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Real Estate

The Hunt

A Longer Commute? Perfect!

BYJOYCE COHEN

To avoid the expense of owning two homes at once, they sold their old place in the fall for $1.675 million and rented until their new place was ready. On sublet.com, they found a one-bedroom for $3,500 a month in a new condo building in Clinton, where Mrs. Schmidt had lived when she first moved to New York. They put their stuff in storage and temporarily housed the piano in a basement corner of St. Peter’s Church.


WHO would want a longer commute to work?

Tom Schmidt would. He rides his bicycle to his job, but his quick trip through Central Park wasn’t enough. For all the exercise he got, “I might as well have been taking the subway,” he said.

And his wife, Kathy Schmidt, who grew up in suburban Washington helping her father raise vegetables, wanted space for a garden of her own. The small balcony at the couple’s apartment at 80 Central Park West was crammed with herbs and flowers. “She had more stuff planted on it than anyone else had on their balcony,” her husband said.

They nixed the idea of buying a weekend home in the country. Mr. Schmidt, the music director of St. Peter’s Church, the striking modernist triangle at the Citigroup Center, is occupied on Sunday mornings, when he plays the organ and directs the choir at Mass.

But the two were in luck. The value of their two-bedroom co-op, which they had bought a decade earlier, had soared so much they knew they could sell it and buy the kind of home they really wanted.

Mr. Schmidt, 60, originally from the Midwest, and Mrs. Schmidt, 54, met at Concordia College in Bronxville. Mr. Schmidt, then married, was her piano teacher.

The two were in touch sporadically for a dozen years until Mr. Schmidt, newly divorced, asked her to review the prospectus for an apartment he was buying on West 103d Street.

They married in 1988, bought a co-op on West 108th Street, and then, in 1996, spent $535,000 to buy the co-op on Central Park West and 68th Street.

They saw, and heard, the neighborhood change. “You don’t expect it to be Podunk, but it got more crowded and frenetic than we liked,” Mr. Schmidt said. “When it was concert time at Lincoln Center, everyone would get quite anxious to get there, and there was a lot of honking” — often, two piercing hours’ worth.

They considered moving. A year ago, during a break from her job as a consultant in the financial services industry, Mrs. Schmidt started looking at homes online.

Harlem beckoned. The two often rode their bicycles on the bike path along St. Nicholas Avenue, where they noticed the many brownstone renovations and, later, the emergence of new condominium buildings, some with large outdoor terraces. They figured that if they bought a condo in preconstruction, they could have a choice of places at a good price.

They needed a living room that could easily fit Mr. Schmidt’s grand piano, and they wished for a third bedroom because they often have houseguests — assorted musicians, friends, relatives and Mr. Schmidt’s two grown daughters, Miriam and Rosemary. The extra bedroom would be “an office or den or someplace to go to escape the very nice people who are living with you,” Mr. Schmidt said.

They were intrigued by the large penthouse terraces at the Lenox Grand, but they were even more intrigued by the wraparound terraces at the Lenox, just across Lenox Avenue at 129th Street. At that point, “it was just a picture on a construction site,” Mr. Schmidt said, “but when I saw the look in Kathy’s eyes, I knew we were going to end up there.”

They contacted their friend Susan Bell, an agent at the Fox Residential Group, saying they could spend $1.2 million to $1.5 million on a new home, but they were not really serious about hunting. That changed within days.

Ms. Bell hurried them around to sales offices in Harlem. “I kind of insisted we look at the options so they could be satisfied theirs was the right choice,” she said. “They would feel better in their own minds.”

The options, they found, were quite nice. They loved the big penthouse at the Dwyer, at an early stage of construction, but it was already sold. The Langston, farther north in Hamilton Heights, had wonderfully large terraces, but the interior space was comparatively small.

They easily declined apartments with roof decks but no private garden space, or with backyard gardens hemmed in by tall buildings.

Back at the Lenox Grand, however, the apartments they liked were already taken. So was the three-bedroom with the wraparound terrace at the Lenox. The terraced three-bedrooms on higher floors there were too expensive.

So they chose the next best thing, a penthouse triplex at the Lenox for about $1.45 million. It had only two bedrooms and three levels of terraces, which was less than ideal for a gardener. But the view south to the city skyline was spectacular.

“I kept saying to Tom, I wish that apartment with the wraparound terrace was available because that’s the one I really want,” Mrs. Schmidt said. As she handed a check for the 10 percent deposit to the receptionist, she asked again if it was available. It was. They immediately arranged to buy that one instead.

“We had seen all of these dream apartments disappearing,” Mr. Schmidt said. The earlier misinformation, they suspect, was the result of sound-alike apartment numbers, misheard.

They bought their 1,900-square-foot three-bedroom apartment for $1.4 million. Monthly fees are around $1,300. Their city view is obstructed by the building across the street, “but I was willing to give up the view to have all this outdoor space,” Mrs. Schmidt said.

During the months of construction, Mr. Schmidt often rode his bicycle up to the building at lunchtime, chatting with workers and watching the progress.

To avoid the expense of owning two homes at once, they sold their old place in the fall for $1.675 million and rented until their new place was ready. On sublet.com, they found a one-bedroom for $3,500 a month in a new condo building in Clinton, where Mrs. Schmidt had lived when she first moved to New York. They put their stuff in storage and temporarily housed the piano in a basement corner of St. Peter’s Church.

The Schmidts recently moved into the Lenox, the second family to arrive. Come spring, Mrs. Schmidt is planning to plant spinach, lettuce, zucchini, strawberries and tomatoes, along with flowers and herbs.

“I am drooling over all the gardening catalogs,” she said.

As for Mr. Schmidt, his morning ride to work starts with a big uphill, which means that his ride home ends with the reverse.

“It is this incredible screaming downhill, this exhilarating downhill,” he said. “It is a great ride in both directions, and it couldn’t be more ideal.”


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