June 2nd 2013
The New York Times
Back when Vanessa Hylande and Jesse Peckham lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, rents there were rising steeply, so they decided they might as well move to Manhattan. They rented a two-bedroom two-bath apartment in the Archstone on West End Avenue at 64th Street.
Their sons, Emmett, now 10, and Elliot, now 6, shared the master bedroom, “because we wanted the toys out of the living room,” Ms. Hylande said.
By the time their third son, Julian, now 2, arrived, they were facing a big rent increase. (Two-bedrooms in the Archstone now start at $5,400 a month.) So they moved farther uptown to one of the few postwar high-rises in the West 80s. They paid around $3,000 for a two-bedroom with one bathroom.
“It was crazy just finding a place to hang all the towels,” Ms. Hylande said. “We had so many over-the-door hooks.”
Mr. Peckham called the situation “a serious downgrade,” though they lived on a high floor with great views. Sirens often screamed up Amsterdam Avenue, Ms. Hylande said, and “I was getting really sick of carrying enormous bags of laundry down to the laundry room, even though it was in the building.”
After a year there, with a fourth child on the way, the family went on the hunt for more space. They thought they could afford a three-bedroom rental somewhere in Upper Manhattan, where the A train would take them straight to SoHo, where the couple direct an a cappella singing group called Khorikos. Mr. Peckham is its founder and conductor. The two first met when Ms. Hylande, a singer and a dancer, auditioned. She is now the chief executive of the group, and he is an executive in the dairy industry.
Upper Manhattan was also an easy ride to the kids’ school and to the Lincoln Center area, where the boys take violin lessons and where Emmett sings in the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus.
“We really love that area,” Ms. Hylande said. “We just can’t afford to move there.”
The couple sought a rent in the mid-$2,000 range. A three-bedroom would do, as would a two-bedroom convertible to three. “We needed the separate room so the older kids could close the door and not have the little one sibling all over their homework,” Ms. Hylande said. They hoped for a location near a park so the boys could play outside, and longed for a second bathroom.
But rents, even far uptown, weren’t as low as they expected. For around $2,400, they found a three-bedroom near the Morris-Jumel Mansion in the West 160s and left a deposit. But the rent was bid up. By that time, their second choice, a three-bedroom in the far West 140s, near Riverbank State Park, was taken.
One day, on the way to see an apartment, they took the wrong train and found themselves in Central Harlem. They walked past Jackie Robinson Park, which has play equipment, ball fields and even a swimming pool. They found the neighborhood beautiful, with plenty of new buildings.
At the same time, they realized it would be better in the long run to buy a place, so they wouldn’t be priced out by unpredictable rents. So, last fall, with interest rates low, the couple decided to look in Central Harlem. Their budget was around $500,000.
“We wanted something new just for the cleanliness factor,” Ms. Hylande said. With “babies crawling on the floor, that is important.”
They visited Ellington on the Park, a co-op across from Jackie Robinson Park. One floor had a three-bedroom of almost 1,200 square feet (listed at $595,000) and a two-bedroom of almost 1,000 square feet (for $455,000).
Because they had a fourth child on the way, “I felt so bad they were even considering a two-bedroom two-bath,” said Charlie Lewis of Warburg Realty, the building’s sales manager. “They were looking at how they could convert the living room into a bedroom, and brought measuring tapes.”
Other offers were coming in, Mr. Lewis said. The two-bedroom sold.
The couple loved the look of Bradhurst Court nearby, but they didn’t quite meet the co-op’s income restrictions. They realized, too, that its location on the main thoroughfare, 145th Street, might be noisy.
The Park Lane Condominium on West 112th Street was a small renovated building with prewar charm. But the elevator was too small for a double stroller. Three-bedrooms there were in the $500,000s and $600,000s, while two-bedrooms were listed around $500,000, but those layouts didn’t easily allow for the conversion of a third bedroom.
The same problem arose at Odell Clark Place, a condominium on West 138th Street — three-bedrooms were too pricey and two-bedrooms didn’t convert well.
Back at Ellington on the Park, the couple negotiated for the three-bedroom, and bought it for $580,000. They closed last winter, just before their fourth son, Liam, was born.
Now they are glad they decided to buy. “In almost every way it is better than I thought it would be,” Mr. Peckham said. “This is probably the best investment I ever made in my life.”
They have plenty of space and an interior hallway where the boys can roughhouse. The two older boys have bunk beds. The family acquired new furniture, including a couch big enough to fit all six of them. There is even room for a double stroller and a bike, so “we don’t have to sleep with a bicycle” in the bedroom, Ms. Hylande said.
Having a washer-dryer is a wonderful relief, as is the extra bathroom, Ms. Hylande said. “I don’t have to take my shower stepping on rubber duckies all the time.”