The test-drivers: Why 3 New York sellers opted to rent instead of buy

By Jennifer Laing | February 5, 2015 - 8:59AM

For those New Yorkers who own their homes, the general rule of thumb has been: buy, sell and buy again. “The goal should never be to sell and then rent,” says Jonathan Tager, a managing partner at Power Realty Group. “Ideally, you want to sell and then buy something bigger and/or better soon after.”

But with good money to be made selling an apartment and so little inventory available for buying anew—especially in a similar price range—renting may be the only option, at least in the short term. It's also a good way to sample a new neighborhood, as the following owners-cum-renters found. Here, we find out what inspired their moves and the advantages of renting first in a new part of town:

A lack of choice

For Kate C. and her husband the move to a new neighborhood was motivated largely by access to their son’s new school. Two years ago, they sold a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Kips Bay and intended to buy something similar on the Upper West Side closer to his school. When they were initially unable to find what they were looking for in their budget, they opted to rent.

The family of four, including two sons ages 6 and 2, moved into 1,500-square-foot apartment in a doorman building, which includes two large bedrooms and one very small bedroom, two bathrooms, a living room and an eat-in kitchen. After a year of renting they were still unable to find anything to buy in the immediate neighborhood, so they renewed their lease for another two years. While the apartment itself has its shortcomings (a quirky layout with no dining room and a living room at the opposite end of the apartment from the kitchen), “it suits our unique needs right now,” says Kate, who is happy to have separate rooms for her boys, whose sleeping patterns are still too dissimilar to make for happy co-habitation.

She also finds the building’s central location and proximity to her older child’s elementary school especially convenient. “When the boys are a bit older and sharing a bedroom and—fingers crossed—in the same school, we’ll have more flexibility in terms of apartment size and location,” she says.

A familiar corner of the city

For others, renting is motivated not just by a lack of inventory but a desire to live in a new part of town. Jane W. lived with her husband and two daughters in an Upper East Side doorman co-op. Having grown up nearby, she longed to be downtown, where she had lived before getting married. She and her husband spoke often about moving, but their classic 7 fit the family well and her daughters were happily ensconced in uptown schools.

When one daughter casually suggested they move downtown, Jane jumped at the opportunity. “I didn’t want to uproot the kids or take them away from friends and an easy commute to school, but as soon as one mentioned it, it was as if I was given the go ahead,” she says. Her apartment sold within days. The family looked for properties to buy but were underwhelmed by what they saw so, for the time being, home is a rented loft in Soho. The location offers fairly direct access to her daughters’ schools, but when it comes to buy again, she thinks they’ll search further east or west. "My husband needs trees," she says. "In Soho, all you see are stores and restaurants, plus we want to be in a more residential neighborhood."

A low-stakes move  

Rebecca C. and her husband recently traded in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op in an elevator building on the Upper East Side for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom rental on the border of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights.

Their main reason for moving was space: with a young daughter, they wanted extra room for the whole family and their Brooklyn rental offers an abundance of it, plus more light and quiet than their old place. They didn’t want the burden of finding a new purchase right off the bat and, since they were changing boroughs, they wanted the time to get to know a new neighborhood before investing in it. Renting gives them all of that.

“Some things you don’t learn about until you live in a neighborhood,” says Rebecca. For example, the subway looked pretty close to their rental on a map, but it’s been a longer walk than expected. The same can be said for the grocery store. “We’ll look to buy again,” says Rebecca, “but this was logistically easier and, for now, just makes more sense for us.”


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