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Staking a Claim in Manhattan

ALL last summer, real estate brokers were waiting for the Europeans to show up and snap up some pieds-à-terre with their richly valued euros. The summer before, too, they had been waiting. But oddly enough, the Europeans never showed up.

The suburbanites did.

What is playing out in the market, according to Nikki E. Field, a senior vice president with Sotheby's International Realty, is a big change: "Regional people coming back into the city, usually to be near their grown children." These suburbanites have the money to buy, and co-op boards are intrigued by these mature, well-off buyers, even those that have traditionally rejected anyone wanting to use a space as a pied-à-terre. There's just one big liability these affluent baby boomers bring to the table in their quest for a "foot in the earth." Not toddlers, and not dogs.

What co-op boards really fear are grown children without real estate. For many families the use of a Manhattan apartment is a rotating affair - the grown children may use it while at school or starting out and the parents may use it after that. That's why many agents skip the shifting sands of co-op boards altogether and direct clients toward condos. However, with 85 percent of Manhattan residential real estate made up of co-ops, it doesn't leave a lot of inventory in condos - even less in some desirable areas on the Upper East Side.

"On Fifth Avenue," said Jacky Teplitzky, executive vice president at Douglas Elliman, "you can count on one hand how many condos there are."

Condo buildings like 923 Fifth Avenue, near 73rd Street, and 30 East 85th Street, between Madison and Fifth Avenues, consistently get premium prices, just because of where they are. Most buyers looking in that area for a pied-à-terre are reduced to trying their hand with the co-op boards, but boards ask many intrusive questions about how the property will be used. "The children are becoming a main situation," Ms. Teplitzky said. "We used to prequalify buyers by financial qualifications and liabilities. Now we also have to prequalify them on the age of their kids."Even buyers able to pay a 50 percent down payment and who still have substantial liquid assets are looked at skeptically by boards because of college-age children. "They are afraid the apartment is going to be used as a hotel," Ms. Teplitzky said. "It becomes like a transient apartment."

Sometimes, it's a choice between a dream apartment and the children. One of Ms. Teplitzky's sellers received an offer on a co-op apartment from a couple who lived in Long Island and wanted to buy the apartment as a pied-à-terre. Then the question of children came up. The co-op board, she said, was worried that their unmarried children would visit New York and use the apartment. The head of the co-op board came up with a solution: if the buyers would write a firm letter stating that the children would not use the apartment for any reason, they would pass. The couple wanted the apartment so badly, Ms. Teplitzky said, "they were willing to put it in writing."

When boards can be sure they can control who does and who doesn't use the apartment, these buyers are very appealing. "The quality of the applicant for a studio or one bedroom in the $500,000-to-$600,000 range is so much better than what a typical person in that price range could present," Ms. Field said. "Major buildings that never permitted pieds-à-terre because they didn't want the traffic, the hotel feeling, the people coming through, are saying it is O.K. as long as it is for you and you alone."

Some buyers, faced with the kids-versus-apartment choice, decide that they just don't belong in co-ops. When Mary and Roger Mulvihill, residents of Bronxville, N.Y., who have raised three children, now 24 to 31 years old, decided they wanted to get a pied-à-terre in Manhattan last fall, they fell in love right away. It was a co-op on the Upper East Side with easy access to their jobs. Mr. Mulvihill is a lawyer with an office in Rockefeller Center, and Mrs. Mulvihill is the executive director of the Grace Institute, a nonprofit that offers work training to poor women. Its office is at Second Avenue and East 64th Street.

"It was just what we would love," Mrs. Mulvihill said. "It was near my work. It had a magnificent terrace - everything we wanted." They placed a bid, which was accepted. Then the co-op chairwoman called her back asking if it was going to be used as a pied-à-terre. When she said that it was, the chairwoman told her that the sale would not pass the board. She recalled the chairwoman told her: " 'We don't do this; what people do is that they use it for all their friends and children. One person buys it and everybody uses it.' "

The Mulvihills then downshifted their pied-à-terre plans and decided to experiment with renting an apartment in the city before buying. In May they signed a one-year lease on the Upper East Side. Two of the couple's children and Mrs. Mulvihill's brother have all used it and she has no intention of sacrificing that perk when she does buy. "I have no problems with boards setting rules," Mrs. Mulvihill said. "I don't want an apartment house with all kinds of craziness going on. But I don't want to be in a situation where I'm scared to death to let my children use it.''

Ms. Field advises her clients to be honest with the co-op board about the way they plan to use an apartment. It will save people time and aggravation, she said, by preventing them from filing fruitless applications.

Brokers say many of these suburban buyers lived in the city as young adults, then left to raise their children in homes with lawns. Now, Ms. Teplitzkysaid, some are "finding themselves being a little bored in suburbia."

Ms. Teplitzky's clients Lois and Rick Schapiro enjoy their life in Dix Hills on Long Island, where they have raised two children, who are 24 and 21, and run a floor-covering business. But they remember fondly their early adulthood on the Upper East Side. "When we were young and in the city, I used to love - after work - how we could fall out of our apartment into any restaurant and go to shows," Mrs. Schapiro said. "We used to go to a restaurant and get the $6.95 special and get cheap seats to the shows."

When they considered investing in a second home, they naturally thought of sunny destinations like Florida or Arizona, but Manhattan won out because of Mr. Schapiro's commitments to work and because their daughter is there. They are looking for a one- or two-bedroom apartment from the 50's to the 70's on the East Side. "I have a very residential life," Mrs. Schapiro said of Dix Hills. "For my 'other life' I wouldn't mind something that is in the Midtown area where we could easily get to a show, to shopping by walking."

A pied-à-terre evokes the whimsy of characters from Henry James or Edith Wharton novels sweeping in and out of New York or European capitals and back to their country estates, but really has no real estate definition. A pied-à-terre is a way of life. It might be a $250,000 studio with 350 square feet and a pull-down bed or an elaborately furnished one- or two-bedroom apartment that has the amenities of a hotel and costs more than $1 million. Until now, what counted most was the peripatetic lifestyle - often of jet-setting artists or jet-lagged business people - that would require a person to keep a pied-à-terre.

The Midtown area, because of the accessibility, shopping and activity, is by far the most popular location for a pied-à-terre in Manhattan. While out-of-towners are often steered toward or drawn by the Central Park South and Columbus Circle area because of its convenience and prestige, suburban pied-à-terre buyers more familiar with New York take a wider view, finding themselves attracted to the Upper East and West Sides."These are sophisticated, accomplished, empty-nesters," Ms. Field said. "They aren't dreaming like most people do when they are coming to New York. They know what they want." And if they know they want one of the stricter co-ops, and happen to get in, they can still see their kids. After all, that's why they want to be in the city: there's always a restaurant around the corner



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