Most apartments are either for sale or for rent. The one they chose was both.
Even for those who luck into a great deal on a New York City apartment, tallying up how much is spent on rent over the years can lead to a painful realization: A few years of rent on a workaday one-bedroom here could easily buy a comfortable house somewhere else.
Michael Kimbro, a former mortgage broker who runs an import business for products made from Indonesian tropical woods, was well aware of the math. He owns a home in Houston, but for years has rented an apartment in New York to use whenever he is in the city on business.
Until this fall, it was a tiny one-bedroom walk-up on the Lower East Side, for which he paid $2,650 a month — not a bad deal, although two years there cost him $63,600. Since moving in, however, he has married, and he and his wife, Amanda, decided to live primarily in New York. Sharing a 280-square-foot apartment was challenging enough even before the pandemic hit.
“The bathroom was so small you could touch the toilet from the bathtub. I don’t know how they made it a one-bedroom,” Mr. Kimbro, 45, said. “It was fine when it was just me, but with the two of us, it was different.”
“You couldn’t even have a reasonable fight,” Ms. Kimbro, 32, said. “It was like, ‘I’m going to go stand in this corner. Don’t talk to me.’”
Nor was it a particularly nice apartment, something that hadn’t struck Mr. Kimbro when he had been the sole occupant, and an infrequent one at that. “Window-unit A.-C., mice, bathroom sewage occasionally coming up into the tub — it was bad, especially considering we have a pretty nice place in Houston,” he said. “Then Covid happened, and no one would come to do any maintenance.”
They agreed that when their lease was up last summer, they would move.
Buying wasn’t a realistic option, as Mr. Kimbro’s equity was tied up in his Houston house, which he hadn’t yet listed. But he wondered if he might not be able to steer some of his rent toward a down payment. As a mortgage broker in Texas in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he had worked on a number of rent-to-own deals.
“There was a fluctuation in the market, and a lot of developers were taking condos and turning them into apartments with rent-to-own programs,” he said.
Covid seemed as if it might have created similar market conditions, so he searched online to see if any developers were offering similar deals. As it turned out, his landlord, Magnum Real Estate Group, was offering rent-to-own programs on unsold units at two of its developments, 100 Barclay and 196 Orchard.
Both developments were luxurious, especially compared with the tenement apartment where they had been living, and Ms. Kimbro excitedly perused the buildings’ listings. She was taken with a two-bedroom apartment at 100 Barclay, in TriBeCa. But it was a bit too luxurious, with an asking price of about $3.6 million.
They settled, instead, on a one-bedroom with a large private terrace at 196 Orchard, a condo development on the Lower East Side that was completed in 2016 and is just around the corner from their old apartment.
$6,000 | Lower East Side
Michael Kimbro, 45, and Amanda Kimbro, 32
Rent to own: In the first six months of the lease, 75 percent of their rent will go toward the $1.6 million purchase price, the amount drops to 50 percent in the following six months.
Occupation: Mr. Kimbro runs an import business. Ms. Kimbro, who worked as a registered nurse in Houston, now runs several e-commerce businesses.
New York vs. Houston: “It’s a trade-off — 280 square feet is half the size of our garage in Houston,” Ms. Kimbro said. “On the other hand, in Houston it can take a couple of hours to grocery shop because of all the traffic.”
Missing pre-pandemic New York: “I miss shopping. Not buying, but I like looking at vintage shops, taxidermy stores, the fabric district, Chinese shops where they sell different stones,” Ms. Kimbro said.
Why the Lower East Side: “For years I stayed in touristy Midtown hotels, but once they were all booked for Fashion Week or something so I had to book down here. I liked that people in the bodegas would know you,” Mr. Kimbro said.
The apartment, listed for $1.6 million, rents for $6,000 a month furnished, with 75 percent of the rent going toward the purchase price in the first six months, and 50 percent in the next six months. If the couple decide not to buy the unit, they receive no money back and there is no option to renew.
They moved in last September with their teacup Pomeranian, Poppy. As the apartment, a former model unit, was already furnished and decorated — it has, among other things, a built-in sofa and bed — it was an easy transition.
“We totally dig not having to move anything in here,” Ms. Kimbro said, although the current setup means the bed is the only place where they can watch TV.
This apartment is considerably more spacious than their last — more than twice the size — and the terrace helps with cabin fever. “It’s almost as big as the apartment,” Ms. Kimbro said. “The last time it snowed, we went out there to make a snowman.”
Last summer and fall, they were enjoying outdoor dining and riding electric scooters around the city, but as the winter set in, they started spending a lot more time in the building. They exercise in the Equinox gym downstairs, and after a few frigid outdoor dinners, have been opting for takeout or simple meals like turkey sandwiches or Amy’s Pizza. “We went out on New Year’s Eve and couldn’t feel our butts,” Mr. Kimbro said.
They appreciate how quiet the building is, and the standards of the doormen — Mr. Kimbro was impressed when they tried to stop him from coming in once when he was wearing a stocking cap, which, in combination with his mask, rendered him unrecognizable.
“There were a lot of young people in our last building — partyers, it would always smell like marijuana,” Ms. Kimbro said. “Once we got woken up in the middle of the night by a drunk guy and girl who asked if they could go through our apartment to the fire escape because they’d locked themselves out of their apartment.”
The man went out onto the fire escape and returned some time later. “He said, ‘That’s not our apartment.’ He didn’t realize it wasn’t his building — that’s how drunk he was,” Mr. Kimbro said.
This apartment, they agree, is a far more pleasant place to wait out the pandemic. But is it something they would want to buy?
“We’d like to push the button,” Mr. Kimbro said. But there are several considerations: They would like to start a family soon, and a one-bedroom wouldn’t be ideal for that. They would also like to move back to Texas to be near Ms. Kimbro’s parents at some point in the not-too-distant future.
But the apartment would make an ideal pied-à-terre, Mr. Kimbro added. And they could always buy the apartment and, when their circumstances change, rent it to someone else.