Getting Out of the Country

Photo: oshua Lutz/Redux for New York Magazine

Renee Colwell knows precisely when she and her husband, Alain Suero, realized they’d made a mistake moving their family out of the city. It was a few weeks after they’d traded their Hudson Heights two-bedroom for a carriage house in Mount Kisco, and they were pulling into the local Wal-Mart’s parking lot to buy a snow shovel and a sack of rock salt—things they’d never needed in Manhattan—when Suero had a panic attack. Colwell herself began hyperventilating. “We were out of our element from the very beginning,” she says. Fifteen months later, they’re back, happily ensconced in their old building—even in the same apartment line. “We put everything, all the furniture, in the same place,” Colwell says.

Even as Manhattan gets more kid-friendly, plenty of young families still opt for a suburban life. But brokers say clients are returning, sometimes in record time, “soured on the suburban experience,” notes Corcoran’s Marc Lawrence, who’s working with two families in New Jersey. “I’m getting a lot of calls from people who want to move back to the city,” agrees Bellmarc’s Shana Altstaetter. (It’s too early to tell if a full-on trend is forming, but although the suburban market’s still hectic, it does show signs of softening; for example, sales in Putnam County, in which many New Yorkers defect, were down last year compared with 2003.)

What do they say they miss? “Everything,” sums up Halstead’s Jennifer Pasbjerg, adding that convenience and dining options seem to top the list. “There was no Dominican food, no dim sum, and the sushi sucked,” says Colwell. The commute is also a turnoff: “It cuts into family time,” says Hall Willkie, president of Brown Harris Stevens. “When they’re done, they want to be home.” As for the extra space, “people don’t realize it costs money to furnish and heat [a house],” says Lawrence, who fled the burbs himself after moving there to start a family. There’s also the upkeep. “Here, if something broke, I called the super,” he explains. “There, I was the super. That was the kiss of death for me.”

Coming back, of course, has its own downside. “People are curious how we’re going to squeeze into 1,200 square feet,” says copywriter Judy Meade, who can’t wait for her family’s 4,000-square-foot Montrose home to sell. Colwell says their “expensive experiment”—they paid $585,000 for an exact duplicate of the apartment they sold for $540,000—taught them a lesson. “Now I know I don’t want a house. I don’t even want a country house. I want what I have.”

Photo: John Sciulli/Wire Image

Getting Close to a Harlem Deal
Harlem residents are abuzz over Glenn Close. The actress makes frequent trips uptown—her hairdresser lives in the area—but getting coiffed isn’t the only reason she’s been spotted numerous times since last fall. Close, lately spending time on the awards circuit for her portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine in the mini-series The Lion in Winter, is rumored to be shopping for an investment property in the surging Harlem market. The actress, who locals say has been charmingly low-key on her shopping rounds, is apparently focusing her search on the sought-after neighborhoods of Mount Morris Park, Hamilton Heights, Hamilton Terrace, and Strivers Row and recently checked out a townhouse on Convent Avenue. When she’s in New York, Close lives in a duplex condo she bought in 2000, in a rather modest postwar building on Charles Street in the West Village; the rest of the time, she lives in Westchester, where she has a country house in Bedford Hills. Calls to the actress’s publicist were not returned.
—S. Jhoanna Robledo

Same Space, Different Place
Buy Early and Often
The price difference between these one-bedroom apartments at 56 Pine Street, a condo conversion in the financial district, is further proof that the sizzling downtown market isn’t for the faint of heart. Although identical in layout and square footage, 15D cost its buyers $165,000 more than 10D. Why? The less expensive place went on the market when the building opened in early January; by the time 15D became available five weeks later, the asking price had climbed by nearly 40 percent. “We open where we think we should start, and as we go, we raise prices as the market will bear,” explains Douglas Elliman’s Susan Wright. Apparently, good things don’t come to those who wait.

56 Pine Street, Apartment 10D
The Facts: One-bedroom, one-bath, 662-square-foot condo.
Selling Price: $425,000.
Common Charges and Taxes: $739.16.
Broker: Dave Wanamaker, Elliman.

56 Pine Street, Apartment 15D
The Facts: One-bedroom, one-bath, 662-square-foot condo.
Asking Price: $590,000.
Common Charges and Taxes: $813.02.
Broker: Dave Wanamaker, Elliman.

Getting Out of the Country