When Robert Christman walked into a West End Avenue co-op last fall to tour a six-and-a-half-room prewar with his wife, Judith Boies, a strange thing happened: The doorman embraced him. Then again, they weren’t typical shoppers. The couple had lived in the same apartment sixteen years before. A few months after moving, “we started wondering why we left,” remembers Boies. Last year, searching online, “I saw a picture of it, and immediately thought, I want it.” They won’t say what they spent, but they will say that the apartment cost triple what it did the first time. (They didn’t get nailed, financially—they bought and sold another place in the interim, so their investment rode the market all along.)
“There’s a real fantasy to be able to go back and live in a place that generated precious memories,” says Jeff Gardere, a clinical psychologist who is also a Prudential Douglas Elliman broker. “That pull is powerful.” The writer Garrison Keillor has spoken eloquently about how much he loved a Central Park West apartment that he gave up in 1993. When he started returning to New York often, in 2006, he managed to get it back, at some cost: He had paid $800,000 in 1987, sold it for $1.5 million, and rebought it for $3.5 million.
A homecoming can be expensive but also surprisingly easy. Boies and Christman’s agent, Warburg Realty’s Judith Thorn, says the couple “knew everything about the apartment.” In these deals, sticky doors and slow elevators need no explaining. The co-op interview is likely to be a formality, too—unless, of course, the last go-around was fractious. “If you had a good experience, you want it back,” says Halstead’s Dorothy Somekh, who recently helped another couple rebuy a pied-à-terre they owned before they moved to the suburbs. If not, “it would feel like going backwards.”
Which brings about another question: Are these buyers grasping at a past they can’t regain? Boies insists not, saying their purchase “was not driven by nostalgia. It’s not recapturing the past, it’s recapturing the space.” For the right property, even hang-ups are worth overcoming. Thorn says she once dated a divorced guy who was rebuying the place he shared with his first wife. “He liked the apartment,” she remembers. “They just didn’t like each other.”