The Upper East Side: When Location Isn’t Everything


After her graduation from Wesleyan University 20 years ago, Elena Pavloff moved to the East Village in Manhattan and shared a studio with a friend. They had a makeshift bunk-bed setup — one futon and one loft.

Ms. Pavloff later rented on her own, living in the financial district since 2007. Her most recent rental there was a studio with a windowless office, so large it functioned as a one-bedroom. Her monthly rent was in the low $3,000s.

Ms. Pavloff, who works in advertising and media planning, began the hunt for a place to buy nearly two years ago. She focused on the financial district and adjacent areas, which were comfortable and familiar, though the neighborhood was becoming increasingly choked with tourists.

Her aim was a one-bedroom with light and a big kitchen, “not just a place where I would store sweaters in the oven like Carrie Bradshaw,” she said.

Her budget was up to $800,000. “Renting is expensive in the city,” she said. A purchase was less a matter of affording the monthly mortgage and maintenance than of coming up with a down payment.

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LOWER MANHATTAN Southbridge Towers had one-bedrooms, but the nine-building complex seemed impersonal.

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Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

Ms. Pavloff, 42, contacted Jennifer Roberts, an associate broker at Halstead Property, who had been her boss in earlier days, when both worked in media planning.

Every place she viewed felt small in comparison with her rental. She checked out some one-bedroom co-ops in Southbridge Towers, opened in 1971 as part of the Mitchell-Lama program, but the nine-building complex near South Street Seaport felt overwhelming and impersonal.

A one-bedroom condo in a former office building came close, but the large kitchen wasn’t enough to make up for the small bedroom and the sole bedroom closet. “You could fit two coats in there and nothing else,” Ms. Pavloff said. She didn’t pursue it.

Downtown, her options were primarily studios or very dark one-bedrooms in condominium buildings, Ms. Roberts said.

“I couldn’t find anything in my price range that really felt like a home,” Ms. Pavloff said. She renewed her lease. Months later, inspired by a Junior League house tour, she resumed the hunt, this time focusing more on the apartment and less on the location.

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UPPER EAST SIDE Another one-bedroom, this one uptown, had built-ins that limited her options to rearrange things.

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Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

“I was honest with myself and said, ‘I am not finding what I want downtown — I need to look elsewhere,’” she said.

She realized that almost any Manhattan neighborhood would be livable: No matter where she was, she would never be lacking in conveniences.

So she told Ms. Roberts she would live anywhere, though she wasn’t keen on the Upper East Side, where she had lived briefly. She remembered it as rowdy and filled with bars. Still, she checked out a promising listing there.

“I had to get out of my own head and look at the neighborhood with fresh eyes,” she said.

And there, immediately, she found it: a sun-drenched one-bedroom co-op that felt like home the moment she stepped inside. The corner apartment had three exposures and two kitchen windows, though not much of a view. The building had a roof deck, too.

The built-in shelves in the living room “were fantastic because they allowed for that much more storage space without my having to buy extra furniture,” Ms. Pavloff said. The price was $649,000, with maintenance of around $1,040; a basement storage unit cost $40 a month more.

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UPPER EAST SIDE A corner one-bedroom felt like home. She could still use more closet space, but ‘that’s just New York.’

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Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

“It’s a homey apartment,” Ms. Roberts said. “In the financial district, you get converted office buildings. You don’t get charm or character.”

Several offers were on the table, so Ms. Pavloff made her offer that evening.

The next day, to confirm her hunch that her decision was the right one, she visited one more place nearby, in the appealing and historic row of “black and whites,” dating from 1894, on far East 72nd Street.

A one-bedroom there was $575,000, with maintenance of less than $1,200. It was relatively small, with a redone interior. But with bedroom closets and some other furniture built in, she felt the ability to rearrange the inside was limited.

Meanwhile, her offer of $656,000 on the corner one-bedroom was accepted. Ms. Pavloff arrived in the summer.

“I wish I had more closet space, but I don’t think it’s this apartment,” she said. “That’s just New York. Maybe I need to take a lesson from Japan and simplify.”

As for the neighborhood, she has no complaints. “It is fun and exciting to explore and try different places out, like which pizza place do I like best,” she said. “They’ve got a lot of good options.”

The streets are crowded, but not with tourists. “You see people doing their day-to-day errands or families out with their kids,” she said. “It’s busy in a people-who-live-here way.”

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