He Wanted a Studio in Lower Manhattan for Less Than $450,000. But Where?

Aaron Baxter was happy in his rental in the NoLIta neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, with a view of Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral.

Mr. Baxter, who had lived primarily in Arizona and Colorado before moving to New York, landed a pandemic deal in late 2020, paying $2,500 a month for the nicely renovated one-bedroom — or maybe it was a studio with French doors to a sleeping area — in a prewar walk-up. There was a stacked washer and dryer in the bathroom.

Friends who visited would say, “My walk-in closet is bigger than this, and my mortgage is half your rent,” said Mr. Baxter, 51, a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company. “But I never needed a big place. I like the buzz of New York and the energy.”

A year ago, however, when he learned that his rent would jump by more than 75 percent, he decided that $4,400 for 350 square feet turned a good deal into a bad one. So he called a friend, Ian Matheson, a licensed salesman at Living New York, to help him find a new rental for no more than $3,500.

Because his landlord had given him several months’ notice about the increase, “I figured I had plenty of time to look,” he said. But he discovered that it was fruitless to hunt so far in advance, as departing renters typically give 30 days’ notice.

With some time to think, Mr. Baxter examined his finances and decided that buying was possible. He could spend up to $450,000.

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“When you’re in this starter-price range, apartments are all the same,” he said. “You’re going to get the same square footage, and it comes down to neighborhood.”

His preference was to stay in NoLIta or adjacent SoHo. He was hoping for in-unit laundry, but quickly realized that was unrealistic. And with leg and back problems stemming from a long-ago car crash, Mr. Baxter was hoping to avoid having too many stairs.

Early on, he wasn’t thinking much about an apartment’s condition. The first place he considered was a bare-bones co-op in the East Village for $399,000, with a monthly maintenance fee of $800.

“I am thinking: I am getting the steal of the century,” he said. “This can be done on the cheap, no big deal. This was a tiny apartment. How much could it possibly cost?”

There was no kitchen, and in the bathroom there was a hole in the floor. A contractor provided an estimate: The renovation would cost more than $75,000 — perhaps much more — and Mr. Baxter wouldn’t have a place to live during the months of work.

“I had no clue the thing had to be completely redone,” he said. “It was a good wake-up call.”

Fixer-uppers, he decided, were out. And he expanded his search area farther downtown.

Among his options:

Find out what happened next by answering these two questions:

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