The Hunt: Downsizing to a Co-op in the Bronx

The Hunt: Downsizing to a Co-op in the Bronx

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Dritan Agalliu, left, and Tyler Cutforth in their apartment on Waldo Avenue in Riverdale, the Bronx.

Credit
Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Tyler Cutforth and Dritan Agalliu met nearly 20 years ago when they both worked in labs at Columbia University; Dr. Cutforth as a postdoctoral fellow and Dr. Agalliu as a graduate student.

The couple, both of whom now work in the field of translational neuroscience, later married in Dr. Cutforth’s native Canada. Most recently, they spent four years at the University of California, Irvine, where they lived in faculty housing.

Nearly two years ago, Dr. Agalliu was recruited by Columbia to do stroke research; Dr. Cutforth also works there now as a researcher. Little faculty housing was available. The men were offered a one-bedroom apartment but declined, having just left a three-bedroom house.

Instead, for $3,650 a month, they rented a small two-bedroom in a new building south of Central Harlem. “We had a couch that couldn’t fit so we had to sell it and buy a new couch,” said Dr. Agalliu, who is originally from Albania. “We got tired of bumping into each other and bumping into the furniture.”

A sunny two-bedroom on Bennett Avenue in Hudson Heights was affordable, but too much of a stretch for the couple.

Credit
Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

But they loved the neighborhood, diverse and lively, a big shift from the empty storefronts they recalled from two decades ago.

Alarmed by New York’s high rents, they decided to buy a home. A year ago, they contacted Rodica L. Balan, a licensed agent at Halstead Property, who had helped a colleague buy a condominium in Hudson Heights. Their priority was a reasonable subway trip to work at Columbia University Medical Center in Washington Heights.

“At one point I had a one-hour each-way commute over a mountain range, and I was never so stressed out in my life,” said Dr. Cutforth, 51.

They preferred two or three bedrooms, with room to host their many friends and relatives. Dr. Cutforth wanted sunlight sufficient to tend an indoor garden.

Harlem seemed unaffordable. So Ms. Balan showed the couple several condo conversions in Washington Heights. Dr. Agalliu, 42, particularly liked a sunny two-bedroom with a dining room in the area’s Hudson Heights neighborhood. It was listed for $693,000, with monthly charges of around $1,160. “We could afford it,” he said, “but we would have very little cash available for emergencies or travel or anything.” That one later sold for $626,500.

A three-bedroom in estate condition on Johnson Avenue in Spuyten Duyvil would have been an exhausting project.

Credit
Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

He was surprised and disappointed at how unaffordable the area had become. “I used to go around in that neighborhood when I was a student at the medical campus,” Dr. Agalliu said. “The neighborhood hasn’t changed that much. There are the old shops that were there in the ’90s.”

But Riverdale, in the Bronx, was appealing. “You can have a two- or three-bedroom at a fraction of the price,” Ms. Balan said.

Dr. Cutforth liked the amenity-filled Winston Churchill in Spuyten Duyvil, at the southern end of Riverdale. A three-bedroom co-op was for sale, in estate condition, for $569,000. Monthly maintenance was around $1,900. But they decided against tackling such a project.

“It took a while to focus,” Dr. Cutforth said. “I was the one pushing for more space. It became apparent that the price gap between a two-bedroom and a three-bedroom was insurmountable, and we got a better idea of what our limits were.”

So they decided to pick a smaller, less expensive place. Dr. Cutforth was relieved. He had been unhappy with casting too wide a net, he said. “I needed some kind of hierarchy of decision.”

A junior four on Waldo Avenue in Riverdale had the right mix of price, size and location.

Credit
Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

At last, they came upon a Tudor-style co-op building near Manhattan College, where they saw a junior four, with a dining room used as a second bedroom. The price, which had already dropped several times, was $269,000, with maintenance of around $800.

It was occupied by renters. “They had kids so there were these little glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling,” Dr. Cutforth said.

This was the one. It was relatively spacious, relatively affordable and well located. Their offer, at the asking price, was accepted. “We had been looking for a while and had kind of gotten tired,” Dr. Agalliu said.

They closed in the fall. The process seemed “old-fashioned and Byzantine,” Dr. Cutforth said. “It is 2017. Why are we sitting in a room handing people checks?”

Now, work is a 12-minute train ride away.

Shortly after arrival, they felt a subtle vibration they thought was the subway. The super told them it was the building’s boiler just below them. “It seems to go on and off,” Dr. Cutforth said. “I think they have some kind of timer or thermostat-y thing. We didn’t notice until we were living there.” It hardly bothers them.

Their apartment is dim, but they are adjusting. Dr. Cutforth plans to transform a corner of the guest room into an indoor garden, with plants that prefer shade. “There are common houseplants that are basically unkillable,” he said.

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