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Return of the Pied-à-terre

“I love our new apartment. It’s cozy and sweet,” said Meredith Blair, who works in the theater industry and who, in June, closed on a pied-à-terre on West End Avenue with her husband, Larry Turk. “On a practical level, it was important for me to have a place to come to at night after a show. But, Ms. Blair added, “I also have an emotional connection to the city.”
Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

When the coronavirus shut down New York City last year, Meredith Blair, a longtime resident of the Upper West Side, moved with her family to their weekend house in New Fairfield, Conn.

From there, Ms. Blair, 61, the president and chief executive of The Booking Group, which negotiates and routes national tours of Broadway shows, had ample time to ponder the imponderable: When would the pandemic end? When would Broadway be able to reopen? When would shows go on the road again?

But this much at least was clear to Ms. Blair: her two-bedroom, two-bath co-op on Riverside Drive was gathering dust. She and her husband, Larry Turk, were paying maintenance and a mortgage on a place that was unoccupied and likely to remain unoccupied for a good long while. They concluded, there was no good reason to hang on to it.

The apartment went on the market last December and quickly found a buyer. The closing was in mid-February, right around the time that Ms. Blair began to get the sense that come autumn, Broadway might be back in business after all. Curtain up. Light the lights. But where would she live?

In early June, she and Mr. Turk closed on a two-bedroom one-bath co-op on West End Avenue. “All I need,” Ms. Blair said, “is a pied-à-terre for the two or three days a week that I’ll be in the city during the theater season.”

Over the course of the pandemic, some New York City residents sold their apartments or bailed on their rentals and went in search of more space to spread out in the suburbs or the country. Others fortunate enough to have a second home retreated there and may well be there still.

Ms. Blair and Mr. Turk built a weekend home in New Fairfield, Conn., a few years ago. Longtime residents of the Upper West Side, the couple recently changed their residency to Connecticut and sold their Riverside Drive co-op.
Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

But with businesses and offices reopening, many who left town are now considering their options: move back or commute from the far reaches of Long Island, Westchester or Connecticut. “The way people view their home situation has changed,” said Kathy Braddock, a managing director of William Raveis New York City. “This is the post-Covid reality.”

Some who have the wherewithal are choosing to stay while also choosing to go. They plan to continue to live where they’ve been living for the last year and either buy or rent a pied-à-terre for the days they’ll have to put in face time at the office or have other business in the city.

“Certain people who left during the pandemic moved 90 minutes or more away, and that’s not really a trip they’re eager to do two or three days a week, so they want a place to hang their hat,” said Nicole Beauchamp, an associate broker at the real estate company Engel & Völkers New York City.

“Or maybe only one member of a couple needs to go into the city for work,” Ms. Beauchamp continued. “So, they’re thinking that it isn’t worth it to move the whole family back and that a pied-à-terre is what makes sense. I think this is a market that is going to get stronger over the next couple of months.” (The number of pieds-à-terre in the city was pegged at 75,000 in the most recent NYC Housing and Vacancy Survey in 2017.)

Jonathan Miller, the president of the real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel, sees this as a shift toward what he calls co-primary residences. “Remote work is embedded in our lives” now, he said. “We can be anchored to two locations that have the single purpose of making you feel at home.”

As soon as Julia and Gregory Lemberskiy married last October, they began discussing the possibility of getting a weekend house. “We are city kids, but we have always had a connection to nature,” said Ms. Lemberskiy, 29, the owner of JJ Studio, a start-up consultancy.

At the time, they were living in a one-bedroom apartment on the 30th floor of a Midtown East rental with many amenities and a beautiful view of the skyline. It was an easy walk to N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine, where Dr. Lemberskiy, 31, was a postdoctoral researcher, and an easy trip to the airport for Ms. Lemberskiy, who at the time was the head of central operations for Uber and traveled frequently for work.

But once Covid hit, offices emptied, and the stores and restaurants that made the neighborhood attractive were shuttered. Then a homeless shelter opened on the first half dozen floors of the couple’s building, “and on multiple occasions my husband and I got attacked or verbally assaulted just stepping out the door,” Ms. Lemberskiy said. “New York had lost its charm for us. We wanted more space and something more reasonable in terms of price and value.”

This past January, she and her husband bought a four-bedroom fixer-upper 70 miles upstate in Orange County. Over the past several months, they’ve renovated the kitchen, the bedrooms and one of the bathrooms, among other projects, and are contemplating adding to the square footage while also trying to sort out how to balance the pleasures of home and the requirements of work.

Dr. Lemberskiy has received a grant to bring MRI software he developed to market and his job requires that he spend considerable time in Manhattan; Ms. Lemberskiy has occasional meetings in the city because some of her consultancy clients are based there. And when it comes to wooing potential clients, “It’s nice to meet them face to face,” she said.

In July, the couple signed a lease on a studio apartment in Tudor City, a location they chose in part because of its proximity to Grand Central Terminal, where they can catch a train for their country house.

“We are city people. We see ourselves being in the city a great amount of time,” said Julia Lemberskiy, who with her husband, Gregory Lemberskiy, recently rented a studio apartment near Grand Central to expedite the commute to their house upstate.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

“When we got the house of our dreams we realized we might spend more time here than just weekends,” said Ms. Lemberskiy of the fixer-upper she and her husband bought in Orange County early last year.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

This is at least as much a lifestyle trend as a real estate trend, said Richard Grossman, the regional president of Brown Harris Stevens. “People see what happened in the last year — they saw people their age die — and they want to experience and enjoy things whereas before they might have held back,” he said. “Some may be saying they don’t want New York City full time anymore, but they want it part time.”

In 2010, Helen Klein Ross and her husband, Donald K. Ross, fell hard for a decrepit former governor’s mansion in Lakeville, Conn. They bought it, renovated it and though just weekenders — their primary residence was a four-bedroom co-op in Morningside Heights — they quickly got involved in the community. Ms. Ross, 66, a novelist whose books include “What Was Mine” and “The Latecomers,” joined the board of the local library. Mr. Ross, a lawyer, became active in several organizations dedicated to preserving the town and one of its prize assets: Lake Wononscopomuc.

“We began to discover not just neighbors but friends,” Ms. Ross said. “Our two children were no longer living at home and our weekends in Lakeville became longer and longer.”

Even so, she couldn’t imagine not living in New York City — at least that was the case right up until the arrival of the pandemic.

“Once Covid hit, my brain caught up to reality,” Ms. Ross said. “I wasn’t living in Manhattan anymore. I was living up here, and our apartment had become a very expensive storage unit for stuff we didn’t need anymore. We wanted to minimize our overhead.” Accordingly, she and her husband put the apartment on the market last fall and closed with their buyer in June.

But they knew they would still be spending time in New York — “I need infusions of the energy of the city. I need that,” Ms. Ross said — and began thinking of how to make it work. The cost of several nights a month at a hotel would start to add up quickly. Many of the friends they could reasonably impose on had, like them, moved out of the city, and going back to Connecticut on a late-night train after the theater was distinctly unpalatable.

“I knew that I would need an infusion of the energy of the city,” said Helen Klein Ross, a novelist. In mid-August, she and her husband, Donald K. Ross, a lawyer, closed on a small apartment on the Upper West Side.

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

“During the pandemic I felt very lucky that we had Lakeville,” said Ms. Ross, who now lives almost full time with Mr. Ross in what was, until recently, the couple’s weekend home: a former governor’s mansion in northwest Connecticut. 

Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

In mid-August, the couple finalized their purchase of a 370-square-foot apartment in a co-op building on the same block as their old apartment. “It’s teensy, but it has a terrace overlooking the Hudson,” said Ms. Ross, who plans on a weekly overnight stay. “My husband and I are getting to the age that we’ll be in the city not just for going to cultural things but for going to doctors.”

Prospective pied-à-terre buyers should “absolutely check the policy of a building” to make sure that the way they intend to use the apartment won’t violate the proprietary lease,” said Steven R. Wagner, a real estate lawyer. Some buildings, for example, won’t allow other people to stay in the pied-à-terre unless the tenant-shareholders are there as well, Mr. Wagner said. “They want to make sure shareholders aren’t using them as AirBnbs or a frat house for their kids.”

Further, because it’s a second home, pied-à-terre owners are not eligible for a property tax abatement. And the New York State Legislature continues to consider an additional tax on second homes, a so-called pied-à-terre tax. It’s not in the 2021-2022 budget, but one bill proposed that condos or co-ops with an assessed value of $300,000 or more be taxed at a graduated rate between 10 percent and 13.5 percent on the excess assessed value above $300,000 (with no tax levied on the amount under $300,000.)

“There are a number of exemptions in the proposed senate bill and there’s no certainty that such a law would ever be adopted,” Mr. Wagner said. “But it would mean that if the assessed valuation of a condo or co-op, is, for example, $400,000, and the apartment is worth more than $5 million, the annual tax would be no less than $10,000 and no more than $13,500.”

For some, a one-foot-in-the-city, one-foot-in-the-country existence was already in the cards; the pandemic simply put it on a fast track. “My son is a sophomore in college, and we were just getting used to being empty nesters,” Ms. Blair said. “Covid sped up something that I would have done anyway and that made a lot of sense.”

Aashish Chandarana, a technology industry executive, relocated to New York from London in 2012 and settled in a rental in the West Village. He loved the city, but he also loved getting out of the city. Four and a half years ago he bought a 1,200-square-foot cottage in East Hampton; he spent the pandemic there after exiting the lease on his apartment.

“Covid changed the way I felt about the city,” said Mr. Chandarana, 44, who, in January, became the chief information officer at Productiv, a tech start-up, a job that required him to be in the city for some portion of the week.

“I realized that a pied-à-terre was exactly what I was looking for,” said Mr. Chandarana, who settled on a two-bedroom condo in his old neighborhood downtown; it’s a 10-minute walk to the office. “Would I have come to that conclusion irrespective of the pandemic? I think it would have taken time, but I would have. Still, leaving completely has never been an option.”

Fear of missing out is a powerful motivator. “Even people who have the flexibility to work entirely remotely are finding that they miss the city and what it has to offer,” said Rob Jackson, the sales agent at the Corcoran Group who worked with Ms. Blair and Mr. Turk. “It’s not that they have to be in Manhattan, they want to be in Manhattan, at least for some of the time.”

Ms. Lemberskiy is among them. “If we’re at our house for 10 days it starts to get a bit too quiet and calm, and we miss the hustle and bustle,” she said.

For Mr. Chandarana, fewer days in the city translate to better use of his days in the city. “I’m much more focused on the quality of my time there,” he said. “Museums, restaurants — I’m more strategic about what I do. I’ll have dinner with a good friend for two and a half hours rather than quickie drinks every few weeks.”

As soon as the Rosses bought their house in Lakeville a decade ago, locals began making a prophecy: “You’ll be living here full time pretty soon.” “And I’d tell them ‘Not me,’” Ms. Ross recalled. Now, perhaps, it would be more accurate for her to tell them “Not exactly me.”

“I want to keep one tendril of the cord that ties me to New York,” Ms. Ross said. “Most of it is gone, but I want to keep one tendril.”

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