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New York Times

Upper West Side One-Bedroom Just Needs Paint

For most of her two dozen years in New York, Jamie Koff lived on West 83rd Street, in a one-bedroom with around 600 dark square feet. Her rent climbed to a bit more than $3,000 a month.

“I started dipping my toes in the market about 10 years ago, while my parents were still alive,” said Ms. Koff, now 44. She intended to buy a place with their help, but that never happened. They were from the Philadelphia suburbs, and “city prices scared them,” she said. “Shoulda, woulda, coulda.”

Both parents became ill. Ms. Koff traveled back and forth to help with their care. She took in her parents’ poodle, Samantha, when they could no longer care for her. In time, both her parents died.

Ms. Koff now runs her own business, Fabric to Finish, which helps independent and emerging designers with product development “from concept to cloth.” About two years ago, she decided it was finally time to buy a place. She sought the help of her friend Mark D. Friedman, a salesman at the Friedman Rosenthal team at Halstead Property. She and Mr. Friedman headed the committee for this year’s Taste of Hope (, an annual fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society.

WEST 72ND STREET A place on the Upper West Side was the goal. One apartment needed too much work for the money.

Ms. Koff was interested in a co-op with one or two bedrooms and sufficient space to accommodate her furniture. Some of it had belonged to her parents.

She wanted a building with a doorman and an elevator. She was tired of going up and down stairs with the dog, and toting bags and luggage. “If I was going to make this investment, I wanted more space than I had, and less effort,” she said. “It’s a pedestrian culture. You throw stuff in the car if you’re in the ’burbs, but in our world you have to carry everything, because we go everywhere by feet.”

In her preferred neighborhood, the Upper West Side, she found that her price range of $600,000 to $800,000 often yielded places in lamentable condition, with poor light and no views. “There was a lot of ‘Oh, this would be great if,’ ” she said. Two-bedrooms almost always turned out to have tiny rooms. For ground-floor apartments, she feared that “every time someone came and went in the lobby, you heard the door slam.”

She and Mr. Friedman visited some places he described as “wrecks.” On far West 72nd Street, a one-bedroom sponsor unit in a 1925 building was listed for $749,000, with monthly maintenance of $1,435. It was in estate condition. “It just required too much work, and the price was too high to warrant that,” Ms. Koff said. It sold for $775,000.

She was willing to hunt a little farther south or north. In Midtown West, however, “I didn’t want to be in the foot traffic of tourist central,” she said.

WEST END AVENUE A one-bedroom with a view passed the wish-list test. But the co-op board turned down the prospective buyer.

So Mr. Friedman advocated heading up to the West 90s and 100s. “All the stuff that they have down on 83rd Street, they have farther north,” he told her, “and if you still want to go to 83rd Street, you can walk.”

Ms. Koff saw several units in a co-op on West End Avenue near West 95th Street. A one-bedroom on a high floor in the 1928 building had a view of the charming block known as Pomander Walk. The price was $785,000, with monthly maintenance of $1,275. Last spring, Ms. Koff’s offer of $775,000 was accepted.

The view, which partly overlooked the Riverside-West End Historic District, was also “a perfect resale feature whenever that day would come,” she said.

She signed the contract and “was over the moon,” she said. Ms. Koff explored the neighborhood, walking the dog there often. The co-op board requested additional information about her business and her finances. After a four-month wait, she learned that the board had turned her down.

“I am sitting at my desk like someone stuck a knife in my stomach,” Ms. Koff said. “I lost sleep. I was devastated.”

MANHATTAN VALLEY Another apartment needed work, but this time it was doable. The place sports purple no more.

She assumed the problem was her inconsistent income, and thought about hunting instead for a condominium, which wouldn’t require board approval. But most buildings in her targeted area were co-ops.

Within weeks, however, Mr. Friedman pointed her toward a good option. It was in a co-op in the Upper West Side neighborhood sometimes called Manhattan Valley, south of Columbia University, farther north and east than the neighborhoods with which she was familiar. The one-bedroom, about 750 sunny square feet in a 1911 apartment house with a part-time doorman, had just returned to the market after the prospective buyers had been turned down by the co-op board.

Ms. Koff was afraid the same could happen to her — again. But the other buyers lived out of town and had wanted the apartment as a pied-à-terre, Mr. Friedman said. The board required primary residents. “I’m as primary as they get,” Ms. Koff said. “I am not going anywhere.”

The bedroom walls were purple. “It was like a Skittles bag,” she said. But the apartment was everything she wanted, with a roof deck to boot. The price was $699,000, low enough to allow her to do extensive renovations. Maintenance was just under $1,000 a month.

This time, not wanting to jinx herself, Ms. Koff didn’t explore the neighborhood. But board approval came quickly. She paid the asking price, closed in the winter and spent two months on modifications that opened the kitchen, revamped the bathroom and fixed “100 years of caked-in paint.” She posted notes on nearby apartment doors, informing her neighbors about the construction, which some later told her they appreciated.

The night before her move, “I came up and turned on the light in the bathroom and started sobbing,” she said. “All the emotions started flooding. I did it.”

Thursday, May 26, 2016