Ms. Paquin, 28, craved a laundry room in the building, something her Harlem building had lacked. One awful winter day, all the dryers at the local laundromat were occupied, and she trekked around with her wet clothes, hunting for a place with a free dryer. “I was, like, I am never doing this again,” she said.
Their rental budget was up to the low $3,000s, but they preferred to pay less. Mr. Frank liked a one-bedroom with a balcony in a 19-story condominium building, suitable but small. The rent was $3,000. His offer of $2,700 was declined.
Ms. Paquin came to town for a weekend of apartment hunting. They were joined by Mr. Frank’s mother, Shu May Chang, who had once been a real estate agent in New Jersey. “I felt we needed her on our side,” Ms. Paquin said. She and her son “are born and bred New Yorkers, whereas I am a small-town Connecticut girl.”
On Craigslist, a no-fee listing for $2,800 took them to the large, sunny and rundown top floor of a townhouse in Kips Bay.
The landlord told them, oddly, that renovations would not start until a lease was signed. “Who knows how long that is going to take?” Mr. Frank said. “Would people be running in and out? They needed to gut everything.”
Ms. Paquin was horrified. “I watch a lot of HGTV, and I knew that none of this was up to code,” she said. “If I put a blow dryer into a socket, I swear the place would blow up. That’s how scared I was of this apartment.”
She liked an alcove studio, for $2,500, in an Upper East Side co-op building, and was fine with getting less space for less money.
Mr. Frank was anti-studio. “If your clothes are on the floor, they are not just on the floor in the bedroom,” he said. “They are on the floor of the living room, the kitchen, the dining room.”
That one, however, came with plenty of upfront fees. They would need co-op board approval and could stay for no more than two years. But Ms. Paquin and Mr. Frank’s mother argued for a studio. “Fine, you guys win,” Mr. Frank told them in exasperation.
Searching for studios in a lower price range, he found an unusual new listing in the East 50s. It was a huge one-bedroom, with around 800 square feet, in a walk-up building with no laundry. The rent was just $2,200 — a one-bedroom for the price of a studio.
“In terms of price, size and location, this listing was a definite outlier,” said the listing agent, Nicholas Dalton Lee, a salesman at Sierra Residential.
“The showing usually lasts 10 or 15 minutes, and Spencer stood there for a good 30 minutes,” Mr. Lee said. “He and his mom had a conversation in hushed tones.”
Mr. Frank sent a video to Ms. Paquin, who was willing to take the place sight unseen. By now, she didn’t care if the building lacked a laundry.
They signed on in late summer, paying a broker fee of 15 percent of a year’s rent, around $4,000. The $2,200 rent took into account one month free on a year’s lease. The actual rent is $2,400.
The gas, under repair, was off for several weeks. The water pressure is low. The honking from the avenue is relentless.
“I understand when there’s an emergency, but when it’s unnecessary honking in the middle of the night, it’s extremely disrupting,” Ms. Paquin, who is continuing her course work in New York, said. Nevertheless, “I would still live here versus anywhere else with less space.”
The closest laundromat is eight blocks away. “It is a pain to carry the laundry for two people,” she said. “You need a saddlebag.” So they avail themselves of the nearby wash-and-fold place.
“We drop off laundry across the street and are guaranteed to lose a sock every time,” Mr. Frank said.