After 30 years of raising our twins in a rental apartment in Manhattan, we are finally going to become coop owners! Better late than never, right? I’ve been looking for many years, but we could never afford an apartment that suited us. Once our son moved to Los Angeles, we no longer needed a third bedroom (not that having a den isn’t nice). Crunching the numbers, my husband figured that if we continued to rent our current apartment we’d probably spend a million dollars over 10 years (or until we could no longer afford it). Crazy, right?
If we waited until rising rents and (my husband’s eventual retirement) forced us to leave our current apartment, we’d have nothing to show for that entire million dollars of 10 years’ rent. Worse still, our daughter on the spectrum would be left with no money and unable to afford to live in Manhattan—the only home and community she has ever known. Like many other parents of autistic adults, I’ve spent countless sleepless nights worrying about how Samantha will live safely and independently after I’m gone. Her SSDI and current housing subsidy are not enough and probably never will be. I’ve been hoping that an affordable solution would present itself, but I never dreamed that Covid 19 could provide the answer.
2020 saw many Manhattan families fleeing the city for second homes or purchasing homes in areas where schools were open. Manhattan real estate prices began to fall. The supply of two-bedroom apartments grew as demand plummeted. Suddenly, the sellers’ brokers were thrilled to show me apartments and followed up promptly with my broker to see if I was interested.
Eventually, I started seeing possibly-affordable two-bedroom apartments with split bedroom layouts on high floors in the neighborhood of our choice. At the same time, my husband had the best two years of his career AND his law firm managed to make budget. Still, Howard felt dubious about making a purchase until he started to look at apartments with me. Since he’s been working from home instead of his downtown office, he was able to dash out on weekdays to check out apartments. (Another Covid plus?) Of course, we only considered coops willing to accept a shareholder with a disability and limited income because we wanted Samantha’s name to be on our lease so that she could inherit the apartment one day.
Despite lower prices due to Covid, apartment hunting was a frustrating process. Sometimes the layout was wrong, or the second bedroom was too small, or there weren’t enough closets, or there were brick wall views, crazy maintenance, etc. One day I was complaining to my childhood friend Andrew Cohen, whose father and uncles were residential builders on the Upper East Side in the 1960s.
“You should really look at the G line at 300 East 74th Street,” Andy advised. “My father used to say that building was the last and best of Cohen Brothers’ residential buildings. I remember showing model apartments there when I was in high school and the G line was REALLY nice.”
I immediately looked on StreetEasy and called my broker: No G line apartments were available, at first. But in October, Howard and I finally saw apartment 31 G. It needed some work, but had a huge living room, split bedrooms, and gorgeous city views. Out on the balcony, I confessed: “I could definitely live here and be excited about it.”
“It’s got a LOT going for it,” Howard agreed. “We can stay in our neighborhood, keep the same dry cleaner, walk to our favorite restaurants, and be close to the Q train.”
Our first bid was unsuccessful. We kept raising our offer until we reached one final “take it or leave it” number, which was still too low for the owner. The next morning a miracle occurred. Apartment 35 G went on the market for exactly the same price as 31 G—AND it was vacant with better views! We rushed over with a contractor to see and got the bad news: a costly, complicated six-figure renovation project. At that point, our broker informed the broker for 31 G: “The Elisofons went to see 35 G with a contractor.”
A few hours later, the owner of 31 G accepted our previous offer. Thrilled, we signed a contract on November 9th. Finally, the denizens of the Never- Empty Nest were achieving our version of the American Dream. Although we are only moving diagonally across the street and will still be “prisoners of Second Avenue,” our new, smaller nest is an aerie high above the noisy traffic, a quiet and peaceful haven, far from the hubbub below.
Why did I wait all this time to write about searching for our new nest? Between the election chaos, the coronavirus, applying for a mortgage, and asking for personal references for all three of us, I literally couldn’t sit still. Plus, I wanted to be sure the apartment was truly ours. I didn’t want to make any announcement for fear of jinxing our purchase.
In addition, I was a little worried about Samantha and the coop board. Even though, our broker assured us that we were financially qualified and our references stellar, I’ve learned to take nothing for granted. Although we had disclosed Samantha’s autism, she is sometimes a wild card. What if one of the board members addressed her as Sam instead of Samantha (one of her triggers) and she blew up? What if she rambled or didn’t answer the questions she was asked? Or what if she interrupted to complain that she wasn’t being included in the conversation? Although unlikely, all of these scenarios were possible, so I prepared her well: “Smile and listen. Listening is the best way to participate. Only speak when someone addresses you. If they call you Sam, please let it go. Just remember “less is more” and ‘teamwork makes the dream work.’”
But nothing ever goes smoothly for my family. Samantha was perfectly charming and our Zoom interview went well—until we suddenly lost our internet connection! No kidding. Could there possibly be a worse time for Spectrum to fail us? Fortunately, we connected with the board over the phone and successfully completed the interview. At the end Howard remarked happily that the apartment “checked all of our boxes.”
“You checked all of our boxes too!” one board member responded kindly.
So we’re in! Or at least we will be—after the wall is restored to Samantha’s room, after the kitchen and closets are redone, etc. Hopefully, we’ll be moving in late April. Stay tuned.