Unfamiliar with towns within commuting distance of Manhattan, she contacted Suburban Jungle, a service that consults with home buyers to find suitable suburbs.
“I didn’t necessarily need to be in a place that looks like Harlem, but I also don’t want to have the experience of every place I go I am the racial minority,” Mr. Lopez said. “I was also thinking in terms of my future kids.”
Their budget was up to $350,000. They considered heading farther north for a bigger house or to Connecticut for lower taxes, but Suburban Jungle suggested Ossining in Westchester County, and referred them to Hillary Landau, a licensed saleswoman at Houlihan Lawrence.
The first house they saw, on a leafy residential block, was about a mile from the train station — walkable if need be.
It included three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a finished attic, an unfinished basement, a classic front porch and a patch of green. The driveway wasn’t usable for parking; the next-door neighbors had an easement to allow for access to their parking spot in back.
The couple checked out some condos, too. “I was open to a condo because we are not millionaires,” Mr. Lopez said. Years of watching “Rehab Addict” on HGTV taught them that they “don’t have the skills and money to do that.”
Kemeys Cove, a 1974 complex where a two-bedroom was $329,000, was well-located but dated. The two were unhappy about paying for amenities they knew they wouldn’t use, like a pool.
Another single-family house, well below budget, looked “rural and cool” in the photos, Ms. O’Shaughnessy said, but the layout felt far too open, with wood paneling everywhere. Route 9A ran behind the house. The rural yard was overwhelming.
“I thought, we are going to be spending our whole lives taking care of the lawn and the trees, and updating this ‘70s house,” she said. “We wanted something manageable.” That property later sold for $242,000.
Other houses were perfectly adequate but uninspiring. So it was back to the initial three-bedroom. In their price range, they knew they were unlikely to find anything better. “They had a warm and cozy feeling from it,” Ms. Landau said. “Some of the ones that are spacious and airy felt very cold to them.”
In the meantime, the sellers added a driveway that consumed what used to be grass. “I guess it’s better than parking on the street,” Ms. O’Shaughnessy said.
The couple arrived last month, paying $321,000. Annual taxes are around $11,000. They bought a used car. Ms. O’Shaughnessy drives it to the station while Mr. Lopez, an early riser, takes a fold-up bike.
“I grew up in a house with creaky floors, and the pipes would clank, but there’s something that feels solid and well-built about this house,” Ms. O’Shaughnessy said. Some of the rooms have unappealing wallpaper; the master bedroom closet, oddly, doubles as a door to the adjacent bedroom. “We felt, we can deal with this,” she said.
Mr. Lopez was surprised to find that friends and family consider homeownership to be such a signal of life progress.
“It is a sign of what a lot of people have called ‘great adulting,’” he said. “I’ve been caught off guard by that. For me it feels like a matter of course. Buying houses, having babies, getting jobs — people have been doing this for a long time.”