They Explored Upper East Side One-Bedrooms for Less Than $1 Million

Rachel Liebowitz’s older sister knew Rohan Sahni from high school in Suffolk County, on Long Island. A few years ago, she suggested the two go on a date.

“I’d forgotten she had a younger sister,” Mr. Sahni said. “It worked out.”

It was the spring of 2020, just as Covid was taking hold. Both had moved back in with their parents after college (he went to Baruch College in Manhattan; she went to Quinnipiac University in Connecticut). But as people began to flee the city, the new couple, who married this September, went the other way, renting a sunny, 900-square-foot corner one-bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows in a Manhattan high-rise.

The far East Side location was especially convenient for Mrs. Sahni, 27, a nurse whose hospital was minutes away. Mr. Sahni, 30, takes the subway to the diamond district, where he works in sales.

They snagged a two-and-a-half-year lease for $4,150 a month, with three months free. “We watched the Fourth of July fireworks from our laundry room,” Mrs. Sahni said. It was on the top floor, with a great view.

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As the pandemic waned, the couple suspected that their rent deal would rise to an unaffordable market rate, around $6,500, so they decided to buy.

“I hated paying rent,” Mr. Sahni said. “Every month, when it came time to pay the rent, it pissed me off because I was paying money for somebody else.”

They knew, however, that any home they bought could be a step down from a fancy rental.

“They had a baseline of what they were accustomed to,” said their real estate agent, Kimberly Jay, an associate broker at Compass. “They wanted as big an apartment as possible, but that ended up not being their top priority.”

With a budget of somewhere around $1 million, the couple wanted to remain in the neighborhood so that Mrs. Sahni, who works long and irregular hours, could walk to the hospital. Amenities and condition weren’t priorities, but natural light was.

“Either we were going to pay the high end of our budget, and have a ready-made apartment, or the low end, where we had room to renovate,” Mr. Sahni said. “We knew we had to be flexible.”

They found themselves drawn to a quaint pocket of the Lenox Hill neighborhood, in the East 60s, where the streets are lined with brownstones.

Among their options:

Find out what happened next by answering these two questions:

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