Room to Dine; No Wall Views Please 

May 24, 2013

Return to news

Room to Dine; No Wall Views Please

It didn’t take much thought for Stephanie Budijono and Jean-Francois Kagy to decide to settle in New York.

They met in Princeton, N.J., as graduate students at Princeton University, where she studied chemical engineering and he economics. Ms. Budijono, 28, now works in Princeton as a scientist, while Mr. Kagy, 31, works in Midtown East for an economic consulting firm.

The two toyed with the idea of living in New Jersey, but both prefer city life. As grad students, they often visited New York, sometimes just for dinner. When they returned to Princeton in the wee hours, “we imagined living in the city and being just 10 minutes away from home,” Mr. Kagy said.

And they never agreed with friends who cited the difficulty they might eventually face rearing children in the city.

The Upper East Side felt homey and family-oriented, filled with children on weekends. With a price range between $700,000 and $900,000 for a co-op, the couple initially hoped for a three-bedroom, but these turned out to be too pricey. So they went looking for a two-bedroom with a well-ventilated kitchen.

“For us, the home is really important,” said Ms. Budijono, who is from Indonesia. “It’s not only a place for us to sleep and shower, but a place for us to relax and hang out, and food is a very important part in our relationship. I like to cook and like to try out new recipes. People say New Yorkers don’t eat at home a lot, but I do. I need to eat at home to be able to enjoy eating out.”

They also wanted a real dining area with room for a “floating dining table,” she said, so nobody would face a wall while eating.

Last year, Mr. Kagy, who is from Montreal, went to his first open house, in Carnegie Hill, to suss out what kind of co-op their budget would allow. As he left, Sabrina Kleier-Morgenstern, an executive vice president of Kleier Residential, waved him into her open house on the same floor. Recognizing her from the HGTV show, “Selling New York,” he pocketed her card.

He started walking the cross streets of the Upper East Side, back and forth, becoming familiar with the neighborhood. “Maybe we can get more data points,” he thought, referring to such information as liquidity requirements for co-ops. He contacted Ms. Kleier-Morgenstern.

Sometimes couples disagree on what they want, she said, “but they really seemed to be in sync and have similar sorts of tastes.”

Often, places they saw were perfectly nice but had tiny second bedrooms or lacked dining space. A lovely prewar co-op in the Sutton Place neighborhood had a layout issue: with six steps up to the living room and down to the bedroom, the couple feared problems with reselling.

The location was a bit off, too: Though the apartment was across East 59th Street from the Bridgemarket, and though the view of the Roosevelt Island tramway was delightful, the couple didn’t relish walking on First Avenue beneath the dark and noisy Queensboro Bridge overpass. The apartment, listed for $875,000, with maintenance of around $2,300 a month, later sold for $872,500.

The couple decided they would rather be nearer Central Park and farther north. They hunted efficiently, kept to a schedule by Daniel Kerin, an agent at Kleier Residential. “I say it took a minute a block and two minutes an avenue, and we planned an itinerary,” Mr. Kerin said. “We are not time-wasters.”

The couple fell in love with a prewar co-op in the mid-80s near Park Avenue, listed at $832,000, with monthly maintenance in the $1,800s.

It was well located, near the 86th Street subway, and in a coveted school district. But they didn’t like the brick wall just outside the living room and master bedroom.

They returned again and again. “Each time we would go back and stare out the window and think, ‘Does it really make sense, because the view is close to zero?’ ” Mr. Kagy said. They turned the lights off and on, gauging the dimness or brightness.

“We thought maybe we could live with this, because we loved the apartment so much,” Ms. Budijono said. “We loved the kitchen, the lobby, the feel. Sometimes you cannot explain that.” They agonized, and decided against it. The place is now in contract.

In the end, they returned to an apartment they had seen earlier, in the low 90s near Park Avenue — a 1,000-square-foot two-bedroom, just at treetop level, with quaint row houses across the street.

The kitchen, though long and skinny, had a counter with seats by the window; the living room was large enough for a floating table. The bathroom had a tub as well as a separate shower stall. The master bedroom faces the street; the second bedroom looks over a ventilation system, but still gets sun and sky — which is better than having a brick wall a few feet away.

The unit was listed at $829,000, with monthly maintenance of around $1,900. The couple purchased it in March for $800,000.

“They were very, very thorough,” Ms. Kleier-Morgenstern said. “This was a thoughtful, precise decision for them.”

Though they thought their apartment might be a bit far from the subway, it doesn’t seem far because the walk is so engaging. The couple love Carnegie Hill’s small shops and its relatively quiet streets, as they knew they would.

Being so thorough, Mr. Kagy said, they had returned many times to make sure that right after they moved in, they wouldn’t be saying, “ ‘Oh, gosh, how come we didn’t see that and are stuck with it for the next five years?’

“This apartment came with no surprises. It is a two-bedroom. It is not as though we discovered a third bedroom.”


Hot Property Book

The stars of HGTV's “Selling New York” let fans step inside the high-profile world of Manhattan real estate in a wild and one-of-a-kind novel of stormy egos, sumptuous homes, and staggering fame and fortune. Written by Michele, Samantha & Sabrina Kleier.