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Buy Curious: I'm in the market for a pied-à-terre. What should I know?

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For out-of-towners who want their own slice of the Big Apple, a pied-à-terre can be the perfect solution. But what should you look for when buying a second home in NYC? Shannon Aalai of Citi Habitats lays out the key features in this week’s Buy Curious.

THE WISH LIST:

“We live a little over an hour outside the city and are looking to buy an alcove studio as a pied-à-terre. We want a central Manhattan location, and our budget is around $400,000. Is it possible? What should I look for?”

THE REALITY:

An alcove studio—an L-shaped studio in which the short leg of the “L” can be used as a separate sleeping or dining area, and can sometimes be walled off into an actual bedroom—is a good option, especially if you're traveling with a companion.

Unfortunately, your $400,000 budget won’t be enough to get you an alcove studio in a prime area of Manhattan, as the average price for this type of unit in a condo building was approximately $585k in the last quarter of 2013. (And you probably don't want a co-op for the reasons below.) That said, if you're open to looking in other parts of the borough, you should be able to find something. 

To get the most out of your pied-à-terre, be on the lookout for these features:

Condos: Condos have fewer restrictions than co-ops when it comes to how you can use them. Pied-à-terre use is typically no problem, and the unit can even be rented out full-time as an investment property. Foreign buyers looking for a pied-à-terre should also stick with condos as co-op boards often want to see U.S. tax returns, which can present a problem for those who work outside the U.S.

Even at the few co-ops that do allow pieds-à-terre, you’ll have to go through a full board process, which includes an interview, and some buyers might not want to go through such a lengthy ordeal for a part-time home.

Concierges: Buildings that offer concierge services are in high demand among frequent travelers because they can help plan your stay, including making travel arrangements and restaurant reservations.

Common areas: Communal terraces, roof decks or residents’ lounges—where you can entertain guests or business associates outside of your (possibly) tiny temporary living space—are also popular amenities. And the presence of on-site gyms and/or spa services is always a plus.

Hotel-like amenities: Buildings with services like doormen, housekeeping, laundry and even room service are often favored by pied-à-terre seekers, as they can make whatever time you spend in your second home feel like a vacation.

Transportation access: Since many pied-à-terre buyers can’t or don’t bring their cars here, buying a place that’s a stone’s throw from the subway is key.

How do you feel about Murray Hill?

  • Murray Hill studio/1-bathroom condo, $449,000: This studio at 155 E. 34th St. between Third and Lexington is just one block away from the 6 train. And while it’s only 405 square feet, it does have a space-saving Murphy bed, so the place might feel larger when the bed is put away. The full-service building has a concierge, a roof deck and a garage. But at $449k, is it too expensive for you?
  • Murray Hill alcove studio/1-bathroom condo, $379,000: This 500-square-foot alcove studio at 330 E. 33rd St. between First and Second Aves. is located in a building with a doorman and health club. While the apartment doesn’t have a separate sleeping area, it does have a separate kitchen and a large dressing area. It’s also on a high floor so it has great views. Most importantly, it’s within budget at $379k and monthly charges are low (common charges are $281/month and taxes are $304). But the place is in need of a bit of TLC, which you might not have the time or inclination to give it from afar.

Want to plant your pied-à-terre flag on the Upper East Side?

  • Upper East Side studio/1-bathroom condo, $420,000: This pre-war studio at 237 E. 88th St. between Second and Third Aves. is small in size, but big in charm. Fully renovated, the second-floor brownstone walk-up unit has hardwood floors, 9.5-foot ceilings, an open kitchen with stainless steel appliances and new windows. It’s a good deal at $420k (even though a bit higher than your budget cap), and the monthlies are low (common charges are $208 and taxes are $393). There is currently a tenant in place until September 2014, so if you want to buy the place and earn some income for a few months, here’s your chance.

Prefer Midtown East?

  • Midtown East studio/1-bathroom condop, $459,000: This 19th-floor studio at 333 E. 46th St. between First and Second Aves. is set up so that you can still create a separate sleeping area even without an alcove. And the building boasts a full-time doorman, a live-in super and a communal roof deck. At $459k, it’s a tad pricey, but it’s in a prime location near Grand Central and has a spacious 160-square-foot terrace that runs the length of the unit, making it an attractive property. Also, it’s a condop (essentially a co-op with condo rules), which means that the approval process should be relatively easy.

Want to give Turtle Bay a try?

  • Turtle Bay studio/1-bathroom condo, $485,000:  This gorgeous pre-war apartment at 865 United Nations Plaza between E. 48th and E. 49th Sts. is large at 500 square feet, and has a fully renovated kitchen and bathroom, as well as beautiful beamed ceilings and hardwood floors. At $485k, it’s out of your price range, but monthlies are low—common charges are $397/month and taxes are $251/month—so you might still be able to swing it.

If you really want an alcove studio, try this listing:

  • Battery Park City alcove studio/1-bathroom condo, $525,000: While it’s significantly over-budget at $525k, this 550-square-foot alcove studio at 200 Rector Pl. between West St. and South End Ave. is still a great deal at under $1,000 a square foot. The unit can easily convert to a 1-bedroom that will have both a window and a walk-in closet. There’s also a doorman, lounge and roof deck in the building.

At $525k, this Battery Park place at 200 Rector Pl. between West St. and South End Ave. is a bit too steep, but it’s a real alcove studio that can even be converted to a 1-bedroom.

Although this pre-war studio at 237 E. 88th St. between Second and Third Aves. is 20k above budget, it’s fully renovated and has low monthlies.

Although small, a Murphy bed adds the illusion of space in this $449k studio at 155 E. 34th St. between Third and Lexington Aves.

This Murray Hill alcove studio at 330 E. 33rd St. between First and Second Aves. is a bit of a fixer-upper. Will our buyers want to oversee renovations from afar?

Does the 160-square-foot terrace attached to this 19th-floor condop studio at 333 E. 46th St. between First and Second Aves. make it more tempting to sign on the dotted line?

At $485k, this 500-square-foot pre-war condo at 865 United Nations Plaza between E. 48th and E. 49th Sts. is pricey, but its low monthly charges and pristine condition might be tempting.


Buy Curious is a weekly column in which NYC real estate brokers help buyers develop a realistic search strategy. Want some advice on your search? Send us your wish list.  

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