Diary of a First-Time Buyer

My whirlwind affair with Hamilton Heights

By Elle Bee  | October 15, 2012 - 10:38AM

Week 3 of my apartment search. Since songs from the musical “In the Heights” are running through my head, I take that as a divine sign that Hamilton and Hudson Heights are where I should focus my efforts, despite the fact that this sort of thinking has historically failed me with jobs and boyfriends.

After plugging in a few search terms online, I find an independent agency specializing in the area, and think that a little low-key hometown service is just what I need. Now mind you, I haven’t ditched Sidney, the agent who had sent me a few listings to check out, but since we’re not yet in a relationship, there’s no harm in dating, right?

Enrique answers my email inquiry and after interviewing me on the phone for my wish list (one bedroom, decent neighborhood, good light, some kind of space in which to carve out a home office), he sets a date for us to meet. As a work-from-home freelancer, I can meet him mid-week for appointments and thus avoid the Sunday crowds. 

I bring Chris, my intrepid friend, to meet Enrique, who turns out to be an expat with movie star looks, in his uptown office from which we set out on a tour of Hudson Heights. We find out that despite the Spanish-derived name, he’s French-Basque. We decide to call him Henri. 

The Heights is a series of homey little enclaves off the major avenues. Indeed, several streets have “Anytown USA” names like Overlook Terrace, Bennett Avenue and Wadsworth—places few New Yorkers could identify. After 18 years of living on a grid and major cross streets, I find myself liking the idea of a little anonymity in the midst of the city. 

Sadly, though, most of the affordable apartments in this enclave are just that: anonymous boxes in buildings built in the 1960s, but without that Mad Men retro chic.  A few lobbies tried to ratchet up the aesthetics—there were some nice Barcelona chairs at 100 Overlook Terrace—but toy kitchens and bathrooms that were either outdated or awkwardly renovated (why put a sliding glass door on top of the period bathtub?) quickly killed my interest. 

An apartment at 66 Overlook had a large one-bedroom with a workable kitchen and bath, but it was on the ground floor, at tree level and not as sunny as the listing claimed.

Moving on, a tastefully renovated kitchen at 45 Overlook was a plus, and the owners had cordoned off a section of the living room into a nursery—ideal for my office. And though the building had a nice rooftop deck, it was all-electric. I’m no great cook, but life without a gas range was a deal breaker.

Enrique-Henri didn’t give up. We trekked westward and dipped down a hill to a pre-war building on the corner of West 179th and Cabrini Blvd., and smack in front of a spaghetti bowl of ramps onto the George Washington Bridge. Enrique-Henri ignored my wince, led us into a pristine marble lobby and up to the fifth floor. 

We entered apartment 5B through a long, narrow exposed-brick hall. Good gallery walls, I noted. A smallish bedroom spurred off the right of the hallway next to the bathroom, renovated in exactly the style I would have picked: white subway wall tiles, pedestal sink, Toto appliances. Added bonus: a Jacuzzi bathtub.

The hall opened into a large loft-like room with windows on three sides, giving the appearance of an aerie, even though it was only the fifth floor. It was hard to know what was more thrilling: the view of the bridge and river so close outside the window I could touch them or the open kitchen, exquisitely renovated with black granite countertops, warm chestnut cabinets, built-in shelves and top-line stainless steel appliances. The room even had a little nook for a desk.

“J’adore,” I said, immediately dropping my poker face. Enrique-Henri grinned, knew I bit the hook. Chris worked the cabinet and closet doors: lights came on automatically upon opening, doors glided close without effort. It was perfect. Except the price. At $329,000, it was $29,000 over my budget.

Enrique-Henri noted the low maintenance ($598) and the apartment’s perfect condition. I mentioned the purple bedroom, as though a little paint job were a big deal. Chris offered to help paint.  E-H suggested I offer $275,000.

My head swirled with numbers, my stomach tensed up, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off that gorgeous view.  Like a teenager, I was in love for the second time in as many weeks.

Next week: Breaking up is hard to do 

Elle Bee is a lifelong renter currently in the process of buying a Brooklyn apartment. She'll take us behind the drama in her new bi-weekly column, Diary of a First-time Buyer.

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