They began at a small, renovated walk-up condo building on East 124th Street. A two-bedroom there on the top floor had almost 750 square feet and a private rooftop patio. The price was $539,000, with monthly charges of around $800.
Ms. Ray travels often for her job, and was daunted by the need to lug her heavy bags upstairs. It later sold for $498,000.
She agreed to see a two-bedroom co-op in a Harlem building that fit her criteria. She liked the layout, with boxy rooms and a small hallway, covering just over 850 square feet. The unit included a stacked washer-dryer and the building, clean and well maintained, had a gym. The Central Harlem location, in the West 130s, was ideal.
The price was $535,000, with maintenance in the high $800s. The co-op was listed under the city’s Housing Development Fund Corporation program, and Ms. Ray met the building’s income cap.
Two-bedrooms in her price range were scarce in Harlem, “a smoking-hot area where prices are rising,” Mr. Chadwick said. So he took Ms. Ray farther north to Washington Heights.
“I wanted to give her perspective and comparisons,” he said. “You might get more for your budget if you explore another neighborhood.”
On Fort Washington Avenue, a beautifully renovated corner two-bedroom co-op with 900 square feet was on the market for $599,000, with maintenance in the mid-$800s. Ms. Ray was unhappy with the hilly terrain.
“Walking up and down to go to the train, that did not intrigue me one bit,” she said. It later sold for $585,000.
Slightly farther north, she saw two apartments in a condo conversion on Bennett Avenue in Hudson Heights. One, with 1,100 square feet, was too costly, at $675,000 with monthly charges of more than $1,000. The other, 800 square feet, was $592,000, with charges of almost $800. The view was of a brick wall.
The apartments were nice enough inside, but the building was simply in the wrong neighborhood. “We were losing the flavor and ambience of Harlem,” Mr. Chadwick said.
So Ms. Ray chose her favorite of the day, the H.D.F.C. co-op. It had everything she wanted, and was below budget, to boot.
She decided that a co-op would do after all. “Little did I know, condos have rules, too,” she said.
The final price was $525,000; the transaction took five months to complete. The sellers were divorcing and had their own lawyers. “Every time a question was asked, two attorneys had to give their answer,” Mr. Chadwick said.
Ms. Ray finally arrived in her new home in the winter. “I am super excited,” she said. “I feel it was perfect timing. It’s been a goal I wanted forever.”
She is especially glad to be just one subway stop, on the No. 2 and 3 trains, farther north than before. The neighborhood feels much the same to her, though she swapped a block of three-family rowhouses for one of midrise buildings.
Ms. Ray is awakened, however, by honking from traffic exiting the Madison Avenue Bridge. “On the days I do not have to wake up early, it bothers me,” she said.
Her new location provides better access to grocery stores and restaurants than her rental, which was near residential Fifth Avenue. Stores were a few blocks away.
The biggest change: “Before, I could walk to Target,” she said. “I no longer walk to Target, but I shop at Target online and I have a doorman. They store packages in the closet and we sign for them.”