COMPARING his cost of living to his standard of living, Brad Hock concluded it was no longer worthwhile to live, rent-free, at home with his parents and endure a tedious commute. So he set out to buy a place in Manhattan, aiming to spend as little as possible.
Brad Hock is making the most of his 203 square feet; Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
Since his graduation from Colgate in 2009, Mr. Hock had been making an hourlong MetroNorth commute from and to northern Westchester County. His first job, in investment management, had 9-to-5 hours. The office was conveniently located in the Graybar Building, right at Grand Central.
A year ago, he began a job as a financial analyst at Estée Lauder cosmetics, working on product pricing. His new office was a 20-minute walk uptown from Grand Central. He worked long hours in a job involving “tight deadlines and reports that would be shown tomorrow,” he said.
After the ride home, Mr. Hock, now 24, often did not make it to his gym, which closed at 10 p.m. “I felt I could be spending my time more wisely,” he said. He calculated the value of his commuting time at $25 an hour — $50 a day, $1,000 a month. So he would come out ahead if he spent $1,000 or less a month on housing.
Mr. Hock was averse to renting. Rent would rise over time, whereas traditional mortgage payments would not. And mortgage rates were low — in some cases lower than the interest rates on his student loans. Besides, renting was “not creative enough,” he said. “It was too easy.”
He was inspired by his elder brother, Chris, who graduated last year from dental school and bought a co-op near his Bronx workplace.
Mr. Hock and his sister, Lindsey, who had just graduated from college, considered hunting for a place together. But “pretty quickly I realized two-bedrooms were out of the picture,” Mr. Hock said, “and even pretty much one-bedrooms were, too.”
He e-mailed several agents advertising low-priced listings. Isa Goldberg of Bellmarc, who often works with low-budget buyers, replied with detailed questions about his preferences.
Mr. Hock wanted a place within walking distance of work, or at least near a subway. In his price range, below $300,000, condominiums were scarce, so he zeroed in on co-ops.
A fifth-floor walk-up on East 54th Street had a French door that partitioned off a sleeping area from a windowless kitchen and living area. The listing price, originally $329,000, was down to $295,000. Maintenance was around $670.
Mr. Hock wondered, fleetingly, if he could share this place with his sister. “Maybe one of us could live in the kitchen space,” he said. Then again, maybe not. (His sister now rents in Chelsea with roommates. The walk-up is still for sale.)
On 77th Street near First Avenue, a small studio, also on a high floor, was priced at $240,000, down from $305,000. Maintenance was around $550. This one was nicely renovated, but Mr. Hock preferred something cheaper, even if it needed work. And the location seemed distant from the rest of the city. (The studio is now in contract for $235,000.)
Mr. Hock kept looking. He saw loft beds and Murphy beds, space-hogging fireplaces, layouts with few options for placing furniture. One place had a mirrored folding door that concealed the kitchen. But “nothing really jumped out at me and said: This is below market value,” he said.
In his rock-bottom price range, the choices were dismal. They all had “certain factors that limit their marketability, be it the view, the size or the condition,” Ms. Goldberg said. “Or the amenities in the buildings are very limited, with not even a washer-dryer in the basement.”
But a ground-floor unit on a pretty West 20th Street block in Chelsea looked promising. It had big windows and high ceilings. The price, originally $350,000, was now $340,000, with maintenance around $570.
“I thought the design was great for a small space,” Mr. Hock said. It was the nicest place he’d seen, but it was just too pricey. He considered borrowing money from his grandparents, but was uncomfortable doing so. (The co-op sold for $285,000 after nearly a year.)
“I basically said, if I am going to do this, I would rather go for a little bit less and do it on my own,” he said. Increasingly concerned about his ability to meet a co-op board’s financial criteria, he dropped his budget to $225,000 or less.
“I don’t think Brad wanted to scare me about his price point,” Ms. Goldberg said. “It took me a bit of understanding to realize how little he was planning to spend.”
The listing agent for the Chelsea place, Nanette Shaw of Bellmarc, mentioned that another interested person had moved to Tudor City, the landmark co-op complex in the far East 40s. If someone preferred Tudor City to such a lovely apartment, Mr. Hock thought, he had to see it.
Tudor City’s tiny studios were priced in the low $200,000s, but one, all of 203 square feet and advertised as a “small studio” that “needed work,” was just $199,000. Maintenance was a little more than $400. The seller, who had been subletting the place, could no longer do so, according to the building’s policy.
The paint was peeling, and the closet shelves sagged. But Mr. Hock knew he could easily fix those things himself.
“When someone renovates, a lot of that cost is labor,” he said. “If I could save on the labor cost, I might get a positive return on my investment.”
Mr. Hock offered $170,000. The seller dropped to $181,000. Mr. Hock’s final offer was $175,000. Negotiations stalled. Ms. Goldberg was certain the deal was off. But the seller finally agreed, probably because “there wasn’t much advantage to holding on to it for another $20,000,” she said.
Mr. Hock moved in over the summer, after spending about $3,500 on renovations that included painting, tiling and a new light fixture. He has a two-burner electric stove and an under-the-counter refrigerator. He furnished his studio with a glass table, two chairs, and a foldout sofa bed. His one closet is deep and well organized.
He isn’t bothered by the courtyard view, the periodic ventilation noise from below, or the clicking of high heels in the tiled hallway.
Among his many calculations: Moving to the city increased his cost of living by about $500 a month, or $6,000 a year. But assuming his apartment appreciates at an annual rate of 2 percent, it will be worth another $3,500 in a year. So the actual cost-of-living increase for the year — $6,000 minus that $3,500 — works out to only $208.33 a month.
And, sure enough, his monthly outlay is under $1,000, $957.50, to be exact, not including the tax benefits provided by his mortgage.
“Standard of living is kind of subjective,” he said. But “my social life has improved tremendously.” Instead of sitting on the train, he can go running, work out at the gym or visit friends. He walks to the office.
“I also feel very stable,” he said. His friends with market-rate rentals face steep increases. “I hear from my friends, ‘I don’t know what I am going to do next year for housing,’ ” he said. Buying the cozy studio “was probably the best decision I’ve ever made.”