A foothold in the city

Get inspired by the story of a 25-year-old man who was able to buy a fixer-upper apartment in the city.

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After his 2013 graduation from Syracuse University, Michael Yormark landed a job in New York and returned to Westport, Conn., to live at home.

All his friends in the city were renting. But his plan was to remain at his parents’ house rent-free for a year, save money and buy a place. He even set himself a deadline of last summer.

His Metro-North train commute was costly and lengthy — over an hour and half each way, including the drive to the station and the walk to his office near Rockefeller Center, where he works as a technology project manager. He arose early every weekday to be at his desk by 8:20.

Mr. Yormark, now 25, spent much of his commuting time hunting online for apartments. “I would often flip through houses as I was walking, as well,” he said.

Most important to him was a commute of no more than 30 minutes door to door. He assumed he could afford a place priced at up to $300,000 and planned to make a down payment of 20 percent, or $60,000.

Mr. Yormark sought the help of his friend Philip Scheinfeld, a real estate salesman at Miron Properties, whom he had met at sleepaway camp in the Adirondacks.

The men visited a condominium in a building on Riverside Drive near West 143d Street in Hamilton Heights. The one-bedroom was just over 500 square feet. The listed price was $290,000, with monthly charges in the mid-$600s.

The apartment, on the ground floor, faced an alley. “Even though it was broad daylight, it looked like the sun was going down,” Mr. Yormark said. The renovation seemed low-end and was not to his liking. The apartment later sold for $266,000.

On West 150th Street near Jackie Robinson Park, another one-bedroom condominium, slightly larger, was listed for $367,000, with monthly charges in the mid-$500s. This one had been nicely renovated, but “it felt like it was reproduced,” Mr. Yormark said, with nothing unique about it. Besides, it was too expensive.

“Looking online, it was all statistics,” like square footage and price, Mr. Yormark said. In person, “it was a different learning process. The education was in ‘feel,’ instead of ‘fact.’ ”

He learned that his financial calculations were off. A mortgage broker told him he would not be able to get a mortgage for more than the low $200,000s. He learned most buildings required liquid assets beyond the down payment.

So Mr. Yormark — a tinkerer who restores antiques and cars — lowered his price range. He knew he would enjoy renovating a place. “I wanted something to fix,” he said.

One day on the train, he entered $100,000 as his top price on Trulia.com. He assumed nothing would show up. When a place did, he thought it was a mistake. It wasn’t.

The building, an income-restricted co-op in Central Harlem requiring all-cash buyers, turned out to have two apartments for sale. One, a one-bedroom for $65,000, was in poor condition but filled with light.

The other, a slightly larger two-bedroom listed at $90,000, was in equally bad shape. Mr. Yormark found it “moldy and disgusting,” with a nice view of Jackie Robinson Park. He loved it.

“It smelled. He was very excited,” Mr. Scheinfeld said. “He had this vision of how he wanted to do it.”

Mr. Yormark returned with his father and a contractor, who found his ideas feasible. He offered $95,000 “to scare off another buyer,” he said.

His father gave him a loan so he could complete the purchase, and he closed in the summer. Monthly maintenance is just over $700, and the fee for his new washer-dryer is an additional $35 a month.

The other apartment has been removed from the market and is being renovated, said the listing agent, Pat Simmons, a broker at Esra Realty.

At the closing, a board member noted that a similar last name existed in building records. In 1968, the building had been purchased by one Elias Yormack.

“I thought, that is a fluke, so I called my grandma,” Mr. Yormark said. “I call her the family historian. She knows everything.” His grandmother, Ida Yormark, informed him that Elias had been a distant cousin who had changed his last name slightly. He died in 1973.

With fees, taxes and construction costs, Mr. Yormark’s home has cost him about $165,000. He did some of the demolition himself. His contractor wouldn’t allow him to help with construction, because he wasn’t insured.

Mr. Yormark made his deadline for the purchase, but not for his move. He arrived early this winter.

The kitchen is not quite finished. He has only a microwave, and “my first meal was Eggo waffles,” he said. Because the neighborhood is short on sit-down restaurants, he has most of his evening meals delivered. “There are places that know me by name already because I’ve had to order so much,” he said.

He has been sleeping on an inflatable bed, which he stows away when construction workers are present — “urban camping,” he calls it.

Mr. Yormark finds his neighborhood blissfully quiet, at least at night.

“I am on little Bradhurst Avenue,” he said. “Most cabdrivers don’t know where it is. There are speed bumps on the street, and I could be in the countryside. There’s no reason to come to Bradhurst unless you live on the street or are delivering something.”

He achieved his primary goal. His commute, via the D train, is just about 25 minutes. He now gets an extra hour of sleep. And, “if I don’t dawdle, I get to work before 8,” he said.

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This article was written by Joyce Cohen from The New York Times and was licensed as an article reprint. Article copyright February 26, 2015 by The New York Times.
The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Fidelity Investments cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any statements or data.
This reprint is supplied by Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC.
The third party provider of the reprint permission and Fidelity Investments are independent entities and not legally affiliated.
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