From a House to a One-Bedroom, for Family’s Sake


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THE BUYER Peter Nguyen, right, with his parents, Lien and Tam Nguyen, in the home he bought for them.

Credit
Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Lien and Tam Nguyen left Vietnam for the United States in 1975, just before the fall of Saigon. They settled near Richmond, Va., where Lien Nguyen worked as a hairdresser and Tam Nguyen in a chemical plant, often on the night shift.

“Growing up, I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal to have your dad leaving for work at 11 p.m.,” recalled the younger of their two sons, Peter Nguyen, 33. “There was always a calendar on the kitchen wall that was his shift-work schedule, and that’s how we knew whether we would be having dinner together.”

But those days are long gone: Tam Nguyen, 72, is now retired, and Lien Nguyen, 62, recently quit working as well. Their plan was to move to Connecticut, to be near their older son, Martin Nguyen, 37, his wife, Kiran Tahir, and the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Maryam.

Living in the suburbs, however, would have meant driving, and there wasn’t much to do. So New York City, where their son Peter lived, seemed like a better option. And Mr. Nguyen, a Yale graduate who works in commercial real estate, decided he should be the one to buy his parents a new home.

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WOODSIDE The building had just converted to condominiums, and construction was not yet finished.

Credit
Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

“I wanted my parents to be able to enjoy retirement,” he said. “Through their entire lives, my parents had made huge sacrifices and worked really hard to make sure my brother and I would have every opportunity available to us. So making the decision to do this was a no-brainer.”

As his parents set about selling their three-bedroom house in Virginia, Mr. Nguyen began hunting for a one-bedroom apartment big enough to hold a table for eight, where the family could gather. It also had to have an open view: Mr. Nguyen once lived in a walk-up with an air shaft out the window, he said, and “my mom would complain about it when she came to visit.”

But with a budget of $400,000, he knew that whatever he found was likely to be some distance from the prime areas of Manhattan, as well as from his own home, a condominium near Columbus Circle where he lives with his partner, Robert Mazzola.

Mr. Mazzola suggested Queens; a friend who once lived in Jackson Heights spoke highly of it. So Mr. Nguyen began looking at areas along the route of the 7 train.

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JACKSON HEIGHTS The tree-lined street was pretty, but the building was too far from the subway — especially during the winter.

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Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Woodside Court Condominium, a 1927 building in Woodside, had recently been converted to condominiums, but at that point it was nowhere near completion. “I couldn’t imagine my parents living through a construction zone for months,” Mr. Nguyen said.

Carlton House in Jackson Heights, a 1946 brick co-op building on a pretty tree-lined street, seemed ideal. Still, it was some distance from the subway, and Mr. Nguyen didn’t want his parents to have to trudge through the winter slush.

At Berkshire Green, in nearby Elmhurst, however, there were several one-bedrooms available. And as a recent co-op conversion of a 1926 building, it had amenities that Mr. Nguyen hadn’t even considered: a garden, a gym, a roof deck.

After visiting several times, he sent his parents pictures and videos. They deferred to his judgment. As his father said, “Peter has been here over 10 years — he knows what’s going on in New York.”

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ELMHURST There were several one-bedrooms to choose from, as well as amenities like a garden and a roof deck.

Credit
Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Mr. Nguyen chose a one-bedroom on the top floor. The asking price was $395,000 (with a monthly maintenance of around $700), and he settled at $399,000.

Because “their old furniture was sized to fit into a three-bedroom home,” Mr. Nguyen said, his parents, who arrived in the late spring, furnished the apartment with new multifunctional items like a convertible sofa and an expandable table. “We were a little nervous — everything small — but now we love it,” Lien Nguyen said.

For his parents, Mr. Nguyen said, the changes have been monumental. But “they knew I would get them a place where they would feel comfortable,” he said. “I give them a lot of credit for that; I wouldn’t necessarily let someone else make that decision for me.”

They are bracing themselves for their first winter and “still learning the challenges of weekend subway service changes,” Mr. Nguyen said. “They still go to Costco in Rego Park, but they’ve learned not to buy in such big quantities.”

Walking is becoming a habit for them. “We don’t need to drive every time we need to buy something,” Mr. Nguyen’s father said. On weekends, they can take Metro-North to see their granddaughter, who is no longer an eight-hour drive away. “We love to spoil her,” Mr. Nguyen’s mother said.

And when Mr. Nguyen and his partner visit for home-cooked meals, they leave loaded with leftovers. In the past, family gatherings were mostly on holidays and vacations, Mr. Nguyen said. “But now, to be able to see us basically whenever they want has made all the difference in the world.”

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