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The New York Times

The Hunt: Easy on All 12 of Our Legs

By: Joyce Cohen
Published: 3/2/2014Source: The New York Times

The Buyers: From left, Jackob Hofmann, Pepper, Hugh Kepets and Bebe love their nonexistent climb. Credit Victor J. Blue for The New York Times


Back when Hugh Kepets left his elevator studio on Gramercy Park for a one-bedroom nearby, he didn’t think twice about moving to a fourth-floor walk-up. “I was a relatively young man at the time and didn’t see the stairs as a problem,” he said.

His top-floor co-op, with a skylight and a back garden view, cost $180,000. That was in 1987. Later, Jackob Hofmann moved in.

“We contemplated a bigger apartment and, at the time, one more room would cost in the neighborhood of $100,000,” said Mr. Kepets, a visual artist. That seemed exorbitant, so, when he inherited a car, the couple decided instead to buy land in Litchfield County, Conn., and build a weekend house there.

As time passed, the stairs became a looming problem for Mr. Kepets, 68. “I couldn’t live in that apartment for the rest of my life,” he said.

The couple’s dachshunds, with their short legs and long spinal columns, could not get up and down on their own. So the couple carried the dogs out and back several times a day.

Tudor City

An elevator building was the goal. At 2 Tudor City Place, the electric stoves were a turnoff. And Second Avenue was too quiet after dark.

“It is like carrying a sack of potatoes under each arm,” said Mr. Hofmann, 44, a theatrical director and playwright. Sometimes he used a laundry basket or “sacked the dogs” in a canvas tote. “It was always an ordeal — whose turn it was to walk the dogs.”

What’s more, he said, “We have a lot of friends and family who are AARP-card-carrying members,” who had trouble visiting.

They needed a place that was stair-free and dog-friendly. They preferred a postwar midrise, the kind of building that would have a garden or a roof deck, which Mr. Hofmann craved, and a laundry room.

The couple sought help from David Branyan of the Corcoran Group, who had sold a neighbor’s apartment. They listed their walk-up at $675,000 (monthly maintenance was in the low $700s), and planned to spend around $600,000 on a new place.

They began in Midtown East at tucked-away Tudor City, where their neighbor had moved. “We were enchanted by the cul-de-sacness of the area,” Mr. Kepets said. They preferred 2 Tudor City Place, built in the mid-1950s, with its two towers.

But nothing there grabbed them, and they weren’t keen on the kitchens, which used electricity rather than gas. Leaving a late open house, they realized that after business hours, “Second Avenue was like a ghost town,” Mr. Hofmann said.

So they headed to the Upper West Side. At Schwab House, a 1951 red brick co-op on Riverside Drive, they liked a spacious, bright one-bedroom for $595,000, with monthly maintenance of around $1,000.

But their own place had not yet sold. They decided to wait for another Schwab House apartment to come available, but were unable to find another they liked as much.

They had assumed that the nearby Trader Joe’s at Broadway and 72nd Street would be a good substitute for their regular 14th Street location. But they found the three-level layout there cumbersome. “The whole escalator thing was such a disconcerting experience,” Mr. Hofmann said.

Back downtown, a postwar Greenwich Village building had an alcove studio for a below-budget $495,000, with monthly maintenance of around $1,100. But it faced a drab inner courtyard with bicycle racks and laundry lines.

“We were finding a lot of things that were not anything close to what we were leaving, “Mr. Hofmann said, “which scared us because we didn’t want to give up something great for something dumpy and depressing.”

But last spring, two listings appeared in a postwar co-op building on East 18th Street — their neighborhood. One was a one-bedroom for $650,000, with monthly maintenance in the mid-$1,000s, on a low floor on the street. The other was an alcove studio, for $679,000, with maintenance of around $1,100. That one was on a high floor with a clear city view of roofs and sky. The bathroom and kitchen both had windows and faced east, gathering morning light.


An alcove studio on a high floor of a 1962 building on East 18th Street pleased both man and beast.

“When you come into the apartment that works for you, you know it,” Mr. Kepets said. “We turned to each other and said, ‘This is it,’ and it was.”

The appliances were outdated but Mr. Kepets was eager to redesign the kitchen. And by now, their walk-up had been bid up to a selling price of $715,000.

Several other parties were also interested in the alcove studio. An offer “needed to start with a seven,” Mr. Branyan told them. Fearing they would be outbid, they offered $725,000.

The couple, who married last year, closed in the fall, glad to remain in their beloved neighborhood and to frequent the same merchants, including the same Trader Joe’s. Even the dogs “recognize the same sniffing points,” Mr. Hofmann said.

Their new home has big windows, from which they see the spires of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings. It has plenty of sun, a laundry room and noise, including sirens from the fire trucks heading east.

“It’s a completely different experience living in this apartment than in the old apartment,” Mr. Kepets said. “It is an apartment of the city, and the last apartment was an apartment away from the city. It is an apartment to grow old in.”

Mr. Hofmann appreciates both the roof deck and the ground-floor courtyard. “I spent so much time looking for cafes where I could sit outside,” he said, “and now I have it.”

The dogs took to the elevators immediately. “To their surprise, they are being brought out five times a day,” Mr. Hofmann said. Walking them, once a chore, has become a treat. The elevator is “adding to the quality of our life,” Mr. Hofmann said. “Any time there is a little down time it’s like: “Let’s go! Let’s do another walk.”

Copyright © 2014 The New York Times Company. Reprinted with Permission. Victor J. Blue/The New York Times. 

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