Through those years, she dragged a reluctant Mr. Reischel, now 40, to open houses. When they started looking, he was a full-time musician with his band, My Cousin, The Emperor. Now he also works for the city’s “Pre-K for All” initiative.
Their budget eventually grew to $750,000. Ms. Di Palma wanted a dog-friendly, one- or two-bedroom in Park Slope with a dishwasher and washer-dryer. Outdoor space was essential. In warm weather, the couple found themselves going out to dinner just so they could sit outside in the fresh air.
Most places they saw were purely average. At the low end, “we saw places that we wouldn’t rent,” Mr. Reischel said. At around the $650,000 mark, they started seeing places that were at least reasonable.
Last summer, they considered a one-bedroom duplex co-op on Seventh Avenue for $699,000, with maintenance of around $900. It had a private roof deck, but reaching it meant going out into a hallway and climbing two flights of stairs. The building was also a four-unit co-op, which people warned them against. Mr. Reischel felt the interior space was narrow and claustrophobic.
Ms. Di Palma liked a new condo building on Union Street, where a one-bedroom with a balcony cost $760,000. Again, Mr. Reischel thought it was too small.
One Saturday morning, while picking up trash on their block, as they often do, they chatted with a neighbor, Tyson Lewis, an associate broker at Halstead Property. He told them of a listing in the co-op next door to them, which was soon to hit the market at $749,000. Maintenance was around $900.
The one-bedroom had a spiral staircase leading to a solarium, and a huge private roof deck.
“We had seen lots of things but nothing like this,” Ms. Di Palma said. “It was one of the few apartments I could actually buy. The apartment is like Miami Beach. It’s really, really bright.”
She bid the asking price. At Mr. Lewis’s suggestion, she also wrote a letter to the seller.
It read, in part: “I have never taken any risks. My entire life has been carefully planned and executed. I’m not sure if I should be proud or ashamed of this. What I do know is that it has led me to this very decision and moment. One that I am sure of.”
She explained in her letter that she travels a lot for work. But “I always look forward to coming home,” she wrote, to “a home where I can spend time with the people I love.”
Her offer was accepted.
“We were told the owner was so moved by the letter that she picked us,” Mr. Reischel said. “I like to think that’s a true story, but I don’t have any evidence. I thought the letter was a little too intense.”
Their offer was not the highest one, Mr. Lewis said, but “for a few thousand dollars’ difference, the seller chose them. When my client read that letter, she knew in her heart that Virna was the right buyer. The losing buyers may have been just as sincere, but they didn’t write letters.”
Ms. Di Palma bought the apartment in the fall. Mr. Reischel pays a share of the costs. The couple spent several weeks and $50,000 renovating, stopping in every day.
When they at last relinquished the rent-stabilized lease, “I wanted to cry,” she said.
The two were thinking of adding air conditioning in the solarium, which readily overheats, but ran out of money. “It is like a science experiment to get it to work properly,” Ms. Di Palma said. Instead, they added solar shades to block the sun.
Now, the two still run into people in their neighborhood. “They say, ‘I thought you moved!’” Ms. Di Palma said. “And I say, ‘I moved next door!’”