Out and About: Homes for buyers on tight budget

Apartment building

Built in 1910, this low-rise has 20 apartments on five floors — and no elevator — but represents value for a hardy soul.

They exist, those apartments for buyers on a tight budget.

It will not surprise them that low prices inevitably mean compromise, usually serious tradeoffs for homeownership in Manhattan.

Among the issues they can more or less count on are lack of light, excess of stairs, cramped quarters, dismal condition, inconvenient location, noisy streets or neighbors, grim public spaces, minimal amenities such as doorman or live-in super, or persistent visits by creatures parading on more than two legs.


Kitchen so small that refrigerator is relegated to living room.

Generally speaking, owners of budget-priced units can expect more than one drawback in a place they can afford.  But home is, after all, a state of mind as well as a place to hang a hat, and an apartment’s defects may well prove to be tolerable in exchange for the opportunity to live in a castle of one’s own.

For buyers who meet income standards for HDFC apartments, those buildings may well present an attractive option.  But don’t expect glamor or an easy road to borrowing.

On my rounds of open houses, I make a point of visiting apartments that cover a range of prices and a broad geographical area mostly, but not exclusively, on the Upper West Side.  Below are several that would be appropriate for budget-minded buyers and that various other brokers have listed.

  • In the high 70s between First and York avenues, a one-bedroom co-op that is four flights of stairs from the street.  Among its other deficits are floors in poor condition, a minuscule kitchen that is kind of cheesy, laundry only in the basement and small rooms.  Think of lugging shopping bags up those stairs and round trips to do the laundry.  But the price is right: $260,000 with monthly maintenance of $913, so it went to contract a couple of weeks ago.
Will a gut renovation make the price worthwhile? Note the floor.

Will a gut renovation make the price worthwhile? Note the floor.

  • A one-bedroom co-op in Morningside Heights west of West End Avenue.  Overlooking a parking lot from a low floor, the apartment has a living room with a dated kitchenette dominating one end, a so-so updated bath, one good-size closet and not an ounce of charm.  In a 1907 elevator building of no distinction and few amenities, the unit is listed at $389,000 with maintenance per month of $718.  It likely will sell at around a 10 percent discount.
  • On Riverside Drive in the low 100s, a total wreck (pictured above right and below) offered for an optimistic $325,000 with monthly maintenance of $541 in a 1907 doorman building that permits pets and washer/dryers.  Its most recent occupant had lived there for more than half a century and didn’t change a thing all that time.  The listing broker estimates the cost of the co-op’s renovations at $100,000, but there is no hope of ameliorating the exposures into a grim courtyard or the small size of the bedroom. 

Unforgettable views from both rooms of the wreck described and shown above.

  • Also on Riverside Drive, but in the low 90s, another one-bedroom co-op with a room that can’t decide whether it’s an oversize kitchen (of questionable design) or a living room that is graced with a kitchenette at the far end.  Facing a yard from every window, the 425-sf apartment has an okay bath, badly stripped doors and high ceilings in a 1910 building with part-time doorman and permissive policies regarding washer/dryers and pieds-à-terre.  It is significantly overpriced at $385,000, though the maintenance is uncommonly low at $590.
  • A supposed two-bedroom condo in what many buyers would consider the middle of nowhere, near First Avenue well into East Harlem.  With street-level exposure and a subterranean second so-called bedroom (which doesn’t meet the legal definition), this apartment in a 2005 low-rise has a decent kitchen, big private laundry room, hardwood floors, high ceilings, only a half bath downstairs and the full bath en suite upstairs.  Its price over many months has fluctuated between $589,000 and the current $510,000 with common charges of $640 and abated real estate taxes of $25 per month.
  • On a corner of Columbus Avenue in the very high 80s, a one-bedroom duplex with wide-open views south.  The open kitchen is of basic quality with lots of laminate, floors are stained a green that is reflective of a decades old trend, the ceilings are standard height, there is a huge walk-in closet and the bath is up a flight of straight stairs next to the bedroom.  In a 1971 low-rise with institutional ambiance, this co-op is well priced at $399,000 with monthly maintenance of only $542.

The co-ops described above are just a small sample in a rather limited swath of Manhattan.  Many units of perhaps lower cost and greater appeal can be found not only within their area but in more distant neighborhoods of the city.

Clearly, perfection cannot be the goal of anyone hoping to find an apartment in Manhattan at prices that could buy a virtual palace in much of the rest of the country.

But for consumers eager to escape roommates, stop flushing rent money down the toilet, affirm their independence, declare confidence in their future prospects or combine some of the foregoing objectives, there do exist places they can call home at prices that many can afford.

The hunt for them that begins with frustration almost invariably ends in fulfillment.

Tomorrow: True confessions

To take your own bite out of the Big Apple, you have the option here to search all available properties privately.

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201

Web site

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