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  • The Family Apartment

    Real estate tips for new families

    By Lambeth Hochwald

    For expectant and new parents, deciding where to put down roots—or relocate—can be challenging. After all, there are so many decisions to make: Is it better to rent or buy? Or, should you pick a neighborhood that only has good public schools and a building that’s family-friendly? To make the process a little bit easier, we asked the real estate pros to weigh in on the seven things they think are the most important when it comes to finding a place to call home.

    1. Be honest as you sketch out what’s important to you: Before you head out to your first open house, make a list with your spouse or partner of what matters most to you. Perhaps it’s access to work or transportation. Or, maybe it’s proximity to extended family members or friends. “Determine your needs and wants, and then search for a neighborhood that fulfills as many of them as possible,” says Gary L. Malin, president of Citi Habitats. “Just keep in mind that unless you have an unlimited budget, New York City real estate is all about compromise.”

    2. Make plans for sleeping arrangements: While new parents can make do having their kids share a bedroom, say with a toddler and a newborn, that gets old quick, says Doug Perlson, founder and CEO of RealDirect. “If your budget doesn’t allow for an apartment with an extra bedroom, look for one you can convert,” he says. “Seek out a space with a windowed dining area, for example, where you can put up pressure walls that will allow for proper heating and air conditioning. Just make sure it’s big enough for a crib and changing table, if not a bed and closet.”

    3. Factor in the price of that extra bedroom: In an ideal world, each child will have his or her own bedroom, but you must factor in the math: “One extra bedroom in a rental or purchase (100 square feet more) can mean as much as a 25 percent increase (or more) to the total purchase or rental price,” says Mike Lubin, a licensed associate real estate broker at Brown Harris Stevens. “I always tell parents to be creative with their children’s needs. A small room with cleverly built-in custom bunk beds can be as tidy and functional as a stateroom on a ship!”

    4. Never underestimate the value of green space: Until you’re a parent, you may not think about how important a park is for quality of life in New York City, Lubin adds. “We have over 1,700 parks, playgrounds, and recreation facilities across the five boroughs, but proximity is key,” he notes. “Keep in mind, too, that as much as we love Central Park, Prospect Park, and Riverside Park, it’s often the small, local green park with benches and a play area, or schoolyard with a ball field and playground that you use as a parent. This is especially critical for New Yorkers who tend to have smaller homes without playrooms or common space for kids to run around in. We tend to live outside more than people elsewhere.”

    5. It’s never too early to learn about the schools in a potential neighborhood: Researching the schools zoned in a neighborhood (or a building) you might be interested in is a super-smart move. “We have rental properties in the P.S. 6 zone, for example, and people will increase their rental budget by 20 percent just to be there,” says Joshua D. Arcus, president and broker at Siderow Residential Group. “It saves parents thousands of dollars. In other areas of New York City where there are tight borders between school zones, people try to stay as close to the school as possible so that in the future they don’t end up being zoned out. We once had a client in Battery Park City who needed to be in a specific school, which left them with only three buildings to see in total!” Here’s a tip: To find out what schools are in your district, visit the New York City Public School Finder (schools.nyc.gov/schoolsearch). Type in the address you’re interested in, and you’ll find out the names of the schools in the zone as well as their standardized test score rankings.

    6. Go where the babies/kids are: Amenities, like playrooms or even music classes that take place in your building lounge, matter to new and expecting families, says Peggy Dahan, a licensed associate broker at Siderow Residential Group. It’s also important to look at the neighborhood and see how family-friendly the stores are (and see how many music or gym classes are offered within a few block radius). “I’m working with two couples expecting their first children, and we have spent plenty of time walking the neighborhood looking for strollers, baby shops, and classes,” she says.

    7. If you’re still unsure, give a new neighborhood a dress rehearsal: Renting for a year is a great way to help you get the feel for the area, regardless if purchasing a home is your ultimate goal, Malin says. “And, regardless of what you spend in rent for that first year, making a mistake in choosing your neighborhood will cost you dearly in the long run. I joke that renting is like dating a home, and buying it is like marrying it. Be sure you are ready to commit before signing on the dotted line.”

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