easygoing person and could probably be happy anywhere.” She is on staff at a small private elementary school in Midtown East. Mr. Simonian, now retired, worked in the investment field.

The couple, both in their 60s, decided to remain in the city. “I haven’t been bored one day in 45 years of living here,” Mr. Simonian said. “And since we can afford to live in New York we said, heck, why are we spinning our wheels looking elsewhere?”

They weren’t intending to downsize, but apart from that they weren’t sure what they were after. “I am 69 years old,” Mr. Simonian said. “I want some elbow room.” Their home could be in any neighborhood; it could have amenities or not. Yet, unwilling to pay more than $1,000 per square foot, they found that most nice Manhattan apartments were just too expensive.

“I look at a square foot,” Mr. Simonian said, “and I say to myself, how can this possibly be worth $1,000?” And renovating would bolster the price to “way the heck over my magic mark of $1,000 a square foot, which I had a mental thing about,” he said.

He often asked agents, “Would you spend this money on this apartment?” Usually they dodged the question, Ms. Simonian said. Most apartments they saw were perfectly fine, but “too expensive for what they were,” she recalled. And they were already living in a beautiful rental, so it was hard to give that up.

Mr. Simonian was intrigued by an adorable single-family row house, with three floors and a basement, on East 101st Street. “It had historical charm, it had a backyard, it had space,” he said. The listing price was $1.695 million. He even priced elevators, which cost around $75,000 to install.

But his wife preferred the security and services of a doorman building. (The house did not sell and was taken off the market.)

The Brompton, a 22-story condo on East 85th Street, was one of their favorite new buildings but, again, pricey. A three-bedroom is currently on the market for $2.695 million, or $1,500 a square foot, with monthly charges around $2,300.

One day last fall, with time to kill, Mr. Simonian stopped by the newly built 1280 Fifth Avenue, at the northeast corner of Central Park near 110th Street. He saw several condos there, and loved a three-bedroom, well above the treetops, with around 1,600 square feet of space. He arranged a return visit with his wife, requesting that she be shown his favorite apartment last.

“My eye was not cluttered,” he said, “and the way the whole building was put together was very attractive to me.” The price came in around $950 a square foot, thereby overcoming his main hurdle.

Ms. Simonian was taken with it, too. “I didn’t realize I had a checklist,” she said, “but after I looked I thought, this is everything I could possibly want. And we were in agreement. It was like when we met — it was meant to be.”

They signed on within days, paying $1.525 million. The common charge and taxes run a little more than $2,000 a month.

The building, which will house the Museum for African Art, was recently renamed One Museum Mile. It is about 30 percent sold, said the director of sales, Tom Postilio of Core Group Marketing.

The Simonians arrived in the spring. “There is absolutely no buyer regret,” Mr. Simonian said. “I wish I had an extra million dollars, because I would have bought the corner apartment that overlooks the park.”

They are now exploring the northern end of Central Park. “All I did was play baseball in Central Park with my kids,” Mr. Simonian said. “I never crossed it, I never sat in it and looked at the trees.”

The neighborhood, which some call Upper Carnegie Hill but others call East Harlem, still has a dearth of services, but the Simonians are used to that. “I will pick up something on my way home from work,” Ms. Simonian said.

They enjoy the rooftop pool and the roof deck with a view over the park. “It calms me down,” Mr. Simonian said. “I may not miss my huge terrace on 102nd as much as I thought I might.”

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